November 5, 2013 | Lists
When it comes to crime, it’s not something most want associated with hotels, or motor lodges (hotels whose rooms one can accidentally crash a vehicle into).
That goes for whether it’s your things being pilfered – say, by someone you might’ve tipped in the currency of junk food, unaware of local custom – or accommodations steeped in historical morsels like “this is where so and so met a gruesome end in the bathroom” that might make one forget about the ring left around the tub.
Some travelers amazingly, don’t even think of a hotel room that “looks like the inside of a prison cell” as a pejorative and want as close to the prison experience as is socially acceptable and without having to threaten a celebrity on Twitter to do it. Morbidity sells and that bit of apocrypha that Fatty Arbuckle might’ve nearly drowned in a bidet can’t compete with hotels with the history and bad Mojo that can only come from having been the kinds of places where you can check out and never leave – prisons (even worse, prisons that play Eagles’ music 24/7). .
Here are some popular hotels/hostels that were once prisons.
The Långholmen Hotel, Stockholm, Sweden.
It’s easy to mentally recreate the experience of being locked up 23 hours a day and looking askance at Q-Tips that could be fashioned into shanks, at this former hoosegow which was closed in 1975.
Now it’s a swanky hotel and there’s still the option of a single or double cell and the thick cell doors remain from the original structure. The accompanying visual says, if this room is a-rockin’, please come a knockin’ as someone is being smothered with a pillow.
Built on an island, one that was not the kind populated with bikini-clad sportswomen with which Sweden’s popular culture has graced us, this island was originally rocky and barren. Inmates in the 18th century covered it with mud dredged from nearby waterways. If this sounds too austere for your liking, the hotel website promises “daring design solutions and free access to wireless broadband.”
Jailhotel Löwengraben, Luzern, Switzerland.
We’re neutral when it comes to riffs about the Swiss, but not about this jail, built in 1862.
The “unplugged” room gives the visitor as close to an experience of incarceration as you’d want and with the added bonus of not being strangled with gift twine. There’s even a prison library, where you can pretend you’re scouring precedents for that obscure legal loophole required for the governor to spring you before your omnipresence in the library confers a reputation that’s nearly impossible to shake behind bars: the guy who’s always in the library and plum pickings for an easy beating.
In keeping with the incarceration theme, you can knock back drinks in the Alcatraz Club, pretending you’re Clint Eastwood escaping the eponymous prison, but then realizing you’re in Central Europe and the name makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.
Pension Unitas, Prague Czech Republic.
In this Russian interrogation cell-cum-hostel, you can rest your head in the very same iron bunk bed that once housed Czech freedom fighter and former president Vaclav Havel.
Havel, who may or may not have signed the pension guestbook (he was the subject of a documentary shoot there), told The Independent when asked about the accommodations, offered an explanation you wouldn’t want proffered by a key character witness: “I live in the present…I have no time to return to the past…details of times best forgotten become hazy if you want them to.”
The former KGB crowbar motel cheekily bills itself as “unfriendly, unheated, uncomfortable and open all year round”.
As an added bonus, a concierge dressed in dark blue Soviet naval attire, barks out orders as you’re processed through booking, given a medical exam, identification and hunks of stale rye bread. For kicks, dress the same way and get tourists to hustle your luggage to your room.
Interestingly, it’s staffed by hacks – real prison guards that is, in big-house parlance – not terrible comedians.
Jail Backpackers, Mount Gambier, Australia.
Actual metal toilets in this joint down under conjure up the lengths inmates would’ve gone, to distill “pruno,” or prison wine (For more on pruno read the Wikipedia entry at your own peril).
If you wish to distill pruno authentically, you have our blessing and let us know how it goes with a quick email, unless you go blind in which case, please refrain from phoning us.
Proprietors of the 1866 structure, “spent much time and effort cleaning, renovating and re-furbishing”, as evidenced here by the touch of plant life gracing the prison yard.
HI-Ottawa Jail Hostel.
Originally the Carleton County Gaol, the top floor of this 1862 structure served as the jail’s death row. There are some who’d rather be dead than spend a night in a hostel, and the four bunk bed accommodations don’t seem much roomier than what inmates would’ve experienced.
Fenian sympathizer Patrick Whelan was hung here in 1869 and it’s said that his ghost (and probably the ghosts of filthy backpackers who’ve had unprotected carnal relations), haunts the hostel halls (for more, please see our list of Non-Boring Moments in Canadian History over at Mental Floss).
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September 10, 2013 | Reviews
By Lawrence Osborne
I’m feeling “magnificently insolent”– to quote The Wet and the Dry – beer in hand and becoming increasingly “illuminated” as Wodehouse would have it.
Lawrence Osborne’s book is illuminating as well, rare as the finest scotch and also in that it celebrates, rather than bemoans a life lived enjoying the drink.
As someone who co-authored a book exalting booze, who was dubbed a “festive boozing consultant” by a publicist, this is much appreciated.
According to Osborne, drinkers are “Dionysian dancers who sit still mocking”, but he is quick to stray from the barstool in this engaging read, voyaging into regions where a cold one is as likely as a stocked bar at an AA social.
These cocktail hour locales include Beirut, where Christian minorities spur Lebanese wine culture and “drink becomes the wedge of freedom in a land otherwise haunted by the religious men in black”, as well as mostly dry Oman, Pakistan, increasingly dry Indonesia, Turkey and dangerous Malaysia.
But The Wet and the Dry isn’t a glass of imperialism served straight up even if Osborne equates prohibition with sexual suppression and that Islamic radicals are “right to hate and fear it [alcohol]. In bars, people leave their inhibitions behind.”
In Indonesia, he speaks to a couple of students who advocate closing bars, because booze falsified a relationship with god. In Islam, a student Hakim tells a sympathetic at times self-loathing Osborne, the effect of alcohol is that “we are not true to ourselves or our relationships.”
On a cruel sober afternoon in Oman, Osborne admits that he and an Italian girlfriend who’d fretted about the horrors of a dry New Year’s drinking fruit juice, are “more mindful, more aware of our responsibilities”.
Those concessions aside, Osborne happily comes down on the side of dopamine – the neurotransmitter that unites the drinker “for a short spell, with drunken fruit flies and happy dogs”.
While alcohol can no doubt lower inhibitions and pose risks in the free world – the author recounts his passage through a Red Hook housing complex to get to his favorite dumpy Brooklyn watering hole – try sidling up to a bar say, along the Thai / Malaysian border.
However even South Thailand, a violent hotbed of Islamic insurgency, draws Muslim boozehounds from across the Malaysian border. We find out that there people will risk “bombings of coffee shops, bars and ATM machines” for a cold one, something to think about next time you take a pass on an invite for some after-work libations.
A brief travel note: If you’re bar-hopping in Islamabad, there aren’t many stops. It’s Pakistan’s capital, a country with 160 million people, but the number of (legal) drinking establishments outside of hotels, can be counted on one hand, a drinking companion tells Osborne. One needs to apply for a permit to buy and Muslims caught violating these laws can face months in prison.
The author quotes Der Spiegel: “the front line in the struggle against fundamentalism in Pakistan isn’t in the mountainous border regions, it’s in the country’s permit rooms.”
As the fascinating Osborne hunts for the perfect cocktail, wringing up hefty bar tabs across Asia and the Middle East, we learn that in Egypt, attitudes toward beer are relatively lax (because they basically invented the stuff) and that the first use of the term “bar” was in Robert Greene’s Elizabethan era play, A Notable Discovery of Coosnage. For all you job seekers out there, there is also an account of perils of pulling pints as a Muslim in Bin Laden country.
Osborne’s claim that “one needs a bar almost as much as one needs oxygen, or shirts” seems about right. If he’s ever in Toronto, I’d buy him a round.
Christopher Lombardo is co-author of The Man Who Scared a Shark to Death and Other True Tales of Drunken Debauchery (Penguin).