Created By: NateTheGreat on January 19, 2012 Last Edited By: maxwellsilver on March 19, 2016

Neon Hotel Sign

When the character looks out the window, they\'ll always see the hotel sign

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Page Type:
Trope
Up for Grabs.

In the movies, most hotels are dumps. Not only will at least one letter of the word "HOTEL" be burned out, but the character will always have the neon sign visible from the window.

The sign could be shorthand for the character's internal conflict, or simply a method of telling you he's down on his luck. That is, the guy must be poor because if he wasn't he'd be in a better hotel, right?

Neon hotel and bar signs are a staple of the Drunken Montage, representing the places the montage's subject has gone. This may signify a No-Tell Motel and/or Hell Hotel, and is related to Eiffel Tower Effect and Signs of Disrepair.


Examples

Films — Live-Action

Literature
  • In Guards! Guards!, the tavern next to Sam Vimes's lodging house has a magically illuminated sign where the magic is wearing off, right outside his window. The E is burnt out, and the T sizzles when it rains, just like Hot l Baltimore.
  • In Joan Hess's Maggody mystery novels, the neon sign for Ruby Bee's Flamingo Motel is frequently described as having letters from its "VACANCY" notice burnt out. In addition, its pink neon flamingo regularly loses feathers when they burn out, making it look like it's molting.

Live-Action TV
  • Done in the Moonlighting episode "The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice." David is in such a hotel, playing his trumpet, with the "HOTEL" sign flashing in the background. As the angle changes, it just flashes "HOT". See it here, at about 7:24.
  • In ITV's 2006 Production of Agatha Christie's The Moving Finger (starring Geraldine McEwan as Miss Marple), the troubled war veteran Jerry Burton is first depicted in a hotel bed with the neon sign's light coming through the window.

Theatre
  • The play Hot L Baltimore is about the Hotel Baltimore. The "e" in the sign is burned out, hence the title.

Video Games

Real Life
  • Aerosmith did a concert tour where the stage was set up as a motel roof — complete with the back of a blinking neon motel sign.

Community Feedback Replies: 105
  • January 19, 2012
    Duncan
    A staple of Film Noir.
  • January 19, 2012
    ParadiscaCorbasi
    Sometimes such hotels are picked because they're out of character for the hero, so no one would think to look for them there.

    If we're going for the Film Noir version, expect sax music to accompany the flickering neon.

  • January 19, 2012
    NateTheGreat
    It doesn't have to be the Film Noir version, that's just a common place to find it. And yeah, you'll hear sax music in the noir version.
  • January 19, 2012
    randomsurfer
    • The play Hot L Baltimore is about the Hotel Baltimore. The "e" in the sign is burned out, hence the title.
    • Revenge Of The Nerds Part 2: Nerds In Paridise: the nerds go to a fraternity convention in Florida and stay at the Hotel Coral Essex. To muster up support against Proposition 15 (which basically says, "No Nerds Allowed") they throw a big bash at the hotel, hacking the sign so some of the letters burn out - now it's "Hot oral sex."
  • January 20, 2012
    Medinoc
    Probably related to Signs Of Disrepair.

  • January 20, 2012
    69BookWorM69
    In ITV's 2006 Production of Agatha Christie's The Moving Finger (starring Geraldine McEwan as Miss Marple), the troubled war veteran Jerry Burton is first depicted in a hotel bed with the neon sign's light coming through the window.

  • January 20, 2012
    DaibhidC
    • In Guards Guards, the tavern next to Sam Vimes's lodging house has a magically illuminated sign where the magic is wearing off, right outside his window. The E is burnt out, and the T sizzles when it rains, just like Hot l Baltimore.
  • February 14, 2012
    NateTheGreat
    Bump.
  • February 14, 2012
    nitrokitty
    There's a very, very creepy version of this in Limbo.
  • February 16, 2012
    69BookWorM69
    Here's AgProv's comment, it was somehow attached to an earlier one of mine:

    Help, I've lost the "comment" button. Everything else is here but I can't comment. Not sure what's happening, but can I tag on here? This is troper Ag Prov and looking at an example from LITERATURE. Terry Pratchett's Discworld Guards! Guards! where Captain Vimes is in a rundown police station opposite a tavern with an enchanted sign - Vimes notes that one letter of the wizard-enchanted sign isn't working and puts it down to it spitting and smouldering in the rain.
  • February 16, 2012
    NateTheGreat
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/twocrabs/284474910/

    I'd like the page image to be something like this, only with the entire word "HOTEL" showing and the O burned out.
  • February 16, 2012
    SquirrelGuy
    ISTR a scene in the original FAME movie. There was a scene in a small (studio?) apartment on Times Square, and the lighting from one of the outside signs kept cycling throughout the entire scene. (Panasonic: just slightly ahead of our time). This may have been just a pattern of incandescent bulbs, though, rather than neon tubing.
  • March 3, 2012
    NateTheGreat
    Bump.
  • April 11, 2012
    NateTheGreat
    Bump.
  • April 11, 2012
    JobanGrayskull
    I can't believe we don't have this already. I think the movie poster for Vacancy invokes this trope. (Also, that might be a variant: vacancy/no vacancy often shows up on these neon signs as well.)
  • April 11, 2012
    JonnyB
    • In Motel Hell, the neon sign says "Motel Hello", but with the O burned out.
    • In The Matrix, the opening and closing scenes take place in the "Heart O' The City Hotel". Except for the word "Heart", the sign is blue neon.
  • April 11, 2012
    TooBah
    • Done in the Moonlighting episode "The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice." David is in such a hotel, playing his trumpet, with the "HOTEL" sign flashing in the background. As the angle changes, it just flashes "HOT". See it here, at about 7:24.
  • June 13, 2012
    NateTheGreat
    Bump.
  • June 14, 2012
    randomsurfer
    Not sure if this counts; I'll post, you decide.
    • Seinfeld: In one episode a Kenny Rogers Roasters franchise opens nearby with a giant flashing neon sign which disturbs Kramer's sleep. He talks Jerry into switching apartments with him. Strangely, the longer they live in each other's apartments the more Kramer starts to act like Jerry and the more Jerry acts like Kramer.
  • October 20, 2012
    NateTheGreat
    Bump.
  • October 20, 2012
    norsicnumber2nd
    Even worse if its a Motel, right? (I don't know, we don't have motels, but the Americans keep talking about them...)

    Here, here, and here.
  • October 20, 2012
    SquirrelGuy
    (deleted)
  • October 20, 2012
    DRCEQ
    • AI Artificial Intelligence: The very suggestive hotel sign is flashing in the room when Gigolo Joe steps in to meet his next client.
  • October 21, 2012
    Quatic
    Blinking neon sign visible in the background just as The Terminator enters his hotel room through the window, seen here (and again at the end of the vid, as he leaves the same way).
  • October 21, 2012
    Quatic
  • October 21, 2012
    m8e
    Might be related to Eiffel Tower Effect as both tend to be always outside your window
  • October 21, 2012
    NateTheGreat
    No, the Eiffel Tower Effect is used as a reminder of what city you're in. The Neon Hotel Sign is a reminder of what kind of neighborhood you're in. Sister Tropes at best.
  • October 21, 2012
    norsicnumber2nd
    The Eiffel Tower Effect is both a reminder of what city you're in and saying that isn't it funny that whenever a character goes to Paris, the Eiffel Tower, no matter where they are, is always outside the window. Paris is a little bigger than a square mile so unless the character circles that perimeter their entire holiday, that actually happening is pretty impossible.
  • October 21, 2012
    Chernoskill
    Ok, just bear with me here, the following example is pretty obscure and not about a neon sign, but the underlying premise is identical.

    There exists a cruise ship in which the passengers that live in a certain cabin get as much free icecream as they want for the whole journey. Why is that? The cabin is located above an icecream restaurant, and the franchise's trademark, two cows, are mounted as live-sized versions above the entrance... with their rears facing the windows of said cabin!
  • October 21, 2012
    norsicnumber2nd
    ^Yeh, I got it. I think it works.
  • October 21, 2012
    m8e
    I said related to. As in you might want to put "related to Eiffel Tower Effect, Signs Of Disrepair, X and Y" at the bottom of the description. and please make a real description.
  • October 21, 2012
    norsicnumber2nd
    ^I agree, and all the OP seems to have done is Bumped it.
  • October 21, 2012
    Chernoskill
    It's up for grabs anyway, so don't expect too much ;-)
  • October 22, 2012
    NateTheGreat
    What happened to the Laconic?
  • October 22, 2012
    m8e
    The history says "Change made by Nate The Great 12:20:49 AM 22nd Oct '12". But I might have accidentally done that when I moved the examples.

    Changed it back.
  • April 26, 2013
    NateTheGreat
    I seem to have lost track of this one. Further input?
  • June 30, 2013
    NateTheGreat
    So, um, what do you guys want to do with this one?
  • June 30, 2013
    Madrugada
    I don't see that a motel having a neon sign is a trope in and of itself. That said, I think that

    • The hotel sign with one (or more) missing letters, as either an indication that it's a seedy hotel or that it's a dangerous place is a trope, whether or not the sign is neon, or even lighted.
    • So is "the annoying or unpleasant sign that impinges on a room that the characters are in", often used to indicate that they're in a seedy part of town.

    Right now, the examples are all over the place, from (1) hotel signs that say something suggestive because part of it is burned out or obscured, to (2) neon signs as a signal that it's a seedy area, to (3) flickering or blinking signs annoying the character, to (4) "this place has a neon sign". That's not one trope. That's three possible different tropes and a People Sit On Chairs. I'd suggest that this be split into those three possibilites and "<X> has a neon sign" be dropped completely.
  • June 30, 2013
    NateTheGreat
    If we refine the examples to fit your first bulletpoint, we should have something to work with here. The key components are:

    • At least one letter is flickering, if not burned out completely.
    • The character is looking out at the dingy neighborhood with a depressed or resigned countenance. Both the neighborhood and the character's emotions are reflected in the sign. The flickering letter says that something is missing from both neighborhood and character.

  • June 30, 2013
    Prfnoff
    We already have Madrugada's (1) as Signs Of Disrepair.
  • June 30, 2013
    NateTheGreat
    Sister Trope, perhaps. The meaning of a "HOTEL" sign isn't altered by the missing letter.
  • June 30, 2013
    oneuglybunny
    Such a room would be one of the worst among those available. Therefore, it marks this location as a "cheapie" room, suitable for those with little money, those who are desperate, or those who seem "seedy" by the hotel staff. One other possibility is that the sign would be prominent on the building's facade, and would be in view when police / agents are conducting surveillance. If nothing else, it marks this site as a room for hire to anybody, no questions asked.
  • November 5, 2013
    NateTheGreat
    Bump.
  • November 5, 2013
    DracMonster
    Not sure if this can be shoehorned in, since it's not neon, but...
    • Also in Discworld, in Witches Abroad, the witches happen on an inn:
      Nanny Ogg: Hotel Nova Cancies. That means New, er, Cancies in foreign.
  • November 5, 2013
    ShanghaiSlave
    name's pretty People Sit On Chairs at the moment. how the hell are you supposed to make the name of the establishment visible at night if not by using neons or anything similar?
  • November 5, 2013
    DAN004
  • November 5, 2013
    NateTheGreat
    Shanghai Slave, this trope isn't "hotels have neon signs", it's "the character will always be in a room where the sign can be seen clearly, and most likely at least one letter will be burned out."
  • November 5, 2013
    FGHIK
    I understand the gist of it but it needs a better description desperately.
  • November 6, 2013
    NateTheGreat
    I think at some point someone shortened my original description when adding examples to the initial entry. Ugh.
  • November 6, 2013
    Paradisesnake
    Namespaced the examples.
  • November 6, 2013
    ZuTheSkunk
    I remember that The Cramp Twins had this in the episode where Wayne ruined their home and they had to stay in a hotel for some time. Can't remember the name though.
  • November 6, 2013
    DAN004
    "When the character looks out the window, they'll always see the hotel sign"

    Laconic sounds too limiting that way. Simply a character visiting a hotel with such broken neon hotel sign can signify the hotel's brokenness and the character's desperation, I think.
  • November 7, 2013
    NateTheGreat
    We can always suggest and comment on possible Laconics while the YKTTW is active. What's your proposed replacement?
  • November 7, 2013
    ShanghaiSlave
    Nate The Great, i was referring to the name being PSOC rather than the YKTTW.

    also, this is a Rule Of Perception trope. Compare Establishing Shot.

    equivalent to prominently showing The Wcdonalds logo when the characters are eating in fastfood.

    or maybe showing that the characters are in a "grocery" and not walmart. unrelated, but shows the concept

    maybe that's the trope here and not just hotels.
  • November 7, 2013
    NateTheGreat
    This isn't "showing a sign to indicate that a person is in said location", this is specific to hotels. The fact that the character can see the sign from their window isn't to tell us that the character is in a hotel (the room will look like a hotel room, after all), but to tell us that it's a dumpy hotel. It could even indicate that the character is at a low point in their plot arc.
  • November 7, 2013
    Lumpenprole
    Part of a recurring nightmare of Eve Dallas's in the In Death series. She relives being in the seedy room where she stabbed her abusive father to death.

  • November 8, 2013
    NoirGrimoir
    Not only is at least one letter burned out, but one or more letters are probably flickering, as well.
  • November 8, 2013
    DAN004
    Just Neon Hotel Sign won't buy it.
  • November 8, 2013
    ShanghaiSlave
    It was just a suggestion, because i don't remember seeing that trope In This Wiki. still think this is too narrow though. what if the setting is in the medieval period?
  • November 8, 2013
    NateTheGreat
    Do you have an example of an analogous situation in a medieval setting?
  • November 8, 2013
    ShanghaiSlave
    i remember an inn-stay in Strays. but i forgot the page. and i don't recall there being a sign.
  • April 19, 2014
    NateTheGreat
    More ideas or hats?
  • April 19, 2014
    DAN004
    Again, Broken Neon Hotel Sign.

    Maybe expand it to Broken Neon Sign so it my cover cafes, restaurants, disco and the like?
  • April 19, 2014
    NateTheGreat
    This isn't just "broken neon signs exist in the bad part of town"; that's awfully close to People Sit On Chairs.
  • May 1, 2014
    Quatic
    Yeah, the trope here is a plot-significant. And the sign need not be broken, just cheap-ass.
  • May 1, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ title still needs to change though. It's goddamn plain.
  • May 1, 2014
    arbiter099
    So are we trying to carve out a subtrope of Signs Of Disrepair, No Tell Motel and/or Hell Hotel?
  • May 2, 2014
    SciFiMs
    @ OP: "The sign could be shorthand for the character's internal conflict..."

    What's the evidence for this statement? (Actually, I'm more in agreement with "The sign could be...simply a method of telling you he's down on his luck.")
  • May 3, 2014
    randomsurfer
    Neon hotel and bar signs are a staple of the Drunken Montage, representing the places the montage's subject has gone.
  • May 3, 2014
    SharleeD
    • In Joan Hess's Maggody mystery novels, the neon sign for Ruby Bee's Flamingo Motel is frequently described as having letters from its "VACANCY" notice burnt out. In addition, its pink neon flamingo regularly loses feathers when they burn out, making it look like it's molting.
  • August 20, 2014
    NateTheGreat
    More input?
  • August 20, 2014
    DAN004
    Channge the title plz.
  • August 25, 2014
    Quatic
    How about Neon Of Despair?
  • August 25, 2014
    justanotherrandomlurker
    I don't know if either of these work or not, but...

    Live Action TV
    • MASH. In "Der Tag," a distraught Frank talks to Margaret - who is on R&R in Tokyo - on the phone in the middle of the night; many of the shots from inside Margaret's hotel room show a large neon hotel sign blinking right outside her window.

    Real Life
    • New York City's Hotel Carter on Times Square has continuously been ranked as one of the worst hotels in the world; many of the hotel's faults include filthy accommodations, stained sheets, inadequate bathroom conditions, and dead and live rodent and insect vermin (including bed bug problems). Many guests who have experienced the living nightmare of staying at this hotel have shared photos on Trip Advisor, including a number of shots of the hotel's old fashioned neon sign at night - and yes, in almost all of those photos, at least two lets are burned out.
  • August 25, 2014
    DAN004
    Neon Of Bleakness works better imo.
  • August 25, 2014
    eroock
    Can this be merged with my Eerie Flickering Sign?
  • August 25, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ Yes, we keep that trope as we pour this one's contents into it.
  • August 25, 2014
    bejjinks
    ^ Agreed.
  • August 25, 2014
    aradia22
    I think the song is about a bar sign and not a hotel sign but it seems a shame to not include a rare music example. I'm referring to Neon Moon by Brooks and Dunn. The song is the lonely singer who sits beneath the light of a "neon moon" in a "rundown bar" after a breakup. The entire song fits the incredibly depressing mood that the description for this trope seems to suggest.
  • August 26, 2014
    NateTheGreat
    This YKTTW came first. Besides, these two entries cover slightly different things. That one is about how the flickering sound reflects the run-down nature of the entire neighborhood/city/world. It exists on a shot of the entire street. This one is about how the sign reflects the character's current situation. The entire city isn't in the dumps, just him because he's now in this dark place.
  • August 26, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ maybe call this Neon Sign Of Melancholy, then.
  • August 26, 2014
    bejjinks
    ^^ They're still too similar to be separate tropes. The point of both is that the sign sets the mood.
  • August 27, 2014
    eroock
    ^ This. Can we not just point out the importance of a sleazy hotel sign in terms of a character trope (internal conflict) as well as a story trope (setting/atmosphere)? Btw, the last paragraph is all about story.
  • September 13, 2014
    eroock
    bumb
  • September 13, 2014
    DAN004
    Motion to merge.
  • September 13, 2014
    SquirrelGuy
    An epitomized real life example could have been the Holiday Inn "Great Sign" which was used for decades. This was a huge sign that, in addition being well-lit at night, had a string of chase lights leading into an arrow, and a pulsating star on the top. It has been compared to a jukebox. But much to the dismay of many, the signs were all taken down starting in the early 1980s. From The Blues Brothers http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GLUNypEfrFQ
  • September 13, 2014
    justanotherrandomlurker
    Is no one updating this thing?

    Film
    • My Cousin Vinny. The last hotel in town that Vinny and Lisa stay at has one of these signs out front, with the 'O' burned out; a Running Gag throughout the movie is something loud happening at the crack of dawn at every place they stay at, waking them from their sleep - at this particular hotel, it's right next to a railroad track, where a freight train keeps running by at 5:00 in the morning.
  • September 22, 2014
    eroock
    Film:
    • In Dark City, the hotel the hero stays in features a slightly tilted and flickering neon sign.
  • September 22, 2014
    DAN004
    Is Nate Thegreat still there?
  • December 2, 2014
    eroock
    Film:
    • Enter The Void is set in the neon-lit nightclub environments of Tokyo. At night the hero's apartment is subjected to flashing neon lights, which accentuate the drugged-out state of his character and the Crapsack World around him.
  • December 2, 2014
    DAN004
    This was abandoned for 3 months. Grabbing this.
  • December 3, 2014
    NateTheGreat
    I'm pretty sure I marked it Up For Grabs on day one, as I do for all of my YKTT Ws.
  • December 3, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ thing is, I'm proposing to merge this with Eerie Flickering Sign ykttw.
  • December 15, 2014
    DAN004
    Bump
  • December 17, 2014
    eroock
    Could you just go ahead?
  • December 17, 2014
    NateTheGreat
    I still think that the two YKTT Ws cover slightly different (if related) tropes.
  • December 17, 2014
    DAN004
    That's why I'm merging them and then I'm soft-splitting them.
  • January 1, 2015
    DAN004
    Bump for now...
  • January 18, 2015
    Tropesmanisready!
    hey every 1 we need a good mname
  • January 18, 2015
    D503
    I don't have specific example, but this happens frequently in the show Supernatural.
  • January 19, 2015
    maxwellsilver
    The Simpsons Sleep Eazy Motel. This might be a good page image.

    Regarding the question of what a motel is, it's a portmanteau of motor hotel, or motor lodge. A motel is a low cost hotel usually located at the side of highway and generally has only one or two floors.
  • February 12, 2015
    DAN004
    Many of the examples are ZCE
  • March 19, 2016
    NateTheGreat
    Should the title be tweaked a bit to include the emotional significance of the sign? The current title looks like it's a People Sit On Chairs page.

  • March 19, 2016
    DAN004
    ^ THAT was what I was trying to ask from the start.

    ...that is, if I don't choose to merge this instead.
  • March 19, 2016
    NateTheGreat
    Should we just move the examples over to Eerie Flickering Sign, possibly expanding that YKTTW's definition a bit and tweaking the name?

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable

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