Roadtrip: American Hotel Hostel In Seattle

By Taylor Weech

Traveling on a budget isn’t always easy, but Hostelling International USA at the American Hotel in Seattle’s International District provides a fun, affordable weekend getaway or a kickoff to a cross country hostel tour. Hostels differ from hotels in a few basic ways; they offer dormitory style sleeping accommodations for an affordable rate ($35 a night for a bed at American Hotel), communal kitchen and recreation spaces, and in many cases, opportunities for group tours and activities.

Scott Shapiro, owner of the American Hotel, says that the reason travelers choose a hostel is, “…not just about location and affordability, but about community and creating opportunities for people to meet other people they would never have encountered otherwise.”
The blend of languages in the lobby provides the first clue that the American Hotel is an international destination for travelers young and old. There is a high school group from France, an elderly couple from Australia, and a group of German college students who are in the U.S. for the first time. The guests at the American Hotel are half domestic travelers and half international, mostly from Canada, Japan, Korea, Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

When Spokane native Scott Shapiro was a student at downtown Lewis and Clark High School, he and his friend Rob Brewster liked to walk around examining the historic vacant buildings downtown and talk about what they’d like to turn them in to. Scott says his parents told him, “That’s a great idea. Go to college.” Scott went on to earn his BA with honors in government and American studies from Wesleyan University and his MBA in real estate and finance from Columbia Business School. He now operates a real estate firm with a primary interest in renovation and adaptive reuse of historic buildings. Most of Shapiro’s projects with Eagle Rock Ventures are on the west side of Washington, including the American Hotel and the Melrose Market in Seattle. His LC classmate Rob Brewster has gone on to renovate downtown Spokane structures including Holley Mason and the Hutton Building.

The American Hotel building was built in 1925 as a single room occupancy hotel for seasonal workers in fishing and mining. Many later continued to live in the building and it remained a hotel until 1980, when it was purchased by the Union Gospel Mission for use as a women’s and children’s shelter. The multiple storefronts below the hostel have contained many small businesses over the years, including a beauty parlor, ethnic newspapers, and grocery stores. It reopened as a hostel after Shapiro along with Jim Potter purchased and reopened it in 2009.

American Hotel hosts a wide variety of delicious and affordable options for eating out or in within a few steps. Uwajimaya Asian Grocery Store is just around the corner along with four restaurants in the same building as the hostel. The community kitchen can easily accommodate multiple chefs at the same time and host all guests for free breakfast every morning. Patrons can store their own ingredients or leftovers in the public refrigerator or pantry, which both have “free” shelves with snacks left behind by fellow travelers. Dinner can be an excellent opportunity to share meals with people from around the world and trade recipes and travel plans.

Traveling without a car in an unfamiliar city can be a stressful experience, but even less experienced travelers will have no problem getting to and around the American Hotel. If traveling by Greyhound, the hostel is a five minute cab ride away and is also located on multiple bus lines. If traveling by Amtrak, the station is just a few blocks away. Once at the American Hotel, traveling to any part of Seattle is convenient and accessible via public transit—the transit tunnel is across the street—patrons can also rent a bike from the hostel or explore the International District on foot. Guests can opt to stay in and take advantage of the library, TV room, computer lab, WiFi, laundry and storage located on-site.

For travelers new to the area, American Hotel can set up group tours of different neighborhoods in the city as well as outdoor exploration. Trips can be set up based on the interests of the group participating and can include skiing, hiking, and cultural exploration. Many guests plan day travel together after meeting each other at the hostel and some even continue on down the west coast on in to the country in a larger group after meeting in Seattle.

American Hotel is part of Hostelling International, the largest and oldest network of hostels in the world. Its first location was established in Germany in 1909 and has since grown to include 4,000 hostels in 80 countries. The network strives to set clean, affordable, safe standards for the hostelling industry to provide quality travel experiences for people around the world. Some of the guests at the American Hotel have been members for years and routinely travel different parts of the world exclusively at Hostelling International hostels and enjoy benefits like travel discounts, free currency exchange, and access to the programs at any Hostelling International location. Membership is extremely affordable; adult annual membership is $28, members under eighteen are free, and a life time membership is available for $250.

Shapiro is clearly passionate about the American Hotel. He loves to bring international travelers to Seattle and help create a great impression of Seattle and the Northwest while creating jobs in the construction and hospitality industries. His favorite part about the American Hotel is the community and the opportunity to “make the world a little smaller”.

The American Hotel is located at 520 South King Street in Seattle. For more information go to http://www.hiusa.org/seattle or call (206) 622-5443.