Revived vintage motels evoke nostalgia for simpler times

Who said roadside pit stops have to be boring? This summer, road-tripers looking for stylish accommodation that won’t break the bank, something between upscale luxury and highway-side corporate chains, are discovering a new trend: motels mid-century overlooks transformed into affordable and trendy places to stay.

Goodbye beige pallets and vending machines; hello, disco balls and lounge bars with artisan cocktails. Motels, also known as motorized lodges, evoke an era of optimism when gasoline was cheap and families crammed into cars and hit the road. Indeed, nostalgia and the urge to travel seem to be – ahem – the driving force behind the tendency to develop these properties.

“The nostalgia conjures up a simpler time, an era of Polaroid cameras and memories of what it’s like to be a kid,” said Krista Stokes, the creative art director who led the transformation project at Lodge on the Cove in Kennebunkport, Maine.

The renovated 30-room motel is outfitted with mid-century furnishings whose clean, sculptural lines complement bold new colors and energetic whimsy. The main building is a spacious, glassed-in octagon reminiscent of Howard Johnson’s former rest areas.

A swimming pool with light meals by the pool and a cocktail bar delight parents, while children can enjoy a clubhouse, bonfires, garden games and table tennis. “When you drive to a motorhome you can’t help but feel like you’re in another time. It’s a place to dream, ”Stokes said.

Daydreaming was a vital pandemic activity for Rob Blood, founder and president of Lark Hotels, who – while isolating himself at home – felt the urge to hit the road. Blood’s memories of his parents ‘summer vacations in his parents’ Grand Wagoneer led him to create a sister brand, Bluebird by Lark, a collection of mid-priced motels, surf cabins, and travel-inspired ski cabins. in the old car.

“Driven by social isolation after the past year, people are looking for places to spend quality time together. Places suitable for families and groups of friends, ”Blood said. Bluebird’s first offering, Spa City Motor Lodge, transformed an iconic 1950s roadside motel into a stylish destination in Saratoga Springs, NY

Inspired by old-fashioned Americana, the 42 guest rooms and suites offer pops of color and eclectic artwork in the clean architectural style of the original two-story motel. The rooms overlook an interior courtyard equipped with chairs, lounges and a communal café-bar.

Two more Bluebird properties will debut this summer (Parker Beach Lodge on Cape Cod and Tälta Lodge in Stowe, Vermont), with more to follow. “Providing beautiful spaces to use as waypoints makes the journey as important as the destination,” Blood said. “It’s the feeling of this moment.”

Jayson H. Seidman, founder and managing partner of the Drifter Hotel in New Orleans, recalls staying in RVs on family trips. Even as a child, he liked the social aspect of seeing people come and go. After spending most of his adult life “traveling the world,” he admits, “motels are my passion.”

The Drifter is the second of three motel conversions Seidman has undertaken in a larger hotel development portfolio. (Other motels include Thunderbird in Marfa, Texas, and the developing Ranch Motel in San Antonio.) In a growing downtown neighborhood, the Drifter sits at the end of the old Highway 61, known as name of the “highway of the blues”.

“Everyone in town thought I was crazy to open up on the outskirts of town,” Seidman said. Nonetheless, he was drawn to the development of the property, a hotel in operation since the 1950s, and named it after the Beat Generation of post-war America.

Over the course of the year-long project, Seidman ripped out carpeting, laid tiled floors, redone bathrooms, spruced up finishes, and added new bedding to all 20 bedrooms. In the old hall, a magnificent terrazzo floor under a renovation from the 1980s “revealed”.

“I prefer preservation to renovation. There are so many great stories within these walls, ”he said. To “shake things up a bit,” Seidman removed the concrete and turned the parking lots into a tropical landscape.

He dug the dirt-filled pool and resuscitated it, creating a swim club where locals and guests can mingle while enjoying specialty coffees, Japanese beers and sakes, cocktails and world cuisine from food trucks. The result is an atypical New Orleans experience designed to “remind people of other places they have traveled.”

During South Florida’s rapidly growing period of the 1950s, Biscayne Boulevard was described as “the motel capital of Miami”. A drive today from 50th to 77th Street in Miami’s designated Modern Historic District – known locally as MiMo – still offers a glimpse of flamboyant and upbeat post-war architecture.

In addition to the renovated 1953 Vagabond Motel, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the strip is home to the sprawling Selina Miami Gold Dust. Retro signage, tropical neon lights, and playful decor capture the spirit of the original 1957 Gold Dust Motel, a spot on its way to becoming popular when Hugh Hefner opened his first satellite Playboy Club just across the street in 1961.

“We wanted to stay true to its origins as a historic landmark on Biscayne Boulevard, combining iconic retro vibes from the past with today’s forward-looking cultural diversity today,” said Victoria Winter, director of the experience for Selina hotels in the United States.

Using the existing space and structure, Selina (a company that operates more than 70 hotels worldwide) carried out a complete rehabilitation of the property, including changing the layout of the swimming pool. The room types, from shared community spaces to private suites, are designed to accommodate many varieties of travelers. “It’s a place where CEOs can meet South American backpackers while sitting by the pool,” Winter said.

A revitalized river-view dining area, led by Miami Chef Matt Kush, maintains a funky vibe while serving up a variety of bistro fare such as croque monsieur, classic Kush burgers, chicken and waffles, and pie with lime. Exclusive cocktails, international wines and local beers can be enjoyed under the café at Don’s 5 Star Dive Bar.

In Nashville, a 1956 inn collides with 1970s nightclub and romantic nostalgia for the Dive Motel, a jaw-dropping 23-room wonder where each uniquely designed accommodation can contain one of the following: 1970s wallpaper , vintage furniture, shag rugs, wood paneling and tubs in a variety of bright Pantone hues.

The only thing all rooms have in common is a bespoke disco ball – designed by Yolanda “Yo Yo” Baker, famous for her work for Studio 54 – that spins to the tunes of “Dive Radio” offering four channels: sex, drugs, rock and roll and sleep. “Design is everything that goes with decor from all eras. It doesn’t have to make sense as long as it’s fun, ”said Lyon Porter, owner and designer of the property.

Porter, who also founded and operates the Urban Cowboy portfolio (with hotels in Nashville and the Catskills), discovered the dilapidated motel in a rapidly changing area of ​​town while looking for a place with a pool.

“A motel means different things to different people. Guests in their 80s say, “Oh, I remember staying in motels.” In your forties, that means something else. And people in their twenties may never have stayed in a motel, ”Porter said.

Due to the pandemic, this is the first full season that the pool and swim club are open for swimming, partying and dancing. The just launched Dive Taqueria offers meat and vegetarian tacos, quesadillas, tamales, pupusas, ceviche, and frozen and classic cocktails.

“Nashville is the Good Times Capital of the United States. After the pandemic, it’s the Roaring Twenties again, ”said Porter, who expects a busy summer season. “Everyone is delighted to be alive right now.”

If you are going to

The Lodge on the cove: 29 South Main Street, Kennebunkport, Maine; (800) 879-5778;

Family resort with 30 rooms and swimming pool in a refurbished classic motor lodge, nestled in a wooded cove in Kennebunkport. Bar and restaurant on site. Rates starting at $ 389.

Spa City Motor Lodge: 413 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, NY; (518) 306-4063;

The first offering from Bluebird by Lark, with 42 spacious guest rooms and suites in an iconic converted motor lodge on Main Street in Saratoga Springs. Interior courtyard lounge and coffee bar. Rates starting at $ 179.

The Drifter Hotel: 3522 Tulane Ave., New Orleans; (504) 605-4644;

Modernized nostalgia in a modernized 20-room mid-century motel, a five-minute drive from the French Quarter. Swimming pool, private gardens, food trucks, chic cocktails and Swim Club. Rates starting at $ 104.

Selina’s Gold Dust: 7700 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami; (305) 985-4764;

Iconic 57-room mid-century motel with vibrant updates in modern Miami. Features a swimming pool, Kush cafe and 5-star Don’s dive bar. Seasonal rates starting at $ 45 in community halls; $ 125 in private rooms.

The diving motel: 1414 Dickerson Pike, Nashville; (615) 650-9103;

Retro decor and disco balls in 23 uniquely designed rooms in a renovated 50s inn. Lively pool scene with Swim Club, taqueria and cocktail bar. Rates from $ 150.

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