It's a fairly bold move to call yourself the worst hotel in the world.
After all, there's no shortage of dodgy places out there vying for the title. Hotels with bedbugs and blocked plumbing, dirty linen and broken furniture. Hotels where there is mould in the bathroom and cigarette burns on the sheets, bad electrical wiring and broken locks on the doors. Hotels where the surly, sleazy staff believe the customer is always wrong.
And yet along comes Amsterdam's Hans Brinker Hotel, proudly proclaiming to be the worst hotel in the world.
It's quite the canny marketing campaign: take one lacklustre, low budget hotel, play up its shortcomings, and successfully separate it from the pack of other grubby mega-hostels in Amsterdam.
Featuring marketing gems such as "Hans Brinker Budget Hotel: it can't get any worse... but we'll do our best" and "Now a door with every room!" the decades-long campaign has been a huge viral success. Most importantly it has ensured a consistently high occupancy rate: after all, which 20 something doesn't want to brag on social media about surviving the world's worst hotel?
But amongst all the well-crafted hype, one question remained: is Hans Brinker really all that bad? One Friday night I booked a twin room for €79 (NZ$123.4) and decided to find out.
On paper, I'll admit the hotel had the potential to be horrid: with 550 beds, it was bound to pack people in like sardines. With such an obnoxious marketing campaign, it had to have indifferent staff. And with its basement nightclub open until 4 am, it promised little sleep.
Curiously though, Hans Brinker is located in a more gentrified part of Amsterdam. The nearest cross street is know for its fine art and antique stores, the hotel is on a mainly residential street with an Italian deli, a few galleries, tattoo parlours and bike shops.
Entering the hotel, I discover first impressions last at Hans Brinker, mainly because the lobby's special stench of stale beer and old cigarette smoke will seep into your clothes and hair, lingering for days.
The lobby is cluttered with peeling posters, beer vending machines and people: one group with luggage waiting to be checked in by the sole receptionist, another made up of guests waiting to be buzzed out of the secure building.
A souvenir cabinet by reception catches my eye. It's filled with books, lighters and mugs bearing the slogan "The Worst Hotel in the World" (Coffee cups cost €4.95; if you're over 40, they cost €14.95).
Eventually, I'm checked in en masse with five others, while a staff member loads a vending machine with cans of beer. The receptionist tells us to all pay attention at once so she doesn't have to repeat herself (not exactly customer-focused, but time-efficient).
After forking over €10 in cash for a key deposit, I head to my room on the 4th floor. Inside, there are two single beds, two lockers, a chair, and a rubbish bin in the room. Surprisingly, there's a small handtowel on the end of the bed and a full roll of toilet paper in the loo. There's even some very bad, framed art on the walls - and the walls look freshly painted.
There are working lights, smoke detectors and the window even opens to allow fresh air in. There's even a view of a church and a courtyard filled with blooming tulips. When I see the tulips, I start to get suspicious. Last time I checked, the world's worst hotel didn't offer a garden view. Could this hotel really be that bad?
I decide the answer to this, like most life questions, lies in the bar. Happy hour runs from 5 pm to 6 pm with two-for-one drinks, but my partner and I hit it up around 8 pm when dinner is being served.
Over a hundred hotel guests sit in groups around picnic tables eating from a menu featuring a selection of backpacker fare: burgers and spaghetti bolognese. I feel like I'm in a school cafeteria, mainly because everyone is very young.
People file in and out, quite a few of them toting, predictably, souvenir bags from either The Bulldog, Amsterdam's most popular tourist coffee shop, or the Heineken Experience, Amsterdam's beer-brand attraction. A few take selfies with the hotel's worst hotel posters, giving the thumbs-up sign.
For a Friday night, it's fairly tame stuff, even if it is early. But I have to admit it's the sort of environment I would have relished if I were backpacking for the first time.
As appetising as the spaghetti looks, we dine out. When we return in the AM, it's fairly quiet in the hotel, but almost on cue we have a crystal clear audio on the neighbouring room's (brief but noisy) nocturnal habits. But with the aid of earplugs, we get a decent night's sleep.
The sun might be shining on our stay, but the morning presents a new challenge: with a glass encased box for a bathroom, who should use the loo first?
Showering as a spectator sport can be fun, but being able to wave at your partner from the throne first thing in the morning doesn't encourage romance.
When we check out, there's a free breakfast happening downstairs and the room is packed with hungry, hungover but mostly happy guests. Collecting our key deposit back with a minimum of fuss, we leave the hotel disappointed and underwhelmed. We really had expected a lot worse from the worst hotel in the world.
As suspected, Hans Brinker is just your stock-standard low budget, run-down hostel catering to young people. The only difference is the owners have wisely spent some coin on a decent PR campaign that piqued the curiosity of their target market.
But don't worry. Should you feel the need to tweet, Facebook or Instagram a picture of yourself at the world's worst hotel, I won't tell a soul you're just in another average backpacker dive.
The writer travelled at her own expense.
- FFX Aus