We booked a 4* downtown via Hotwire for $239. I could tell that we would get the SoHo Grand -- there are lots of websites that help you match the hotel to the neightborhood + amenities that Hotwire gives you. So, after checking out all the reviews on TripAdvisor, we decided to take a chance.
Here's the bottom line: it's a good deal for a NYC hotel if you book it at $240 a night, but if you pay rack rate ($500+), you'd expect a lot more.
The room is very small, but big enough to hold the bed, and dresser, and wardrobe (no closet, a travesty) -- but just barely. The bathroom was a decent size, but not a palace. We did have a queen bed with some awesome Frette linens, but the drapes and blackout blinds were in really sad shape (holey in places). The TV is an HD TV without cable or a HD converter for the over the air signal -- it's possibly the worst image quality I've ever seen in any TV of any kind. But you don't go to NY to watch tv (unless you're a guy)...
It has a really good location. It's right next to the 1, 2 stop on Canal St, and just a 5 minute walk to the other Canal St station (6, N, J , Q), so you can go uptown to either the East side or West side really easily. It's also right between Tribeca and SoHo, so you get to be uber chic, or uber uber chic.
Excellent noise insulation. We were on the 4th floor, facing Canal St and Tribeca, and we actually faced a club, but couldn't hear anything, which was amazing. The hotel is shaped like a T, so if you're at the base of the T, you might have some noise from the Holland Tunnel, which spits up a block away.
If you are a partier, they have a faux-club in the lobby, complete with bouncers. It makes getting to your room a bit hairy at night as there are these big guys in black between you and the elevator who don't really believe that you're staying there (if you look like a grad student, like me). If you're on the 3rd floor, your room might be REALLY noisy because the club and the 3rd floor share an atrium -- there's no wall between them to hold out the noise.
Which gets me to the staff. Cleaning staff = got the job done, beautifully. Front desk = efficient, professional, no unexpected charges. Concierge = I don't think they're from NYC because they didn't know some basic things about museums (I wanted to find the Cooper-Hewett Design Museum, which is part of the Smithsonian). The security thugs = for my own good, but really, do you need to be quite that rude?
Overall, a great deal for NYC on short notice.