The Moxy Hotel lobby.

There’s something major missing in the lobby of South Lake Union’s Moxy Hotel, but you can’t say the entryway doesn’t warn you. The vestibule’s collage-style artwork reads, “There was nowhere to go but everywhere.” Indeed, there’s nowhere obvious to go inside the lobby because there’s no check-in desk in sight. What kind of downtown Marriott is this?

Welcome to the era of hotels with personality—the personality of a sentient Instagram account. Moxy, open since February, feels nothing like a regular hotel, but it does a solid impression of a trendy drinkery thanks to a central bar, long shared tables, and scattered couches. Industrial design meets faux-rustic Northwest chic, with exposed metal ductwork hanging over a dozen hand-painted axes thwacked into the wall. Vintage board games. A teeter-totter. Nothing is beige and nothing is boring.

Though a division of Marriott Hotels, the Moxy brand of boutique properties—a chain within a chain—leans into quirk. The bartender is your front desk clerk; guests get a free cocktail before they’re issued a key card. Everywhere you turn the hotel talks back; a chalkboard wall reads “Before I die I want to…” and includes a space for guests to fill in the blank. (“…go to Mars with Elon Musk!” scrawled one optimist.) A sign above the self-serve food bar instructs you to “Do it your damn self.”

Once upon a time, downtown had two kinds of high-end hotels. You had your grande dames like the Fairmont Olympic or Four Seasons, with their gilded ballrooms and infinity pools. Then there were the unobtrusive reliables from chains like Westin and Hyatt, so consistent they could be anywhere from Seattle to Cincinnati. But twenty-first century travel now demands a sense of place; enter boutique properties dotted with local art and bright accents—one downtown Kimpton even made David Bowie throw pillows. Forgettable wasn’t the goal.

When the Roosevelt Hotel, at Seventh and Pine, rebooted late last year, it ditched formality by switching names to the Hotel Theodore. Top-floor rooms boast record players and vinyl selections from Queen Anne’s Light in the Attic Records. Today, from Pike-Pine to Seattle’s fringes, new hotels offer so much character it’s hard to tell if you’re supposed to check in or friend it on Facebook.

Hotel Theodore retains its rooftop surname sign.

If it came down to a popularity contest, it would be hard to beat Hazel, the doyenne of Tukwila’s 19-story Hotel Interurban. The 185-room behemoth, open since May and now the tallest building between Seattle and Tacoma, is overseen by a Savioke Relay autonomous delivery robot, a hip-high busybody that looks like the lovechild of R2-D2 and an air conditioner.

Hazel the robot works the front door at Hotel Interurban.

“Good afternoon,” reads Hazel’s display as she whirs up to guests in the lobby. Like an Alexa, she’ll tell cheesy jokes when she’s in her so-called mingle mood; unlike a smart speaker, she can deliver towels and room service snacks, riding the elevator sans human assistance.

Hazel represents the playful side of a hotel that you wouldn’t think cared; this Southcenter Mall–adjacent lot used to house a Circuit City. With free shuttles to Sea-Tac Airport and the Tukwila light rail station, the Interurban has all the convenience of an airport hotel, but whimsy lurks in every corner—such as the life-size sheep sculptures tucked under the lobby staircase—along with specific nods to the owners’ heritage, including a full Chinese breakfast in the hotel restaurant.

Greater Seattle refuses to sleep on the business of memorable sleeps. Last summer the W Bellevue opened with fanfare to celebrate a luxury hotel (a chain!) that mimics a deconstructed vacation house; porch swings hang where there aren’t any porches. Perhaps in the era of Airbnb, where it’s often cheaper to rent someone’s splashy second home than cram into 300 square feet of hotel room, a bit of personality has become as crucial as extra towels. 

Even though staying at a hotel is all about making someone else make the bed, a sense of familiarity is key to downtown’s new Palihotel, opening in fall at First Avenue and Pine across from Pike Place Market. The eclectic design, says Los Angeles hotelier Avi Brosh, “feels like you could do it yourself. It feels approachable and fun but doesn’t feel cheesy or cliche or trendy.”

Which means the 96 rooms in the 1800s Colonnade Building will have books stacked into the nooks where fireplaces used to be. Mismatched prints, bright yellow desks. The restaurant downstairs, the Hart and the Hunter, will mimic Brosh’s LA eatery of the same name and serve the same casual Southern fare and buttery biscuits that earned raves from that city’s food critics.

The goal? Approximating the feel of visiting your cousin in Seattle and staying in his extra bedroom, says Brosh. That, he claims, will give it the best street cred in town. It doesn’t get more personal than family.


Where to crash locally after a good...

...meal

Though a neighbor to neither hay field nor lily pond, the W Bellevue boasts stunning farm-inspired fare in its Lakehouse Restaurant, fronted by James Beard Award winner Jason Wilson.

...show

Be it a romp at the 5th Avenue Theatre or a heartbreaker at the Paramount, after the last curtain call, Hotel Theodore is mere stumbling distance from the balcony seats; espresso from its MADE Coffee bar revives you the next morning.

...party

Ease your way back into polite society with a night at the Moxy Hotel, where the self-serve snack shelves don’t judge when you get the munchies while playing lobby Candyland.

...flight

Just minutes from Sea-Tac’s terminals, Hotel Interurban has all the perks of an airport hotel when you need a good night’s sleep before a 5am flight; the free shuttle runs 24 hours.

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