We're experts on practically everything hotel-related here at Oyster, and exposing awful hotels is our forte. Recently, we went out of our way to to cover a part of the industry we hadn't dared to explore yet: the seedy world of by-the-hour sex hotels. We went undercover at three spots: The Kew Motor Inn, busted in a police sting the week after our visit, for promoting prostitution; La Semana, known for its mentally unstable clientele; and The Liberty Inn, a cheesy love den with free porn and a vending machine full of lube. Although we'd done our research ahead of time, nothing could have prepared us for what we found. We arrived armed with a camera, tripod, and enough hand sanitizer to fill a heart-shaped whirlpool tub, and left with shocking photos, as well as the overwhelming desire to scrub clean our bodies -- and memories -- of all we'd experienced.
After the jump, we've compiled a list of the most noteworthy things we learned while out in the field.
10.) At a by-the-hour hotel, you might actually die. Talk about unsafe sex...
Two of the hotels we visited had reputations for not only being disgusting but actually downright dangerous. We had heard clientele described in such vivid terms as "drug-addled," "mentally unstable," and "violent." Someone had even locked himself in his room after believing the front desk manager had been shot. Knowing all of this beforehand, we weren't surprised to find barbwire-covered windows, exposed wires, and guests who were blatantly sex workers (more on that later).
9.) "Exercise pads" are not for Pilates.
The Liberty Inn provided a special exercise pad, which, according to the note, "is designed to position the body comfortably while maximizing the performance of some of your favorite exercises."
8.) Vending machines are for lube, not soda.
Investigating the world of sex hotels sure can make a person thirsty. Unluckily for my fellow reporter, Rachel, the vending machines at The Liberty Inn carried lube, condoms, and batteries rather than drinks.
7.) Subtlety does not exist in the world of sex hotels.
I thought I would get a drink after all when she saw that The Liberty Inn had a room service menu. Some of the choice cocktail options included "Butt Naked," "Bend Me Over Slammer," and the oddly placed (and extremely alcoholic) "Obama Pick Up." The menu wasn't available until later in the day, though, which in retrospect, was almost certainly for the best.
6.) Sex hotels are very protective of their remote controls and ashtrays.
The remote controls and ashtrays were consistently tied down in place to prevent theft. Not items that struck us as desirable to steal in the first place (what would someone do with a non-functioning remote?) but the sex hotels know what's important to them, we guess.
5.) Cigarette smoke is expected and encouraged.
Not a single hotel didn't reek of cigarettes, and at the Liberty Inn in particular, ashtrays were always on hand -- including the two that were glued to the Jacuzzi tub.
4.) Plastic flowers are the height of style.
Dust-covered plastic bouquets were absolutely everywhere in the sex hotel world. Even at the dangerous and dingy La Semana, plantings of plastic flowers guarded the entrance.
3.) The beds may seem dirty, but the walls, tables, and chairs are dirtier.
Through use of a black light, we found the beds certainly showed signs of...uhhh...use, but as with anything that can be thrown in a washing machine, nothing over the top was exposed. On the other hand, the walls, shower stalls, doorknobs, and counter tops were so filthy they would make a Greyhound bus station look like Versailles.
2.) The check-in staff are more protected than most bank tellers.
The rooms may be porno-cliche attempts at romance, but the lobbies of your run-of-the-mill sex hotel are locked down tighter than a bondage collar. Standing behind double plates of glass without so much as a hole to speak through. Although we can't imagine people are here to make friends with the staff.
1.) Politely avoid any eye contact with pimps, especially while they are shaking down Johns.
In what was simultaneously the most surprising and least surprising part of our investigation, my fellow reporter and I were able to witness a pimp angrily confronting a John (whom we had seen book a room about an hour earlier). We were powerless to move, waiting for the glacially slow elevator with a camera around my neck that made me look like an undercover cop. I was convinced I was about to have my memory card smashed. Eventually, he stopped pounding on the door and looked over in my direction. "How's it going today, folks?" he politely asked with a smile and a nod, just seconds before screaming "IF YOU DON'T OPEN THIS DOOR, I AM GOING TO [redacted]."