When I first caught wind that Getaway, a startup that rents out tiny homes in upstate parks, was bringing its pop-up cabins to the Gateway National Recreation Area, I assumed they would be in the park’s crown jewel, Fort Tilden. In the name of adventure, the house rental service keeps the exact location of its mobile “handcrafted cabins” mysterious until about a week before you check in. Still, they did offer the clue that the cabin would be on a beach, near a boardwalk, and off of city transportation. Fort Tilden, right??? Wrong. That city transportation turned out to be the Staten Island Ferry.
You can imagine my audible groan of disappointment when I opened an email with the subject line “Your Beach House Awaits,” only to be told I had shelled out $165 for a night in the forgotten borough. But hey, maybe it wouldn’t be that bad. The cabin was off of something called South Beach, which would no doubt be exactly like the South Beach in Miami. And the folks at Getaway had helpfully provided a Spotify playlist for the drive out there.
That turned out to be one of many twee touches I was in for. For one thing, my cabin had a name. It was Stella.
As it turned out, Stella was located on Fort Wadsworth, next to some Coast Guard housing and spitting distance from some abandoned Civil War-era forts. Perched atop a trailer hitch, the cabin had been placed in some bush, just a few steps from the beach facing New York Harbor. The shore offered a postcard view of the Verrazano Bridge.
The beach was being used by some shirtless, cigar-chomping fishermen who were presumably staying at the nearby Navy Lodge and not at the handcrafted cabins. Around them, the sand was dotted with washed-up tampons and a mysterious carcass that was being ravaged by maggots. Don’t play this video unless you want to lose your cannoli.
As for the cabin, it was surprisingly bright and cheerful, with a picture-window view of the harbor. It wasn’t air-conditioned, but it had screen windows with a nice view of the bridge.
I make fun of the term “handcrafted” but the place really did have a woody, new-house smell. There was a built-in desk with electrical outlets and USB ports, but Gateway encourages its guests to unplug, even providing this glorified cigar box for iPhone addicts.
A booklet offered alternate means of entertainment, such as shadow puppet instructions and poems by Frost and Dickinson (nothing by Henry David Thoreau, even though he actually spent some time in Staten Island, as a tutor to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s nephews). There were also some “Get to Know Your Partner” questions, one of which seemed a little off-brand: “Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?” And there were some very on-the-nose books, like Cabin Porn and How to Eat in the Woods (as if those maggots hadn’t already taught me).
In another booklet, there were instructions on how to operate the waterless electrical toilet, which might have been the highlight of the trip. If you don’t believe me, here’s a video of it flushing. Luckily, it’s someone else’s job to dispose of the lining.
Next to the cabin was a fire pit and some firewood, for anyone who wanted to cook their dinner caveman-style. (No, thanks. I opted for hitting one of Staten Island’s great pizzerias, Lee’s Tavern.)
Or you could just buy some snap-pea crisps from the mini bar. Alcohol was BYOB, but coffee nerds were taken care of, natch. There was a Hario kettle and disposable, single-serving pourover packets.
The Isle of Staten wasn’t that bad in the end. We drank out of a pineapple at Jade Island tiki bar, chowed down on some great Sri Lankan food amidst over-the-top decor at Lakruwana, and hopefully didn’t get poison ivy while exploring Fort Wadsworth. In honor of Frank Lloyd Wright’s 150th, we drove by his only house in New York City, a pre-fab that’s perched over the water as if it thinks it’s in Malibu. No, Staten Island isn’t Malibu, but the sunset was pretty spectacular.
Guests are asked to return to their cabins by 10pm. So we made our way back, killed some spiders as well as a creepy-crawly that had climbed up the shower drain, and went to sleep to the sound of crickets and splashing waves. Okay, fine, I did put on a podcast– no way was I going to totally unplug, even if the Getaway folks were super insistent. I mean, look the final item on their list of parting advice, located in an envelope that you’re not supposed to unseal until the 11am checkout time.