Greetings from a Former Brothel

During my recent visit to Port Townsend, Washington, I explored a gorgeously restored Victorian edifice called the Palace Hotel. This brick building was built in 1889, and has housed many things throughout its history, including a billiard room, a saloon, a newspaper, a theater, a grocery store and several restaurants. But, most famously, for 8 years it was a brothel.

The restoration, which started in 1976, centered on the brothel era. All the rooms are named after the women who plied their trade here. You can stay in the Miss Abigail or the Miss Sara, for example. And there’s an intriguing lampshade on the second floor that was made from a corset.

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One of the most delightful traditions of this place is that even if you aren’t staying there, you can look in the rooms that are not currently occupied. And they will take your breath away. Each room is different, but they all have 14 foot ceilings and gorgeously quilted beds. Many have stunning views and luxurious bathrooms, some with clawfoot tubs. I really want to stay there at some point.

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While the restoration is faithful to the time period, with exquisite antiques as far as the eye can see, I’m sort of glad they weren’t as successful at bringing back the brothel atmosphere. Oddly enough, I’ve been in several hotels that were former brothels, and they would all like to romanticize the profession. They’d like to make you feel that these places were elegant, and employed nothing but whores with hearts of gold who were happy to be there and content with their lives.

I suspect that this is far from the truth. These women were servicing the loggers and seafaring men of the region. They were in an isolated community that must have been even harder to get into and out of than it is now. I’m quite sure there was absolutely nothing to do during their free time, if they had any. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the house madam, Marie, was as tough as nails.

If the restoration had actually been able to evoke the ghosts of the past, this would probably be a sad and tense place to be. But as much as they were on my mind, I could not feel any spiritual residue of these unfortunate women as I wandered the halls of this hotel. I wonder if they’d be amused to know that people are still profiting off of them 80 years after the brothel was shut down.

Today, the Palace Hotel is open and airy and a feast for the eyes. I can’t imagine a better spot for a romantic getaway. Check it out!

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