A Stay at Some of Seattle's Most Unsavory-Looking Lodgings

Green Lake Motel

(8900 Aurora Ave. N., 527-5000)

More than two-dozen dirty mattresses are beached in the parking lot. The office manager takes $44.65 and hands me the key to Room 28, which he says has no phone. The hallway is as dark as a mine shaft, and I spend a minute jiggling the doorknob of Room 25 before an aggravated man yells, "Somebody in here!" When I enter my own unit, my cell phone lights up with a "No Service" message. The room has seen better days. Those days came 60 years ago. The carpet is worn to a sticky slick. The ceiling, fridge, and sink are covered with brownish deposits, and smears of something like mucus paint the walls around the bed. Duct tape covers the mirror, the box spring, and a hole in the lower wall—which, I fantasize, houses a snake. The TV has the name of the Emerald Inn scratched into it. Heading out in search of local entertainment, I find four sex shops, two karaoke bars, and the Klose-In, a historic motel across the street that garnered a mention in a hard-boiled detective story on Writing.com: "There were small bits of flesh and muscle lying about the room; it was hard to believe that these pieces no bigger than a baseball were once a person." The Klose-In has the exterior lighting of Dracula's castle, an office wallpapered with missing-girl fliers, and absolutely no motel signage—and it's booked solid. I return to the Green Lake and its dying neon ("MO"). Outside, a girl in a pink sweat suit sucking on a smoothie asks, "You ever get that feeling this is going to be a long night?" Reading through news archives from the 1990s, I learn that the Green Lake won the trophy for most prostitution-and-drug arrests among upper Aurora Avenue motels. A burning Christmas tree set the place on fire in 1992. Four people went to the hospital after slashing each other with broken bottles in 1998. In 2007, a miserable reporter spent a sleepless night listening to a man in the next room hack up a lung. By the time the wake-up call came at 9:30 a.m.—in the form of a prolonged pounding on the door—he knew by touch the number of cigarette burns on his coverlet: 11. JOHN METCALFE

Hillside Motel

(2451 Aurora Ave. N, 285-7860)

When I told my cab driver my destination, he did a double take. "It's the first of what I call the fleabag motels on Aurora," he said. "I've dropped off people there and picked them up a little while later. Drug deals or whatever." Kurt Cobain was rumored to have shot up heroin at the Hillside, but on a rainy night in May (the kind of night where people in movies get killed at fleabag motels), just two cars sat in the lot, one of them with a deflated right rear tire. For $45 (cash only), plus a $5 key deposit, I got a nonsmoking double—though the ancient Chinese man at the window made me promise to use only one bed. Separated from Canlis by just a few blocks, the Hillside is light years away in its comforts. Amenities are limited to a soda machine and a communal phone, which shares the motel's phone number. And no, you can't order room service from it. The room's mini-fridge was empty, and broken to boot. The wall heater worked, but was missing its dial. The TV had cable but no remote. My door had a chain lock with nothing for it to slide into. Pulling back the bedspread revealed a sprinkling of short blond hairs. On the plus side, the toilet flushed. HUAN HSU

Munson Motel

(7060 E. Marginal Way S., 762-6684)

Star Motel

(5216 Fourth Ave. S., 764-4647)

It's not as easy being a lady of the night as it used to be. According to the Spring 2001 issue of Liaison Links, the quarterly newsletter of the Seattle City Attorney's Precinct Liaison Program, after the owner of a hotel on Marginal Way was charged with permitting prostitution on the premises, nine motels in Georgetown were enrolled in the SPD trespass |program. Trespass, an attempt to curtail illicit activities, means cutting down on the number of outside visitors by requiring an ID at check-in, a decreased availability of phones, and no outside visitors whatsoever after 11 p.m.

It also means that if you're like me, a young-ish woman with a killer rack, you may be denied the opportunity to check in at all.

At the Munson, $45-a-night rooms smelled of waxy soap and a built-in smoke stench, and were adorned with beds that looked lumpier than a sack of pus-filled chestnuts. I was repeatedly questioned ("This room for you? Just you?") before being told, "You drive down road, five minutes. Good room."

Five minutes down the road, after knocking on the door for 30 minutes, haggling for 15 and promising that I wouldn't have any guests, I was allowed to check into the Star Motel. For $59, the room included a kitchenette with two burners and a mini-fridge, a sturdy end table with two chairs, and cable TV. The ubiquitous motel drawer was filled with a Spanish version of the Bible, a green Bic lighter, nondescript wires, a gently used toothbrush and a dirty plastic baggy. Key deposit ran $5. The walls were marked with plaster-covered spots, the furniture with teeth marks and scratches. The bed was lumpy, the blue-green carpet threadbare, but the stench was virtually nonexistent.

With no neighbors in the room to the left (broken door), a view of parked trucks against the side of an industrial building, and a desire to not be killed on my birthday, I invited a few friends over. One smelled cigarette smoke and, unbeknownst to me, opened a window in the room. At midnight, the manager knocked on the door and screamed, "No guests! You promised!" angrily waving his flashlight. Though he probably thought I was a prostitute, thankfully, he didn't kick me out. (Happy birthday, indeed!) And as any entrepreneur can tell you, a hooker in the room is better than a dead hooker in the parking lot. KARLA STARR

University Motel

(4731 12th Ave. N.E., 522-4724)

I intended to stay in a Lake City fleabag one Wednesday night in late May, really I did. My plan was to dine at the Italian Spaghetti House, drown in bourbon down the road at the Rimrock, and repair to my exposed-wire box spring at the Meadowbrook Motel around midnight. That was truly the plan. What fucked the plan up is that the low-slung Meadowbrook, in contrast to its marquee, has been transformed into a row of tiny apartments whose leases run longer than one night.

So I punted, and drove to a mysterious side-street lodge I'd long been curious about: the University Motel. Judging from its cement exterior and hardscrabble alley garage entrance, the shithole factor looked promising—and only gained momentum with the emergence of a peculiar little dude in a dark, super-quiet office with kitschy postcards. The per-night room rate: $82—exorbitant by Huan Hsu standards, but still bargain-basement in this town. Walking upstairs to my second-floor room, I noticed the old push-button doorbells on every door, and fully expected to walk into a skuzzy unit with semen stains on the sheets, brown tap water, and a TV with rabbit ears held together by duct tape.

But that simply wasn't the case: The room was downright palatial by cheapo standards. If there were a beach outside, this unit could have passed for a 1950s one-bedroom Oceanside rental. There was a bed in the main room, a perfectly functional TV (we watched the Shear Genius semifinal on Bravo after a hearty round of pizza and porter at Big Time Brewery), a separate dining area, a full kitchen with cabinets and a pink oven, a clean bathroom (although a couple of tiles stuck to the balls of my feet), and a separate master bedroom with a sizable walk-in closet. If you're a college kid looking for a cheap spot to post up with a gaggle of bros before the Skanky-K formal, baby, this is the place! MIKE SEELY

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