Inside Stories

What it's like to live in a NYC doorman building

Living in a doorman building means getting used to someone seeing your comings and goings.

Jeffrey Zeldman/Flickr

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Living in a New York City apartment building with a doorman or concierge was a luxury that I thought would be out of reach when I moved here from Pennsylvania. Up until then, my interactions with doormen had been limited to rare visits to other's people's buildings, or strolling past the liveried doormen outside stately Central Park West towers. 

I never thought I was the type who could afford to live in an attended building. So when we started apartment hunting last summer, I was surprised by how many rentals in our price range were in buildings with a doorman, concierge, or attended lobby. 

And so a few weeks later, we moved into building with a concierge. While we were excited to have this amenity, we found we had to make all sorts of adjustments that I hadn't counted on.


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For starters, my husband, Tom, and I are pretty self-sufficient, so it was pretty weird at first to have someone around 24/7 to essentially make our lives easier. It also felt strange to have someone observe our comings and goings, especially since I typically wear yoga pants when I don’t have to be anywhere. 

If you’re thinking of moving to a building with a doorman or concierge, here are some things I’ve learned that you might find helpful. 

What’s the difference between a doorman and a concierge? 

While some people (like me) use the words interchangeably, there is a difference. Both wear uniforms, but a doorman opens doors and helps people into and out of the building, while a concierge is behind the front desk and handles deliveries, resident requests, and the like.

A concierge has the maintenance staff on speed-dial, which is such a refreshing change for us. It was always a struggle to track down the live-in super of our old building, whose voice mail was almost always full and rarely returned calls when it wasn't.

Here's a true story: When water started cascading from our bathroom ceiling in that building one weekday morning, we had to call the management company for help because both the super and building manager (who we never actually met in our six years there) were nowhere to be found.

When the kitchen sink in our new apartment started to leak, we called our concierge, and maintenance came less than 20 minutes later. On a Saturday night, no less. 

Doormen are know-it-alls

I’m not being snarky: A doorman or concierge really knows everything about your building. When we first moved in, for example, we knew where the laundry room was, but not how to go about getting the card to use the machines, so our concierge walked us through the process. 

I’ve also heard them tell visitors and new neighbors where the nearest restaurant is, where to grab a good cup of coffee, and the fastest way to the subway. If they’ve been with your building for a long time, you’ll likely be hard-pressed to find someone who knows your neighborhood better, so trust their recommendations. 

Doormen see everything

When you move into a doorman or concierge building, they become a big part of your life, way more than a neighbor, who most of us never get to really know beyond casual greetings in the hallway or elevator. 

That means they’re going to see you in your heading-to-work best, when you’re drunkenly tumbling in at 3 a.m., or, like in my case, decked out in your comfiest clothes with perennially messy hair, no makeup, and a dog attached to your person. 

They’re also going to know all about your dirty little online shopping addiction, how often and from where you order in, and who you’re bringing home, but, of course, they’ll be too polite to say anything (we hope, since they also can be a great source for building gossip, if you're into that). 

They protect your packages

This is one of the biggest perks of having a doorman or concierge, in my humble opinion. In the six years we lived in our old, non-doorman building, we had numerous packages go MIA, so we had everything sent to our offices. Let me tell you, nothing is as fun as lugging a heavy box home on a rush-hour train and then up 75 steep subway station stairs.

Now, we get an a alert from our building’s app that our packages were signed for by the front desk, and we just pick them up the next time we’re out and about. 

They can be a spy (of sorts)

When we went on vacation recently, we left our dog, Kona, at home with a stay-in petsitter for the first time. While the sitter was lovely and vetted by the site we used, I was understandably very nervous about having a relative stranger in our home with our beloved furkid. I took comfort in the fact that most of our concierges love Kona as much as we do and were around to keep their eyes on her, which they all volunteered to do without us even having to ask. 

I’ve heard them tell our neighbors that their children or spouse was home, seen them pretty much babysit the kids whose parents let them play in the lobby, and they’ve even let me know which way Tom headed on his walk with Kona. 

They’ll smile at you 

It’s nice to have someone greet you every day with a smile and a “Good morning” or “Have a good night,” especially in this city, where smiling is so not what we feel like doing when we’re crammed onto overcrowded and delayed subways. Plus, as a generally cheerful and courteous gal, I like having someone to say those things to as well. Heaven knows we need a little civility in our lives these days, amiright? 

They deserves your respect  

I personally think this one is pretty important chiefly because they keep your building safe by screening people they don’t recognize. And again, they become part of your life, and, unless you’re a jerk, you will get to know them too, as time goes on. 

I’ve seen many neighbors sail past our front desk without a glance or greeting for the person behind it. That's not our style, and it shouldn't be yours, either. 

“On a weekly basis, I think I talk more to them than my immediate family,” my husband says. 

I find having someone at the front desk such a comfort, not only in the off-chance I might lock myself out of our apartment, but also just knowing they’re there when I’m taking Kona out really late or super early in case something happens. 

While living in a doorman or concierge building will cost you extra, I don’t think you can truly put a price on its convenience, especially now that we truly know, and respect, what an asset they are to life in New York City.