The Motel Gets Its Groove Back

A new generation of hoteliers-make that moteliers-is giving the roadside classic the respect it deserves.

The Jupiter's Room 129, with its knockoff Barcelona chair

The Jupiter's Room 129, with its knockoff Barcelona chair

(John Clark)
The Jupiter's Room 129, with its knockoff Barcelona chair

The Jupiter's Room 129, with its knockoff Barcelona chair

(John Clark)

What you'll find in this story: trendy motels, new motel accommodations, New York accommodations, Miami accommodations, Portland accommodations, affordable lodging

Portland, Oregon

This 43-year-old building in Portland's booming Lower Burnside neighborhood (known as LoBu) has history: The lounge in the downstairs area used to be an underground piano bar in the '60s called Sam's Hideaway, an infamous secret meeting spot for trysts and backroom business deals. Kelsey Bunker, a former lawyer, joined forces with Tod Breslau, a local real-estate entrepreneur, after Breslau heard the club and motel (which had become a Travel Inn) was up for sale. Bunker loved the place enough to change her career path, and they took a full year to renovate the 80 rooms. "The bones were really good, but there was so much dry rot," says Bunker. "It needed a ton of gutting and maintenance." Six months ago, the Jupiter Hotel officially opened. Among the playful new additions: Wall-size photoscapes of forests or city scenes, an outdoor fire pit, and slate doors that invite doodling (colored chalk is provided). Bunker kept the spirit of Sam's alive in at least one way. After midnight--and a few too many at Doug Fir, the Jupiter's alpine-style lounge--you can stumble upstairs for only $49. Just ask for the special Get a Room rate. 800 E. Burnside, 503/230-9200,, normally from $79.  --Adrien Glover

Marfa, Texas

Marfa was a dying west Texas ranching town, best known for being where the James Dean movie Giant was shot, when artist Donald Judd established the Chinati Foundation there in 1986. Hipsters have made the pilgrimage ever since, some even staying to open bookstores, art galleries, and cafés. Now there's a fitting place for arty types to crash when they make the trip: the Thunderbird. Last year, Liz Lambert--owner of the Hotel San Jose in Austin--coordinated a redesign of a 1959 former motor court on Highway 90. The result, open since January, could be described as Cowboy Zen. Each of the 24 minimalist rooms has cowhide rugs on smooth concrete floors. The Thunderbird's landscaping is similarly true to its Texan roots, with gravel, cacti, and horizontal lattices made of pipe salvaged from nearby oil fields. There's also a pool and an outdoor fireplace for the cold desert nights. 601 W. San Antonio, 432/729-1984,, from $79.  --Michael Hall

Miami Beach, Florida

Four years ago, when Collins Avenue north of 14th Street began to crest as Miami Beach's hippest new district, a surfer named Eric Gabriel decided to get his feet wet in the motel business. He took over the slab-concrete Seadeck, a 1952 motel that had become a home for retirees. As part of his year-long renovation, Gabriel filled the 45 rooms with mid-century accessories like teak headboards. In name, the Aqua Hotel may have graduated from motel to hotel, but it still has telltale motel markers: It's two stories high, and you enter your room from the courtyard, where there's a pool-size hot tub and tropical garden. To enjoy it fully, snag one of the two sun beds--they're free, a rarity in Miami. 1530 Collins Ave., 305/538-4361,, from $99.  --Jason Cochran

Mt. Tremper, New York

After buying the Lazy Meadow in 2002 as an investment, Kate Pierson of the B-52s restored the Catskills motor lodge. She created bright, cheerful rentals, put "Kate's" in front of the name, and reopened in May 2004. Work is still in progress on two of the units, but the finished seven are delightfully reminiscent of the motel's early-'50s glory days: The two-bedroom efficiencies even have matching turquoise or pink appliances and cupboards. "Every item was personally selected by Kate," says Monica Coleman, Pierson's partner in business and life. That includes the psychedelic mushroom ottoman, the 3-D nature murals, and the toiletries, which Pierson picked up during her years on the road. Rooms 7 and 8 also have a kitchen with a breakfast bar, a spiral staircase leading to the boudoir, a glass-walled shower for two, and a posse of good-spirited gnomes in the living room. Rehabbed Airstream trailers, down by the river, will be available for rent this summer. 5191 Rte. 28, 845/688-7200,, from $150, trailers from $125. --Carole Braden

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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