Holy Cow: What the Hell is a “LOFTSTEL”?

Well apparently it is a cross between a loft and a hostel. And thanks to a reader for pointing it out to me, we have one right in Petworth at 4115 8th Street, NW. Does that address sound familiar? Indeed this location was featured a few weeks back as a pop up renovation I visited. And now it is a LOFTSTEL. According to their Web site “Loftstel is the #1 destination for international students and interns”. Daily rates are $25 and monthly rates are $400. Interestingly the Web site breaks down the patrons like so:

* average length of stay : 5 weeks
* median age : 24 years
* gender ratio: 39% male, 61% female
* international mix: 58% are foreign

Apparently there are also “LOFSTELs” in Philadelphia and New York City. The reader who alerted me to this development, I think justifiably, asks is this even legal? Good question, does this establishment need a special permit? What do you guys think, is this a good addition to the neighborhood or a disaster waiting to happen? Actually I should stay a night there, that would be a freakin’ awesome post…stay tuned…

42 Comment

  • Aha! I knew something was fishy. I was with my daughter at the Rec Center and saw a group of 5-6 young women coming out of that house. Clearly not residents, and struck me as vaguely Euro-something or other. For a second I was thinking, ‘trafficked maybe???’. They sat on the stoop and took a few pictures of each other, then toddled off toward Georgia Avenue. A few minutes later a young Asian woman pulling a rolling suitcase came out.

    I don’t have any problem with it (horror, tourists in our midst!) but I would probably feel differently if a daily parade of strangers was next door to me.

    At least I would say DCRA owes them a visit to check it out. Just because they have a website doesn’t mean it’s a legal setup. When that place was being rehabbed, it looked like they just wanted to sell or rent it. I would imagine the Loftstel folks are simply renting it and subletting to hostellers to make a tidy profit.

    Who’ll drop a dime on the place?

  • Their website seems to imply that they have 28 beds available every night! That doesn’t sound like a small rent-a-room for the night kinda place to me.

  • My first thought to the subject heading–“some sort of weird text/instant message acronym involving…lounging on floor…??

    I’m sure they have to have some sort of business permit, though perhaps not as a full fledged hotel. I had to spend about 8 weeks of my life waiting in lines to get a C of O to rent out my basement for a year at a time, so I’d wave the “not fair!” flag if they haven’t at least done that.

    As for what it does to the neighborhood- considering the alternatives, I’d think it’s an asset.

  • Okay- after looking at their web site, I’m changing my tune. If I had to choose my neighbors, I’d be hard pressed to pick a house full of “millennial” interns and grad school applicants playing “I never” in the backyard over… just about any alternative.

    So much of their web site says, “Real World, DC circa 1998” (maybe it’s all the Ikea??) but my favorite quote from the FAQ’s is:

    “Q. Why are there discounts through facebook, but not myspace?
    A. Facebook users tend to be normal college students. The people who contact us through myspace tend to be sexual predators, creepy old people, and weird musicians.”

    So neighbors, rest assured that at LEAST there won’t be any creepy old people living there. Or Weird musicians. Ohmigod, Ewww.

  • I sent them an email indicating that their section on Transportation under the FAQs is both misleading and incorrect.

    “Q. What’s the neighborhood like? Is there public transportation?
    A. We’re located right in Columbia Heights, 3 blocks from the metro. The subway runs every 3 to 5 minutes and takes just 9 minutes to get to White House & downtown DC.”

  • I actually dropped by this place when I was looking for apartments. I was expecting some sort of cool sorority house, but apparently it was just 5 kids watching CNN.

  • Anon–

    But their Web site makes it look so terribly edgy and filled with beautiful people offering a revolving door of anonymous sex opportunities with people who don’t speak your language…. (all of course, in the heart of Col. Heights) What a disappointment! I hope PoP’s visit and investigative journalism will be more scandalous.

  • I think it’s a good thing…though I am kinda glad I’m not immediately next door. More young people around would be a good thing, more foot traffic on 8th St, more business for Domku around the corner and other restaurants.

    Re: referring to themselves as being in Columbia Heights, that reminds me of how many apartments for rent in Columbia Heights used to say Mt Pleasant; now I see ads for houses in Mt Pleasant that boast about their about proximity to Columbia Heights. Times change…

  • Aha! One day going by before Christmas I noticed that there were lights on the porch and what looked like people living inside. I honestly was shocked thinking someone paid 600K for that place but now it all makes sense. I still can’t get my head around eight bedrooms and 5.5 baths inside, but I guess they come in handy in this situation.

    (If it is students/foreign travelers the fact that there is a telephone pole mostly blocking the parking in the back is probably not an issue, either.)

    If it’s legit, I don’t have any issues with it (I don’t live next door, but around the corner).

  • Assuming the Lofstel is operating on the level, I think this is a great addittion to the neighborhood, and wish there were more opportunities like this around the US. During my travels through S. America I traveled extensively due to the great availability of Hostels and Lofts. These establishments offer tourists, students, interns, and travelers local insight that is missed by the average fanny-packin’ hotel crowd. When people can afford to stay a little longer in a hostel v. hotel they also afford that extra drink at the corner bar, afford that meal at the local restaurant they were curious about, and afford that extra weekend that allows them to participate in the cultural happenings of the neighborhood. CH/Petworth would do well to welcome and encourage this establishment and its guests… promoting responsible affordable tourism in our area facilitates economic growth and cultural enrichment that highlights our neighborhood from the rest of DC …while discouraging and ostracizing it may foster the very environment of strangers/hooligans/etc. that so many posters seemed suspicious of… Bring on PoP’s Loftstel Adventure

  • Micah – I like what you just wrote. I also have a warm place for hostels, and in the past 2 years stayed in hostels in Galway, Ireland (Claddagh Hostel) and in Philadelphia (Chamounix Mansion). It brings back fun memories of my early 20’s, and I am not too old to enjoy it!

    I think all the readers should meet at this LOFSTEL for a slumber party with S’MORES. Don’t just sacrifice PoP to the adventurers.

  • Here’s a neat inn in Bloomingdale for under

  • under one hundred dollars a night: the Bloomingdale Inn (not sure if I can post a website here): http://www.bloomingdaleinn.com

  • Bogfrog – Thanks for the confimation, I think I would travel a lot more throughout the more obscure US destinations if I knew that I could offset my travel costs with a warm welcoming and affordable atmosphere to come home to at the end of the day. Its a shame that these establishments aren’t as common as in the rest of the world. To expound on what I said before; Hostels I’ve experienced offer many amenities to their patrons you can’t find in your average hotel: Book Exchanges, Local Tours, *forced* interaction with the community & other travelers as well as hosts who rival any concierge service. I will definately be taking the Loftstel into consideration when I travel to NY in the future.

  • Man this has trouble written all over it, yo!!! While the Loftel would like to rent to lovely, harmonious exchange students, what’s to stop them from renting to “pipe heads” and the like? While I normally would support an effort like this, like the “strap” that I am, I can’t get behind this one, yo. Fact is, people who rent don’t take pride in their houses like those that own thier own property. The sentiment seems to be “good idea, but not sure I would like it right beside me.” Well, for some folks it is right beside them, yo!!!So my question to our councilman/woman would be…. Whasshhhh going onnnnnnn??????

  • haha, great post, Jackie. To answer the question, what keeps them from renting to pipe heads: the $25 per night it costs to stay there. I’m pretty sure your typical pipe head would rather drop that cash on rock, not a room.

  • Someone above mentioned foot traffic. There’s quite a lot of foot traffice just one block down, at 7th and Varnum. Oh, that’s not the kinda foot traffic you meant??

  • I think this is a nice addition to the neighborhood, and it’s fairly well placed too. There actually aren’t too many hostels in DC – there’s the big HI-Washington one on 11th Street downtown, a really grimy one in Adams Morgan, one in Takoma Park, and one at Benning Road NE (which seems…well, far from any decent transportaton or amenities that your average backpacker might expect).

    And it will be good for the neighborhood businesses too.

  • I have a suspicion if this was where 28 latino “backpackers” were staying, people would feel differently…

  • I know some hostels (including the one in Adams Morgon on 18th Street) require people to stay there to have a passport, which weeds out a lot of people that many would consider “undesireable”.

  • hmm sounds like a call to the DCRA is in order

  • kinda cool idea, I think.

  • i’ve seen many variations of this ad on Cragis List Apts/Housing for rent. Weirdest thing is how many times this poster noted that he would either pick people up or call them. Am I just paranoid or is this creepy? Read on…

    $500 Apartments near Metro, Washington, D.C. Northwest
    Reply to: [email protected]
    Date: 2008-01-05, 1:28AM EST

    Are you going to USA on Work&Travel USA program this summer, or AuPairs, internship, or any exchange programs in Washington, D.C., USA ???? Apartments are available immediately today, or at anytime this year.
    Free living spaces for you again this Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall ( just like every summer in every year before ) Just pay only $45 USD PER MONTH for utilities ( which included telephone, gas, electric, satellite TV, cable, water, WiFi HighSpeed wireless internet, also free long-distant telephone calls to anywhere in USA and Canada.
    NO NEED TO BRING YOUR OWN NOTEBOOK LAPTOPS!! We have several laptops and desktops for everyone to use, plenty of computers for everybody here. But go ahead bring your own personal laptop if you wish. We already have everything here, all furnished, full kitchen so you can cook your own fevorite food, free laudry, etc. Even if you do not like the apartments you can live there for free, do not pay anything, until you find a new place that you really want.
    So only bring your own clothes, nothing else.

    Please include your telephone numbers in your country, we will call you to your country.
    Send your Email to: [email protected] (or) [email protected]

  • There are great Hostels in the U.S. too, some are converted apartments or old hotels. I stayed in one in Chicago that was fantastic — even had my own private bathroom. And its the best way to see the U.S. — you always meet some really interesting foreign tourists. Every great city has great hostels. I’m glad this is here. It’s the kind of mix of uses in our neighborhood that will make it less of a bedroom community and more of an urban environment.

    I think there is also an LGBT sex-positive hostel in Petworth too. They advertise during the various leather weekends at times.

  • What the hell is a “LGBT sex-positive hostel”?

  • Just pay only $45 USD PER MONTH for utilities ( which included telephone, gas, electric, satellite TV, cable, water, WiFi HighSpeed wireless internet, also free long-distant telephone calls to anywhere in USA and Canada.
    NO NEED TO BRING YOUR OWN NOTEBOOK LAPTOPS!! We have several laptops and desktops for everyone to use, plenty of computers for everybody here. But go ahead bring your own personal laptop if you wish. We already have everything here, all furnished, full kitchen so you can cook your own fevorite food, free laudry, etc. Even if you do not like the apartments you can live there for free, do not pay anything, until you find a new place that you really want.
    So only bring your own clothes, nothing else.

    Anything with bad formatting, bad grammar and bad spelling (pointed out in bold) always raises red flags with me.

  • I’m cool with the concept of a legit, clean hostel that is transparent and accountable. I’m all for more density in general, and a more international/youthful mix to boot. But something just doesn’t feel quite right, hope I’m wrong. It’s not discouragement, if they are legit they should be able to stand up to scrutiny.

    DCRA can and should inspect this sort of thing if they haven’t already.

  • True, Golden Silence. Although it’s always possible the writers aren’t native English speakers either.

  • It’s not listed as a rooming house, and rooming houses do have to have special licenses to operate. I wouldn’t want to live next door to a hotel.


    The taxable assessment information is very interesting, and the owner lives in McLean, of course.

  • I am sure non-native English speakers have heard of spell check before.

    I am also sure this place will be a joy to be around durring the next IMF/World Bank protest.

  • Does anyone have any experience with the Takoma Park hostel? I live nearby and I’m totally curious about it. (Should I drop in and check it out? Yes. Have I? No.)

  • I’ve known a couple of people who’ve stayed at the Takoma hostel. A New Zealander recently described it to me as “dodgey” (although good value for money) but an American who stayed their several years ago was happy with it.

  • It’s classified as a singles family residence on the dc.gov website…

  • So who’s going to drop the dime with DCRA, yo? Singles family residence? Dodgey hostels in the area? This place needs to be investigated yo!!!!

  • Well, since I live on the block, I got off my duff and called the DCRA. They referred me to their licensing division, where I was told to leave a message. I found a place on their website to lodge a complaint, which I did. I note the address is not licensed as an inn or B&B, though I imagine there maybe some other obscure category for hostels. I’ll report back with any info I get. I am beginning to feel silly for not contacting the owners directly. I worry they might try to woo me with some international backpackers beer bust or something . . .heavenforbid they offered cocktails .. .

  • It takes the DC.gov site a while to update new info- so, they might be totally legit and above board, but it’s not yet reflected in the databases. I know its a shock to think that some things at DCRA aren’t as efficient as they could be, but… gasp… it’s true.

    I still say their Web site is obnoxious, but I’m old, cranky, and jealous of naturally thin 20 somethings with flawless skin who aren’t yet tied to “real jobs” etc.

  • This was quite the discussion over a seemingly harmless shoestring traveler destination. I like that someone has paid such a compliment to Petworth by considering it worthy of international acclaim. Chasing it out of the neighborhood seems extreme when places like the “vacant” crack/meth/heroin house (hard to tell since they don’t have a website) across my back alley operate with seeming impunity. It probably “houses” more people per square foot than any hostel I’ve ever stayed in, and guests certainly come and go at more hours in the night than should be possible in our not-exactly-the-nightowl DC (as if they were out on the town). My point being, there are certainly less desireable establishments more worth fretting about. But then, I don’t like across an alley from this Loftstel at hand.

  • Here is another ad for the Lofstel on CraigsList.

    Now they’re saying they’re located to Takoma and Silver Spring Metro Stations. Boy, do they lie!

  • Hey, something new! They posted a guide to Petworth on their home page, including a cool hand-drawn map of the neighborhood, plus listing lots of restaurants and bars here (Sweet Mango, Looking Glass, Domku, Safari, El Torogoz etc.) + in Columbia Heights and Adams Morgan. Nice to see…

  • I have stayed at this location, and I’d like to clarify a few things —

    The aforementioned ads on Craigslist are not for the Loftstel. Who they are for, I do not know, but since I personally know all of the staff who put ads on Craigs, I know this isn’t one of ours.

    Now, as regards cleanliness and professionalism. I have stayed at all sorts of places, and I assure you the LOFTSTEL is of the most pristine quality imaginable. Indeed, every single room within the location is cleaner than virtually any room you’ve ever been in.

    The guests are of the highest quality — many are Government Interns and Workers. Some are connected to foreign governments, others go to very well respected Universities. Every single one of them is a joy to know. I work for a Congressional District Programme, and in other business work, and I’d far prefer to go to dinner or have a coffee with 90% of the people here than with 90% of the business/govt. contacts I know.

    The criticisms on here strike me as absurdly pointless considering the fact that none of you have so much as been inside the Loftstel. The Washington Post, who most would consider a far more reliable source of information, featured us in very positive terms (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/02/04/AR2008020403732.html), and unlike some of the critics on here did take a tour of the property. If any is skeptical feel free to ask for a tour, you’re more than welcome to, I’m sure.

  • I’ve done some digging. I e-mailed the owner of Loftstel inquiring about the legality of the Loftstel. I got no response.

    As far as I can tell the Loftstel may be in violation of a number of regulations.

    DC Municipal Regulation Title 14:
    402.1 minimum floor area calculation – I did a rough estimate and it seems they have double the number guests permissible in the house
    402.3 fifty square feet per occupant per bedroom – from my peek, they’re approximately double the limit on this parameter as well.

    DC Municipal Regulation Title 11:
    330.6 a rooming house could be permitted in this house, BUT: minimum guest stay must be 90 days, they cannot advertise it as a hostel or any type of transient accommodation, and no central dining/food prep area is to be provided for guests.

    I checked for a Certificate of Occupancy, and DCRA does not have one on record for this house. I didn’t check for a business license. I also didn’t check on fire code issues.

    I’m concerned about the safety of the 34 people living in the house (as of 7/1/08). If there were a fire, it could produce devastating results.

  • Hi there,

    I have been staying at the Loftstel for about 3 weeks while doing research at the Library of Congress as part of a PhD program. Almost everybody else there – averaging about 12 people – is committed to an internship. Without the discount rates for long term occupancy, there is no way I or those doing internships would be able to stay in Washington D.C. for as long as we need to.

    The atmosphere is superb, the sexual intrigue at an absolute minimum. The rooms and bathrooms and kitchen are cleaned everyday.

    I think it is a pretty good setup that could definitely be repeated more here given the escalating costs of accommodation.


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