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Wall Street Journal / Life - Entertain

’50s Motels Go From Bleak to Chic

Motor lodges and motels from California to Long Island are getting dolled up, giving road trippers reasons to linger.


The latest incarnation of San Francisco’s famed Phoenix motel, at the hands of hotelier Liz Lambert and her Austin-based Bunkhouse group, no stranger to groovy rehabs of old hotels.

Nick Simonite

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The Drifter, New Orleans

Uniting Space Age, aka Googie, architecture, tropical motifs and muted midcentury furnishings, this reimagined roadside motel in New Orleans’s Mid-City neighborhood is an unapologetic mishmash. Rooms feature both Oaxacan tiles and troweled concrete. You can order Cuban sandwiches from an on-site food truck and South African rosé and sake from the poolside bar. From $175 a night, thedrifterhotel.com

Phoenix Hotel, San Francisco

Rising yet again, this 1956 motor lodge underwent its first major metamorphosis in the ’80s, when it went from a seedy “no tell” motel to coolly retro crash pad for touring musicians. Last year, Austin’s Bunkhouse hotel group—no stranger to groovy and highly Instagrammable rehabs of old hotels—reopened the 44-room property, punching up the décor and flaunting its rock ’n’ roll past with a number of unsubtle details, from a wall of vinyl records in the restaurant to a punk-themed gift shop. From $185 a night, phoenixsf.com

Sound View, Greenport, N.Y.

A 1953 seaside motel on Long Island’s North Fork re-emerged last August as the 55-room Sound View, a lofty spin on a beach cottage from Brooklyn-based design firm Studio Tack. Rooms are wrapped in cedar paneling and furnished with Eero Saarinen-inspired “pool furniture” specially made for indoor diversions: “You can sit in your room with your legs crossed and watch the sunset,” said Jou-Yie Chou, a partner at Studio Tack. Or take in the sunset with locals and day-trippers at the Halyard, the property’s stylish seafood restaurant. From $195 a night, soundviewgreenport.com

Amigo Motor Lodge, Salida, Colo.

Two years ago, a Texas couple remade a 60-year-old motel in the Rocky Mountain town of Salida into a 16-room hipster beacon with a Southwestern slant: Handwoven pillows in Zapotec patterns top crisp white linens; leather butterfly chairs perch on cowhide rugs; and a cone fireplace sits beside a wood pile on the patio. Guests can also opt to sleep in one of the on-site Airstream trailers. From $100 a night, stayamigo.com

Calistoga Motor Lodge & Spa, Napa Valley, Calif.

The former Sunburst Motel has all the prerequisites of a midcentury motor inn—retro furnishings, kitschy signage, a fleet of Priority Cruiser bikes—with one added amenity: a mint-green spa with seven treatment rooms and three mineral pools that are heated by geothermal springs beneath the property. Corkboards in the 50 bright and cheerful (and dog-friendly) rooms, designed by New York firm AvroKO, highlight daily activities and events, including guided hikes, cooking classes, wine tastings and—in a wink to its earlier days—a hula-hoop contest. For more private competition, borrow one of the board games stocked in the lobby. From $209 a night, calistogamotorlodgeandspa.com

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