Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Inside the luxurious ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ apartment building

You wouldn’t call the Space Needle asking about their weekend room rates, but I know a guy who lives in another famous Seattle building that – thanks to a certain movie trailer based on a certain popular novel about kinky sex – is once again turning away tourists mistaking it for a hotel.
His name isn’t Christian Grey, though at least one stranger on the street has called him that.
Even if you don’t know what the upscale Escala apartments are, you know what made them an unintended tourist attraction. Without even visiting the brand-new complex, E.L. James used it as the centerpiece of her 2012 novel, Fifty Shades of Grey, which was the first in a trilogy.
Separating fact from fiction since then has been a dicey proposition. I heard about this directly during my recent visit to Seattle to check out the Great Horror Campout. There, I was introduced by a mutual friend to Escala resident Neil, who wanted his name changed for this story, lest he attract any wanna-be Anastasia stalkers.
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Welcome to the luxurious Escala. Be warned, you may find “Fifty Shades” fan girls lining up to take pictures in front of this sign.Photo: Greg Keraghosian
Neil doesn’t live in the $6.2 million penthouse that Christian Grey does – which does really exist but doesn’t really come with a helicopter pad or Red Room of Pain. As the owner of a one-bedroom in the condo since 2010, he’s seen some strange tourist behavior since the book became a No. 1 best seller.
Neil says Escala “attracts attention from tourists who apparently just show up in town with no place to stay … ‘Is this a hotel? Can I book a room? Well, can I at least rent a condo? My kid needs to use the bathroom!’”
Neil says he’s seen lots of young women taking their pictures outside the building – “it’s weird” – and one day when he walked outside, a passer-by shouted at him, “Hey, it’s Christian Grey!” Considering that unlike Grey, Neil is South Asian and not white, he’s pretty sure it was a joke.
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Christian Grey would have approved of this staircase.Photo: Greg Keraghosian
With the movie version of Grey hitting theaters soon, the looky-loos are gaining in number.
“Our silly phone calls have spiked again where people want to rent the room,” Erik Mehr, whose real estate firm manages Escala, recently told CNN Money. “I don’t think they realize that this is a condominium building that residents live in and there is no red room.”
Still, if you can get inside, there are some very appealing features inside Escala, as Neil showed me during an impromptu tour.
With a lobby like this, it’s easy to see why people would stumble in off the street. A force more powerful than Christian Grey’s riding crop will compel you to climb the grand marble staircase, topped with an elaborate crystal chandelier.
On the second floor, we stumbled upon a restaurant area with Virgin America-lit bar that was being used for a baby shower – considering Fifty Shades’ reputation as “mommy porn,” I thought about crashing the party and suggesting a group reading, but I thought better of my well being.
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Inside a private building, this is one exclusive bar.Photo: Greg Keraghosian
Elsewhere, we roamed through a movie theater open to residents, a fitness era that overlooks the street, and a very un-sadomasochistic-looking private spa.
There’s also the “wine cave,”— no, not dungeon — which consists of a dining room adjoined by a climate-controlled wine storage area. That’s me playing the dom role as head of the table.
Upon going up to Neil’s apartment, I was treated to the coolest feature of all, which is loyal to the Fifty Shades story: the elevator opens to his front door alone. And while his interior isn’t on par with a telecom billionaire like Christian Grey or even a major league pitcher like Tim Lincecum (who also lived in Escala), it’s a far sight cooler than the average travel writer will ever see.
We hung out in Neil’s living room, which comes with a sweet view of the Seattle waterfront, and we teased him some about publicizing his Fifty Shades associations to impress his dates. His response?
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Check out the view below.Photo: Greg Keraghosian
“I don’t really need the help,” he jokes. “In my experience about half the people know the building by name. But it’s a great building, and when they do come visit they usually don’t want to leave. A double-edged sword, perhaps?”
Neil’s dates also might be aware that his apartment is going way up in value, thanks in part to a book he’s never read. Since 2010, when he bought his brand-new unit for a little over $400,000, the median sales price at Escala has increased 75%, according to Zillow – 62% of that surge is since the book came out in the spring of 2012.
The tourist clamor may keep rising as the release date for the Fifty Shades movie approaches – it’s set for February 13, 2015.

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