Lonnie and I were talking the other night about conference hotels. "The rooms are so sterile!" he said.
There's a certain comfort in conference hotels -- it was probably my third or fourth MLA convention when, upon arriving in a new city at a new hotel, I realized I knew roughly where everything probably was -- I could find conference registration, and there'd be a ballroom, and a corridor with the smaller meeting rooms, and probably those would be on the 2nd or 3rd floor. The designers of those hotels try to make them distinctive, of course -- just not too distinctive. And while the guest rooms are, indeed, sterile and boring, there's a consistency to what you can expect.
But for some time now, I've tried to seek out the smaller, quirky, more interesting hotels. I may not be spending a lot of time in the room, but I still want to wake up in a space that isn't completely bland.
You could hardly find anything less bland than the Tabard Inn, where I stayed last week. I've been curious about it for years, but always ended up staying someplace else when I'm in DC. I probably wouldn't have stayed there this trip either, if it weren't for the fact that the hotel rates everyplace else were highly inflated due to it being cherry blossom festival time and the end of a legislative session. I'm a fan of the Kimpton Hotels (Helix is probably my favorite of the DC Kimptons), but those rooms were running over $300/night (I've stayed at Helix for as little as $119 depending on the season). Wayne had mentioned that he was staying at the Tabard, so I thought I'd give it a try.
My room was huge -- two beds, a couch, several chairs, a fireplace, an antique desk (in fact, I don't think there was a stick of furniture in the place that was younger than I am). Nothing particularly matched, and at least one drawer in the dresser had no bottom. The effect was as if some Disney designers had been asked to create the hotel that time forgot, and had gone over the top with the assignment. But this was the real thing.
No television and no clock (I used my iPod for an alarm in the mornings). One old black telephone. No coffee-maker (I brought a french press). Tiny, european style sink in the huge bathroom. Great shower. My favorite feature was the floor to ceiling windows that opened onto a small balcony at the front of the building. Unlike the convention and chain hotels where you can typically open the window no more than an inch or two (if that), these windows opened all the way, and it was easy to step out onto the balcony -- if you were inclined to trust it. The weather was quite beautiful in DC last week, so I was able to sleep with the windows open.
There are no elevators in the building. I had two flights of stairs to climb to my room. Not a big deal (although hauling the suitcase up on the first day was a pain). The hotel would certainly not be to everyone's taste (after the group dinner, which was in the hotel's highly regarded restaurant, several people came up to "tour" my room -- it was easy to tell from the facial expressions who might be booking a room on their next trip and who would consider being stuck in such a room the vacation from hell...), but it certainly suited mine.
For my next few trips (Savannah, Denver, Phoenix), I'll be in standard conference hotels, but I'll make up for it in July. I'm planning a driving trip out west, where I'll alternate camping with staying in interesting hotels. I've booked nights at the Shackup Inn, the Hotel Paisano, and the St. Francis. Nothing bland and sterile there!