The Green Tortoise Hostel, in Seattle, Washington, is quite an interesting place. Interesting is indeed the word for it - I've been in the city for three days, and I've already seen more here than I saw in 18 years in the countryside in Maryland. The people here are culturally diverse, not only from all parts of the US, but also from all parts of the world. Currently, I know a group of men from Sudan, a U.S. Navy Lieutenant (medically retired), a group of people from Japan, and at least one guy with an Australian accent. Keep in mind, it's for travellers only - travelling orders of some sort or an out of country ID/Passport is required. For those in the military, take note! I got out of the Marine Corps, and was allowed to stay here. It's cheap, and a good place to get on your feet in a new city.
The rates are excellent - $23 US for a 5-8 person dorm room, $26 for a 4-person dorm, and $48 for a private room. They're all small, probably under 150 sq. ft. each, but they're a roof over the head for better prices than you'd find anywhere in the city, especially centrally located downtown.
It's located at
1525 Second Avenue in Seattle, a block and a half from the Pike Place Market. A bus stop for Seattle's outstanding-yet-confusing public transportation system is just around the corner, a small supermarket next door where you can buy sundries, and the Pacific Place Mall, about 3-5 blocks away.
Amenities (and otherwise) included are free breakfasts (do it yourself), three dinners a week made by a house chef, a common area with DSL hooked-up computers, a small upstairs library, coin-op laundry facilities, a large kitchen, food storage for guests, two pinball machines, and wireless internet. Albeit a bit flaky at times, the wireless internet is allowing me to type this w/u from the comfort of the smoking lounge.
The smoking lounge seems to be the social center of the hostel. In the common room, everyone joins their little cliques, or watches TV, or they're too busy eating. In the smoking lounge, tobacco is the order of the day. Sitting across from me is a 65-year old man from Kenya, and a 43-year old guy from Southern California, and they've become acquaintances of mine. Cosmic Cat's write-up above is indeed correct - you'll become friends with people you'd never talk to normally.
Trade work is a concept that was foreign to me until I came here. Some patrons are short on cash, for whatever reason, and they need a roof over their heads. The hostel allows patrons to work for their room and board - it's not too bad overall, a few hours of work in the morning. The downside, of course, is that the only meals you'll get are breakfast and the aforementioned three dinners a week, but a little hungry is better than very hungry and cold.
Facilities are shared between all the patrons - there are a number of rooms - some with toilets, some with sinks and toilets, some with toilets and showers, some with all three. It's considered polite (and a condition of patronage) to keep yourself clean when you're using said facilities.
Some of the downsides - no smoking, drinking, or eating in the rooms. The communal living thing gets on some people's nerves, but the rooms aren't really big enough to do much other than sleep in anyway. No visitors overnight, no visitors after 9:00pm, and no being loud and obnoxious in general, except in the smoking lounge. Overall, and considering the rates, it's quite a fair trade.
To steal a fellow noder's closing line, I -have- been fortunate to stay here. I'm in a strange city, and the people here have been helpful to me in getting around the city. If I had my way, I'd stay here for good - it's the perfect central location in the city. Unfortunately, it's still a bit more expensive than an apartment - $690 a month at the dorm rate. Still, it's an experience I'll never forget for the rest of my life.
Update: The Green Tortoise is no longer at its former location - it moved to 105 1/2 Pike St., which is only a half-block from the Pike Place Market itself. From the front door, you can see the big clock in front of the market. I've heardthings have changed since then as well - the prices very well may be inaccurate and I'm not sure things like tradework apply anymore. I've heard they're more strict about people visiting from the US and how long someone can stay. Despite all this, it's probably still a pretty cool place to visit.