Inside WeWork's WeLive, where millennials squeeze into tiny apartments to take advantage of perks like Sunday dinner, daily happy hours, and morning yoga

Harrison Jacobs/Business InsiderOne of the most difficult things about WeLive seemed to be people treating the building too much like a home.
  • WeWork, the $US20 billion coworking startup, recently expanded into co-living with its dorm-like WeLive apartments that offer communal facilities and daily activities.
  • Reviews have been mixed, so we tested WeLive Wall Street for ourselves.
  • Our experience was mostly pleasant, but we felt the rent was high. Many WeLive tenants said the price was a good value when you factor in amenities, activities, and the community.

The sharing economy keeps getting cozier.

WeWork, the coworking powerhouse that grew into a $US20 billion startup by leasing chic, millennial-friendly office space to startups and Fortune 500 companies alike, is betting you’ll be willing to share more than just your workspace with strangers.

Last year, WeWork expanded into co-living with WeLive. The dorm-like apartments are supplemented by communal facilities – like a grand kitchen, media room, and terrace complete with a hot tub – as well as activities like daily happy hours, comedy nights, and yoga classes.

Some have raved about the building’s amenities and sense of community. Others described it to Bloomberg as a poorly run “dorm for adults.”

Leaked investor presentations had indicated the company planned to open 14 WeLives by the end of 2016, with the buildings projected to generate 21% of the company’s revenue by 2018.

But as of the end of 2017, the only open locations are in Wall Street in New York and Crystal City in Washington, DC.

We recently spent a couple of nights at WeLive Wall Street to see what it’s like to live in the building.

WeLive Wall Street is near the East River. If it looks like a big office building, that’s because it once was.

After flooding from Hurricane Sandy damaged the building,WeWork took over, converting the first six floors into office space and the other 21 into apartments.

At the front desk, Nathan de Paz checked us in. De Paz said he moved to WeLive Wall Street from Houston in May.

He said that he had been worried about moving to New York by himself but that the WeLive community had made the transition easier.

If you’ve ever been to a Wall Street office building, this will be familiar. Still, it feels odd to be swiping in to use an elevator in an apartment building.

I booked a studio for $US220 a night. If I were staying longer, it would cost $US3,050 a month. When WeLive opened in “beta” mode, the monthly price of a studio was closer to $US2,000.

WeWork said the WeLive Wall Street location was “almost at capacity.” While I have no way to double-check that, I had difficulty booking a short-term room, having to play with dates to find an open one.

The studio came furnished with an IKEA-esque couch, a throw blanket, pillows, and a coffee table that lifts for eating. It was on the smaller end of New York studios I’ve been in.

The room also comes decorated — though decorations were limited to a polar bear mail holder and a few books that seemed geared toward the budding startup founder in all of us.

The kitchenette was basic, but it came with the three knives I use most often when cooking. I would describe the space as functional rather than warm.

The last studio I lived in could fit only a medium-sized mini-fridge. The WeLive studio fridge was practically full-size.

The hallways are covered with cheeky pieces of pop art, like this family photo of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian West.

I quickly learned I needed to bring my keycard everywhere. The elevator won’t move if you don’t swipe — trapping on the communal floors a couple of times.

The building was exceptionally quiet on the Sunday afternoon I arrived. I had heard the laundry room was a good place to hang out because it doubled as a game room, but it was empty when I got there.

The WeLive laundry and game room offers free arcade games. Playing “The Simpsons” brought back some nostalgic memories of childhood. “NFL Blitz” didn’t seem to be working.

While exploring one of the lounges, I met Rob Stamm, a 22-year-old who moved into WeLive in August with his friend and business partner Cody McClintock. They said they chose WeLive because they saw it as a “Google Campus for the average person.”

A digital-media consultant, Stamm said he and McClintock, 25, were working on an augmented-reality startup.

He said they figured they would be able to meet more similar-minded people by living in the building.

“It’s a bunch of geeky people in one building … who are more dedicated to working than playing,” Stamm told Business Insider.

Stamm and McClintock share a Studio Plus for $US3,400 a month, meaning one sleeps in an alcove bed and the other sleeps in a room slightly larger than mine.

Stamm said that while the price may seem steep, they figured that once they factored in everything they were getting – the community, the perks, the furniture, and an included WeWork “hot desk” – it was a reasonable value.

He said the two would probably live in the building for another six months before finding a more permanent place.

Most of the people I met viewed WeLive as a place to stay for a short while before the next step, whether that was a few months or a year from now. “It’s the most freeing feeling ever,” one woman told me. “All my friends are getting married with kids, and I don’t even own my pencils.”

The structure of WeLive – with its turnkey apartments, limited commitments, and mix of short- and long-term tenants – may engender that attitude, even as it tries to build community.

A Canadian woman who works for a heathcare startup told me she moved into the WeLive in 2016 a few weeks after moving to New York.

Major factors in her decision, she said, were that WeWork doesn’t require tenants to have good credit to rent and that she could rent on short-term leases.

She said she had come to love the idea of having little commitment or possessions despite living in the city for over a year.

I heard there were communal dinners in the great kitchen on Sundays, but it turned out those are monthly. Still, a lot of people were sitting at tables, working quietly. It reminded me of college.

Courtesy of WeLive/WeWork

The freshly brewed La Colombe coffee in the kitchen was a nice perk. I had heard there was unlimited beer when the WeLive opened, but that perk seemed to be long gone.

While at the WeLive, I met a lot of international tenants who were staying for one or two months. A few were staying for school, and some were just on an extended vacation, but most had been moved by their companies.

When I asked Stamm about that, he said the building appeared to have “high turnover.”

“There’s always someone new with an interesting story or something they are chasing,” Stamm said, adding that he had met a lot of people from other countries who were in New York for a couple of months to pitch their startup to investors.

The kitchen was pretty big — but communal supplies, like this spice rack, seemed to be running low.

Stamm said he and McClintock – freelancers doing consulting and programming, respectively – made a point of cooking breakfast in the kitchen every day to meet new people, and Stamm said they had found several new clients simply by talking to tenants in the kitchen.

A corner store sells chips, ice cream, laundry detergent, beef jerky, and a few other things to tenants, who pay either through the WeLive app or with a credit card. Prices seemed pretty normal.

There are also five smaller communal kitchens on other floors. People seemed to be using them as an alternative coworking space during the day.

Upbeat music plays on speakers in all the common spaces until 10 or 11 p.m. I’m not sure who picks the music, but if you aren’t into it, it seems you’re out of luck.

There was a record player with an assortment of albums — including The Who’s “Quadrophenia” — but I’m not sure how you’re supposed to use it, as it didn’t seem possible to turn off the overhead music.

When it was time to hit the hay, the Murphy bed folded down onto the sofa. The Tuft & Needle mattress was pretty comfortable, but the sheets and blanket were scratchy.

It could’ve been user error, but I couldn’t figure out the thermostat. The room was either freezing or boiling. Another short-term WeLive tenant I spoke to in the morning told me she had encountered a similar issue.

I am a “cord cutter,” so getting to turn on President Donald Trump’s favourite news channel to watch the morning #fakenews was a nice perk.

There is a $US125-a-month amenities fee for the cable, utilities, communal facilities, and a once-a-month apartment cleaning.

The bathroom was disproportionately big, but the showerhead was top notch.

And the bathroom came with Malin+Goetz shower products, which I’ve been told are high quality. An eight-ounce bottle of shampoo costs about $US20.

On Monday morning, I headed down to the kitchen for “Thank God It’s Monday” pastries. It was a good place to meet WeLive’s tenants, as everyone was drawn to the promise of free food.

There, I met Stacie Ryan, an Australian accountant who works remotely and was planning to stay at WeLive for three months. She said she chose to live there because it combined the “homeyness of an apartment” with the amenities of a hotel and the socialness of a hostel.

“It’s a good in-between,” she said. “I can talk to people if I want and not if I don’t want to.”

As I hung out during the morning to take care of some work, lots of tenants took a seat in the kitchen to do likewise. It had a very live/work feel.

After breakfast, I checked out the fitness studio, which also had cushions and a projector for movie nights. I had planned to wake up for yoga at 7 a.m. The key word there is “planned.”

Most of the fitness classes at WeLive seemed to, thankfully, be after work, at 7 or 8 p.m.

But I’m more of the “work out on my own schedule” type anyways. The fitness studio’s closet had plenty of equipment to get started, but you’ll have to go to a real gym to pump iron.

The floor also features an awesome terrace with a grill —  it looked as if it would be perfect in the summertime. The view of the river was pretty, but it was too cold to hang out.

When I read in the brochure that there was a hot tub, I was excited to try it. When I saw it in the light of day, I was not, as it looked as though it needed to be zapped with chlorine.

One of the most difficult things about WeLive seemed to be people treating the building too much like a home.

On the night I arrived, a group of tenants had broken the hot tub area, leaving glass bottles and even the tub’s top open to the elements. I ended up closing it.

In the downstairs bar area, empty Bud Light cans were strewn on the tables.

Indoor entertainment is easy to come by, though. While every apartment comes with a TV, there are two media lounges. A touch panel controls the cable, Apple TV, and gaming systems, though you could add your own devices via HDMI.

There’s also a small library, though I wouldn’t say the collection was particularly curated. It was a lot of random books picked from the Strand’s $US1 bargain bin.

Interior stairwells provide access to several of the floors — a nice way to keep things connected.

At 6 p.m., I headed to the BYOB bar area for the daily happy hour.

The drinks (which are free) change every day. When I was there, a WeLive associate mixed up pitchers of Moscow Mules, which we promptly went through.

A banker from New Jersey I met at the happy hour said he moved to WeLive in August 2016 after becoming frustrated with the difficulty of finding a reasonably priced apartment in New York.

He said he was tired of spending his nights and weekends searching for the perfect apartment, then spending even more time buying furniture to fill it.

“Anywhere you go in the city, you are going to pay a ton for a small space,” he said. “Here, at least, I can use the common areas. The whole building is at my disposal to do whatever I want.”

It was a good place to meet other WeLive tenants. Most at the happy hour seemed like they had been in the building since it opened, but I was told there were always some newcomers who mix it up with the regulars.

About a dozen people showed up to the happy hour. Most appeared genuinely interested in mingling with people they knew and newcomers, like myself.

As one WeLive associate told me, the community in the building tends to be “self-selecting.”

“If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t want people to say hello to you, you probably aren’t going to stay for very long,” he said.

Many people I talked to at the happy hour said they attended the community programming when they first moved in but had mostly stopped going to events outside of the happy hour.

Like all the communal spaces, the bar is on a floor with other apartments. Two Spanish tenants who were staying for a couple of months told me they had to move because the noise from tenants at the bar was distracting.

But Stamm, who has lived on the floor for six months, said he hadn’t had problems with noise. WeWork associates do a good job of shutting down the bar at 10 p.m., he said, and most tenants who want to keep drinking will head down to the Mailroom.

After the happy hour, we headed to the Mailroom, the bar in the basement of the building that doubles as WeWork’s literal mailroom. It’s the kind of large, open lounge you rarely see in lower Manhattan.

Weekly Humorist, a comedy startup with offices in WeWork, was putting on its weekly comedy show. The lineup was hysterical, without a dud in the bunch. We stayed for the whole thing.

The thin crowd seemed to consist mostly of WeLive tenants, Weekly Humorist employees, and some other people who work in the WeWork upstairs.

When the show ended, we headed upstairs to pass out.

I slept pretty well on the second night. However, the idea of putting the Murphy bed up and down every day was a big turnoff.

And while there were lots of cabinets, I was unsure how I would organise my clothes to fit everything.

And while this isn’t exactly WeWork’s problem, the small kitchen combined with the many fast-casual restaurants nearby made me think that living at WeLive would exacerbate my tendency to eat out.

But there was one huge bonus I didn’t discover until the day I left: a free espresso bar from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. I snagged a cappuccino on my way out.

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