One of the perks of being blogmaster for Bilerico Project has been all the traveling I've been able to do over the past few years. Whether I'm attending a conference to report back for the blog or I've been hired for a speaking engagement, I've seen quite a few cities I've never had the chance to visit.
Usually if I'm going for a paid speaking gig, the organization will provide the plane ticket and cover the hotel. Sometimes though, the org is small or a hotel chain will offer free accommodations. For the March on Washington, Kimpton Hotels offered me a major discount and use of one of their hotel bars for our giant meetup and when I went to San Fran for the Victory Fund conference, Kimpton stepped up again. In LA, the Grafton on Sunset provided the room. In exchange, I've blogged about their generosity and worked in how good I thought the hotel was in my posts about the trip. All of the hotels have been four stars or better - a nice change of pace for a poor lowly blogger.
For my Seattle trip to speak at the Out In Front conference, however, it was Red Roof Inn that stepped up to the plate. Red Roof is an economy hotel chain; they've recently partnered with the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association to offer chain-wide discounts to LGBT travelers. (Book online at redroof.com and use VP code #600446 to get 15% off your stay!)
So what was it like being a VIP at Red Roof Inn? It's after the jump.
I don't usually do an actual review of the facilities, but this warrants an exception. I'll admit going in that I was a little skeptical of both how nice the hotel would be and how friendly the staff or other patrons truly were.
Red Roof gave us a room in Seattle from Thursday night until Sunday morning and then in Washington DC for Sunday night. Jerame accompanied me to the speech in Seattle and then we flew to DC for a presentation he made to the US Census about ourfamiliescount.org.
Red Roof Seattle
The Seattle hotel was about what I'd expected. Inside and out it looked like an economy hotel. Apparently it's not been a Red Roof property for long. The shuttle bus still said Holiday Inn but it had Red Roof written on the windshield and all of the corridor plaques to indicate room numbers were pieces of paper stuck to the wall. Most of the vending machines were still empty.
When we checked in on Thursday night, there was a not-too-friendly-looking young woman behind the counter. I told her I had a reservation and told her my name and suddenly she perked up noticeably.
"Just sign here, Mr. Browning," she chirped. She passed me a piece of paper that already had our key cards attached. Written across the paper in very large writing was "VIP." Jerame and I chuckled as we walked away. After all, a VIP at an economy hotel? How amusing.
The room was huge, but you could tell that it wasn't a gay man who picked the decor. The curtains/bedspread combo was enough to paralyze your eyes as oranges, reds and blues clashed in mortal combat. Between the stripes and patterns, it was enough to make you dizzy. Sadly, the DC hotel also had the same combo, so it must be a chainwide decision.
The next morning I went to grab a cup of coffee from the continental buffet. I don't usually eat an actual breakfast; a cup of coffee or two is more than enough for me. It's a good thing too because there was nothing to eat in the room. There was a tired looking cappuccino machine stuck forlornly in the corner of the large room though so I headed over there for some caffeine.
"Be careful of the cups," an elderly woman warned me as I walked up to it. The cups were extremely cheap styrofoam ("Hello? Environment calling. They'd like to talk to you about your disregard for the Earth, please!") and as soon as the coffee hit the cup it started to cave in from the heat. The machine was also set incorrectly so instant coffee spattered all over and ran over the edge as the cup precariously wobbled back and forth.
Trying not to spill more of the drink I took a sip and knew I was going to have to look elsewhere for some coffee. This is Seattle, right? How hard can it be? Harder than it looks when you're by the airport; I ended up grabbing a cup at the nearby gas station to tide me over. After contributor Joe Mirabella picked us up for a day of sightseeing and fun (and frequent guest poster Josh Cohen met us downtown), I made sure to get some real coffee at the first Starbucks - and kept chugging down go-go juice until we had to go back to the hotel!
It was when we got back to the hotel Friday night though that really made me wonder what kind of hotel we'd checked into. As we walked into the hotel, Jerame pointed out the TV. It was playing porn - two women sucking a double-headed dildo for a while and then a big breasted woman playing with sex toys. We're sex-positive on Bilerico Project, but, then again, we're not aimed at families so it seemed rather out of place. It didn't offend me in the least, but it did make me giggle.
For all of it's faults currently, the hotel looks like it'll end up a nice spot. They were still taking out doors and making improvements while we were there so give it a few months and then go see a Seattle summer. Just bring your own coffee.
Red Roof Downtown Washington DC
Jerame and I flew into Baltimore and took the train down to DC. Since the hotel was reasonably close, we decided to walk the few blocks and enjoy the city. I love walking around DC, so it was a nice way to spend some time outdoors and breathe some fresh air.
After our experience in Seattle we both wondered what the DC property would look like. Boy, were we surprised. The Red Roof DC is located on the edge of Chinatown and it resembles an older four star hotel more than a budget spot to crash. The staff were all extremely friendly and they even had an economy welcome gift waiting on me in the room. (Two packs of peanut butter crackers, a bottle of water and a $10 Starbucks gift card. I think they saw my tweets about finding coffee in Seattle!)
The staff were all extremely friendly and helpful and were a general pleasure to interact with. The trainee who checked us in looked awfully familiar although I never could figure out how I knew him and the young woman who was working the night shift was so funny I hung out with her in the lobby for a bit while Jerame watched the end of Lost. (I refused to watch until I could see the entire finale.)
The rooms still featured that unfortunate choice of curtain/bedspread combo but - as in Seattle - the furniture was modern, well cared for, and impeccably clean. Except for that crazy color scheme, the room looked like any of the four-star properties we'd stayed in. The room had a great view of Chinatown too.
Why Should You Choose Red Roof?
If you're a poorly paid average American, you can't afford to stay in the lap of luxury each time you travel. When Jerame I drove to Austin for the South By SouthWest conference, we spent the night in a Holiday Inn Express in Little Rock that was beyond gross. Choosing an economy hotel is almost like a crap shoot; you never know what you're going to get.
I peeked around both hotels (got off on other floors on the elevator, for example, just to look around) and at no point did I find anything gross or dirty or even questionable. The rooms didn't reek of smoke or sex and the linens were worn but not threadbare. In other words, it looked like an economy hotel instead of the seedy spots most travel stops have become.
Throw in a welcome mat to LGBT customers - and a discount! - and you've found a great spot to stop as you're on vacation. Is it living in the lap of luxury? Nope. Is it decent and cheap? You betcha. (I know, I've got Palinitus. Hey, what can I say? We could see the Alaska Airlines hub from our hotel room in Seattle!)
I'm currently talking to the Red Roof folks about sponsoring a contest to show off some of their newest NextGen hotels that are comparable to a mid-priced boutique hotel with bathrooms that feature granite countertops, vessel sinks and walk-in showers and rooms that include flat-screen TVs, spacious workspaces and plush bedding.
Maybe we'll get to go on vacation together this summer. That'd be fun, wouldn't it?
Where would you want to go?