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Motel Chic
Travel & Leisure Magazine
June 2007

Motel Chic

From Palm Springs to the Florida Keys, a new generation of design-savvy entrepreneurs are reinventing an American icon—the roadside motel.

By Charles Gandee

In a 1940 American Magazine article entitled "Camps of Crime," FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover waged something of a war against motels, which he labeled "a new home of crime in America, a new home of disease, bribery, corruption, crookedness, rape, white slavery, thievery, and murder." Though Hoover, as we now know, had a penchant for hyperbole, it is nonetheless true that motels—steeped in the utilitarian anonymity of the open road—have had a dubious reputation for decades. The No-Tell Motel. The Bates Motel. The Fleabag Motel. The Rooms-by-the-Hour Motel.

Recently, however, the word motel has begun to shake loose from those pejorative connotations. The credit goes to a growing number of "boutique motels," properties dating back to the 1940’s, 1950’s, and early 1960’s that have been bought and completely reimagined by energetic young moteliers with a clear vision of what makes for not merely comfortable but also memorable accommodations.

Unlike boutique hotels, which offer cutting-edge design and too-cool-for-school attitude, boutique motels are personable, cozy even. There is an egalitarian quality to these places, which offer a host of communal experiences, from Jacuzzis and heated swimming pools to expansive breakfasts and cocktails at 5:00 p.m.

"The best surprise is no surprise," Holiday Inn crowed in the 1970’s, meaning that a room in a Holiday Inn was very much like every room in every Holiday Inn. This was supposed to be a good thing, comforting news to the anxious traveler. Reassuring or not, the current generation of moteliers thumbs its collective nose at the one-size-fits-all concept. They are determined to offer distinctive experiences in one-of-a-kind motels that are not part of any chain, but instead conscientiously sui generis, one-off expressions of the moteliers’ own style and sensibility.

8 More Motels with Style


The Roxbury Motel

Two NYC showbiz vets transformed a dilapidated motor lodge into a funky mountain retreat; this summer they’ll unveil a new wing with "theatrical" rooms. 2258 Hwy. 41, Roxbury; 607/326-7200; www.theroxburymotel.com; doubles from $95.