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Every mighty oak begins with an acorn, every kudzu from a single seed and every globe-girdling chain from a nubbin of uniqueness. But some originals stand out more than others, as we discovered in Seattle recently.

Starwood is a chain known for high-end hotels with lovely beds and excellent service. They run the Sheraton, Westin and W hotel chains; even their low-end line, the Four Points, isn't really all that low end.

And then there's the Sixth Avenue Inn.

Way back in the early 1990s, Starwood wasn't the giant of quality hotelling it is today. It was a scrappy real estate firm buying up Marriotts, Days Inns and one independent motel in Seattle built in 1968, the Sixth Avenue Inn. As Starwood grew into its current form, it dropped most of its off-brand hotels -- but not the Sixth Avenue Inn, which exists in a weird little pocket of the company that manages the hotel without integrating it into the Starwood branding portfolio.

The result: a hotel with the slightly musty smell, clanky ice machines, buzzing lights, crazy '70s decor and rock-bottom prices of an independent motel, but the accountability and commitment to service of a Starwood.

On the edge of Seattle's downtown, a brief walk from pretty much everything, the Sixth Avenue Inn has a great location, horrible aesthetics and a bit of water damage. But it's safe, clean and costs as little as $72 a night, and the rooms are fairly huge. When you can't get a room in Seattle for double that price and you're down to this or the Days Inn, take the Sixth.

The Sixth Avenue Inn even has a few touches of luxury. There's a decent bar and grill in the hotel providing reasonably priced room service, a tiny gym on the second floor and an Internet terminal in the lobby. Our room came with a fridge and plenty of cable TV channels.

Service at the Sixth is much better than you would expect at a motel; there's a full staff, and they're very willing to help. And if they don't, you can complain to the larger chain, a company that cares about its customer image. That's not always the case at independently-run motels.

The other advantages Starwood lends the Sixth are small but welcome. Furniture is a fresher than you'd expect at an independent motel; their mattresses, for instance, are Sheraton and Four Points castoffs. And individual travelers can't earn or use Starwood Preferred Guest points at the hotel, but manager Jonathan Litvack said he bends that rule for large block bookings.

So we'd pick the Sixth Avenue Inn over other low-rent choices in Seattle. You only have a few years to try the hospitality of the Sixth Avenue Inn, though; the hotel's land lease is up in 2008, and Starwood is thinking of bulldozing the hotel and replacing it with a brand-new building, Litvack said.

Contact the Sixth Avenue Inn at www.sixthavenueinn.com or 888/627-8290; it's at 2000 Sixth Avenue, Seattle, WA 98121.

The Sixth Avenue Inn's quirkiness stands in counterpoint to the original Starbucks, a brief walk away in Seattle's Pike Place Market. Coffee pilgrims who want to see the seed from which espresso's kudzu sprung will find a little standing-room-only joint with only a few differences between it and the 9,969 other Starbucks worldwide (yes, that's how many Starbucks there are): a Pike Place bagged coffee blend for sale, a bunch of kinds of Pike Place souvenir paraphernalia, and the original Starbucks mermaid mascot, with nipples intact. (When Starbucks' mermaid went from being a 1970s hippie to a 1990s global icon, her boobs were neutralized. At the original store, though, she's hanging out in all her glory.)

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