A flophouse (English: doss-house or dosshouse) is a place that offers very cheap lodging, generally by providing only minimal services.


Occupants of flophouses generally share bathroom facilities and reside in very tight quarters. The people who make use of these places are often transients, although some people will stay in flophouses for long periods of time—years or decades. Some people who live in flophouses may be just a step above homelessness. In the late 20th century, typical cost might be about US $6 per night. A typical flophouse might advertise its services with a sign such as "Hotel for Men; Transients Welcome". Quarters in flophouses are typically very small, and may resemble office cubicles more than a regular room in a hotel or apartment building. A cubicle might only have wire mesh for a ceiling.

In the past, flophouses were sometimes called "workingmen's hotels" and catered to hobos and transient workers such as seasonal railroad and agriculture workers, or migrant lumberjacks who would travel west during the summer to work and then return to an eastern or midwestern city such as Chicago to stay in a flophouse during the winter. This is described in the 1930 novel The Rambling Kid by Charles Ashleigh and the 1976 book The Human Cougar by Lloyd Morain. Another theme in Morain's book is the gentrification which was then beginning and which has led cities to pressure flophouses to close.

Jack Kerouac stayed in such places in San Francisco and other cities, referring to them as "skid row hotels" in his books. The low prices allowed him to stretch his money from writing, and from jobs such as firewatcher and railroad brakeman. He would often keep a typewriter and hot plate in his room.

Some city districts that currently have or once had flophouses in abundance became well-known in their own right, such as the Bowery in New York, New York. As of 2006, building prices and value in the Bowery have significantly increased, and this combined with increased gentrification in the area seriously threatens the ability of flophouses and inexpensive boarding-style hotels to remain open.

Contemporary flophouses

Michael Dominic's documentary film Sunshine Hotel (2001) follows the lives of the denizens of one of the few remaining Bowery flophouses.

Cultural references

  • John Steinbeck refers to the "Palace Flophouse Grill" in his book Cannery Row where the central characters of the novel establish their residence in what is described as a storage shed that had to be cleared of fish meal prior to making it a suitable residence.
  • George Orwell discussed flophouses in the UK in his book Down and Out in Paris and London. He described them as having rather poor cleanliness standards, often issuing unwashed and badly stained blankets, and sometimes renting beds in a large common room resembling barracks more than private rooms. He noted that at the time he wrote the book (1933) the term "dosshouse" was already falling out of use.
  • The Charles Chaplin film The Kid (1921) depicts a barracks-style flophouse. The movies The Blues Brothers (1980) and Staying Alive (1983) both feature their lead characters living in flophouses.
  • A slang meaning for "flophouse" was referenced in the movie Kids. The definition is a house or apartment (usually apartment) where substance abusers stay to party and abuse drugs and/or alcohol. (By the time of Psycho II, recently-released Norman Bates discovers his family's motel is being used for this purpose.)
  • In a number of his plays, notably in Vieux Carre, Tennessee Williams makes reference to flophouses, generally in New Orleans, as places favorable for short-term usage for homosexual encounters.

See also


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