Where Do Dirtbags Go for Valentine’s?

One of Aly's photos from the Burlington Hotel

It happened like this:

Making the rounds last Friday at the Art Murmur, I came across the photos of a friend of mine, Aly Su Borst. They were pretty bad-ass: a series of self-portraits set in some run-down opulence that got my spooky/awesome sensors spiked. I took some photos on my phone. At home the next day, I showed my roommate, “Hey, Luke, check out Aly’s photos.”

“Oh, rad, Port Costa.”

“Where’s that?”

That’s how I found out about the overnight destination all the local dirtbags have apparently been partying it up in for decades. And like most things, I’ve found out just in the nick of time: the reputedly haunted, ramshackle old bordello/hotel that serves as the heart of the 250-person town of Port Costa (that despite being 30 miles from my house, I’d never heard of) has plans to spiffy itself up, and recently received coverage by the San Francisco Chronicle. I knew no time could be wasted—I booked a room for this Saturday night. It’ll be a Valentine’s weekend overnight the way I like it: full of bats, bedbugs, dive bar denizens and rock n roll.

The Chronicle‘s article made the Burlington Hotel sound like the very definition of “hidden gem”—not in the Tuscan villa sense of the word, but in the gritty, visceral sense—which is to say, the sense I dig the most. Whether it was in fact an old whorehouse, and whether it is indeed haunted by the ghosts of prostitutes and shipyard workers, one thing seems for sure: the Burlington Hotel is a relic of the Old West California, the one Jack Black captured in the book You Can’t Win—the one that’s all but gone amid the Botox and SUVs of Southern California, and the Blue Priuses and Tibetan prayer flags of Northern California. Which is why I want in.

It won’t be a relaxing, rejuvenating or romantic getaway. Its Yelp reviews reveal as much: “dirty,” “bad-ass,” “like a horror movie,” “whore-tel.” One person laments that it’s no longer the all-night rager spot it had been in previous years (frequented by the likes of none other than the East Bay Rats—nuff said). A raucous bar next door constitutes much of the clientele, including “bikers, transients, nazi crack addicts, and drifters. maybe tourists are in there somewhere, too.” (Really, there’s some effing gems on the Yelp page, read through that shit.)

Already pretty convinced, I came home from work the next night and found Liz and Melissa on the couch. “You guys ever heard of the Burlington Hotel?” They turned their heads slowly towards me.Β “Oh. Dude.”

They swapped debaucherous stories from their hard-partying youth—Liz being haunted in Room K, Melissa’s heshen friends getting permanently 86-ed (which apparently is saying a whole lot). “Make sure,” Liz advised, “that you bring your own sheets. Bedbug city, yo.”

I called to make a reservation, which wasn’t quite as difficult as the Chronicle article made it out to be. After a long succession of rings, someone picked up; muffled and scratchy, he told me they weren’t quite open yet, but to call back in a half-hour, and they’d be ready to “rock n roll.” I did, and they were. Butt rock blared in the background. All the rooms I’d been advised were the best were, of course, full, but I did get in on the “special” (Valentine’s Day special? probably not): the room and 2 surf-and-turf dinners for $99 total. Now that’s my kind of overnight.

Ridiculous photo from the Smokey's Tangle V-Day Photo Booth, February's Art Murmur

So sadly, since the Chronicle recently did a piece on the hotel, I’m gonna have to dig a little deeper to a) out-do their article, and b) find the right publication for it. The good news is that my partner in crime is bringing along his fancy camera, so the photos, well, they’re going to kill. Hopefully not literally.

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7 Responses to “Where Do Dirtbags Go for Valentine’s?”


  1. 1 Gray February 12, 2010 at 5:10 pm

    Lauren, you are a riot. I don’t think I know anyone else who would get excited about staying at a place with reported bats and bedbugs. I can’t wait to read about your stay! Should be REALLY interesting…. πŸ™‚

  2. 2 Naomi February 12, 2010 at 8:22 pm

    Oh, I’ve been wanting to check out Port Costa for so long, and as I (also) live in Oakland it’s mildly ridiculous that I haven’t done so already. You’ve inspired me to check it out before it gets too ‘spiffy’ πŸ™‚

    (also, i am a new blog reader, having wandered over here from some other travel blog somewhere. so jealous of your cuba trip, awesome stuff!)

  3. 3 Aly February 15, 2010 at 11:06 am

    Looking forward to the pics and story from your weekend!

  4. 4 Candice February 16, 2010 at 11:40 am

    Hilarious. Please post pics!

  5. 5 Susan February 21, 2010 at 8:22 pm

    I think it’s cute! It definitely piqued my interest to follow your adventures. We just finished a year long trip ourselves, so it’s jogging my memory and bringing back some good memories.

  6. 6 Undar March 27, 2010 at 3:28 pm

    Can’t wait to hear how your stay went. Don’t miss Joe’s Oddities which is located inside the Warehouse Cafe’ or Sparky’s Garage on the first floor of the Burlington. You can find some true keepsake “oddities” at these little hidden stores.

    • 7 laurenquinn March 27, 2010 at 3:30 pm

      The stay was delightful! We did go to Joe’s Oddities (where we chickened out on consuming 15-year-old soda), but the other spots were closed, as it was a Sunday. Guess that just means there’ll have to be a repeat visit.


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Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

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