Guests Are Far From Home but Close to Amenities

D.C. Hostels Go Beyond Bed and Bath

By Sue Anne Pressley Montes Washington Post Staff Writer Thursday, February 7, 2008; PW05

Most guests at the Loftstel, a youth hostel that just opened in a renovated rowhouse in Petworth, are not hitchhiking anywhere. They're reporting to jobs as interns at government agencies and international organizations.

That gives the place, with its potted orchids, fuchsia sheets and cheery yellow paint, a decidedly Washington tone.

Around the dining table, guests from Brazil and Australia debate the U.S. presidential elections. If the television is on at all, it's turned to the news. The phrase "intellectual discourse" is used more than once by the Loftstel managers. And the guests are there longer than a day or two; in fact, the average stay is five weeks.

"It creates a sense of friendship," said guest Paula Orlando of Sao Paulo, Brazil, who jokes that, at 31, she is "too old to be an unpaid intern" at an international agency. "You see people for longer than a week."

In the District, there are several hostels that offer low prices and dormitory-like settings for travelers, especially international students. Hostelling International Washington, D.C. has a facility on 11th St. NW, not far from the White House. The Capitol City Hostel, 2411 Benning Rd. NE, which opened five years ago, charges travelers $20 per night.

The Loftstel, 4115 Eighth St. NW, is the third facility opened in two years by owner Jeff Pan, a native of Philadelphia. The original Loftstel in New York was housed in a loft, which led to the name of his business, a combination of "loft" and "hostel," he said. That and another in Philadelphia are now in houses.

Pan, 25, said he picked up ideas for his lodgings during travels around the world, during which he has stayed at many hostels, good and bad. In Washington, where the 20 beds go for $25 a night or $400 a month, he offers free wireless Internet and Nintendo Wii, along with small extras such as sleeping masks. Cleanliness is stressed; guests are required to remove their shoes on entry and place them on a tall shelf next to the door. And no sleeping on the downstairs couch is allowed; it creates the wrong kind of atmosphere, Loftstel regional manager Nick Rudolph said.

Neighbors in the area near Georgia Avenue NW were at first a little concerned about the nature of the enterprise, said Dan Silverman, who wrote about the Loftstel's arrival in his "Prince of Petworth" blog. There is no sign on the front of the rowhouse, and residents wondered who all the young people coming and going were, he said.

"There's a lot of curiosity at this point," Silverman said. "Not everybody is opposed to the idea. Some are quite excited about the prospect of more tourists, more people walking around, these people patronizing our establishments. There's not a negative response, but just a little caution."

Pan said he tries to locate his facilities in neighborhoods so that guests can settle in and enjoy local life.

Samuel Feder, 22, who is relocating to the District from New York, hurried into the Loftstel on a recent afternoon to check in. He had heard about the lodging through Craigslist and figured it would be a good place to stay for a couple of days until he could move into his new apartment. "Looks interesting," he said, taking off his shoes.

Cass Wright of Adelaide, Australia, might qualify as a more traditional hostel guest. The 21-year-old college student is "passing through Washington on holiday," slowly working her way up to Canada, she said.

Wright said she likes where she is staying because it's clean and friendly.

"Everyone comes up and says hello to you," she said, before heading off to see the U.S. Capitol.