Coolness in Iowa City
This is where we stayed in October 2023, on our Iowa road trip!
The Hotel is still named The Highlander, but the sign from the 1960's is gone!
The 2023 version of The Highlander looks a little different.
The hotel calls itself an Urban Resort now. "Where modern elegance meets timeless charm". The 2-story motel on 90 acres, didn't exactly look urban or elegant, from the highway.
Walking up from the massive parking lot, I was a little amused by this dated entrance.
I knew the hotel had been renovated in 2020-2022, but I wasn't too impressed yet...
Suddenly I stepped inside and the word elegant fit much better.
I loved the glam-modern, velvet chairs and dramatic light fixtures. And what a fabulous flower arrangement!
The mod art in the Lobby check-in area, took me back to the sixties.
But the casual "greeting tables" with computers, reminded me that it was 2023.
Lamps and LPs
I spotted a couple of lava lamps...
And there were boxes with collections of old records!
The albums weren't just for show. There was a little turntable between the blue chairs. I could have played some tunes, while I waited for someone to arrive and check us in.
The hallways were impressive! The wall decor was splashy and bright.
The floors were worth a look! All clean and bright and varied.
We were given "wristband keys" that magically opened our door. Just a tap with the plastic rectangle (showing a hand making a peace sign) Voila! Door open! The host said we didn't really need to wear the bands around the hotel, but maybe that was because we looked like old fogies and not wild party people! I think it might get rowdy at this cool place, on weekends.
I loved the wooden peace sign that dangled on the door, instead of a Do Not Disturb card. I wonder how many of those disappear, when younger and wilder guests stay?
The poolside rooms were more expensive, so we went for a room opening to the courtyard.
Our room location was perfect, with glass doors opening to our own corner patio.
Our own little sitting looked out over the yard. The huge glass doors to the pool, were just to the left.
I stepped out in the late afternoon and had the whole area to myself.
As I wandered, I made my daily call to my Dad. I told him about the curious hotel and I chuckled with him as I moved chess pieces around the big board. "I don't remember when I last played chess!"I told him. We talked about chess and we talked about Iowa. The year The Highlander opened, our family was living 2 hours away in Grinnell.
Back in the room, I was happy to have a little sitting area. I'm not sure what this room looked like in 2019, before Angela Harrington bought the dated hotel and invested nearly 10 million to renovate.
I'm glad she chose to spotlight the mid century modern era. There were a few hints of the 21st century. The recycling trash can!
The black refrigerator and sleek paper towel dispenser were nice updates. The inlaid desk top and TV weren't so bad either.
No complaints with the bathroom. Vintage black "Chicklet" tiles, beach-y subway tile and a gigantic shower head! I guess I could gripe about the frosted glass in the door... that let light into the room, when I showered early.
On a Tuesday in October, we didn't bump into any guests when we went exploring.
The swanky bar closest to the lobby, wasn't open that evening. Too bad, because I was eager to have a seat on one of those comfy blue stools, next to the puffy-padded wall! So retro clubby!
We found some even comfier seating. The rounded pink couch looked heavenly.
But we didn't have time to sit. We had work to do.
I couldn't photograph Don's fine artwork, because he put it was too high. It's pretty obvious who used the neon yellow pen on the right side of the board!
Long before I was a teen, I remember saying "Peace!" with 2 fingers. I mimicked the hippies and protesters I saw in the news, long before I knew what it meant.
I was much older than a teenager when I realized my own parents might have mimicked Winston Churchill, making a V for Victory, during WWII!
We Need Friends!
We wandered through more sitting areas, admiring all the framed album covers on the wall.
There was James Taylor looking down from the wall. I probably never listened to him until the 1970's. But I do remember Joan Baez from the sixties. She was evidently a guest at this very hotel, many decades ago. Why?
It was fun wandering and reminiscing. It made me wish we were joined by our siblings, or friends of similar age. We could have lounged on the sleek couches with beer and pretzels and talked about the sixties. Well that's what my parents were enjoying in the '60's. Kool-Aid and pretzels for me.
I've said before I love the retro idea of a Supper Club. And that's how this whole place began. The Highlander Inn actually opened as a Supper Club in 1967.. or 1964. I found both dates when researching.
Highlander Inn Supper Club went through nearly 6 decades of makeovers. After the recent 3-year renovation, the popular Supper Club returned, along with a "Retro Cocktail Arcade".
Previous owners over the years, hid some of the fun stuff. A lot of carpet and concrete had to be removed during renovation.
The limestone wall that separated the sunken bar and restaurant had to be recreated one lime brick at a time. What a cool 2-sided bar. I failed to capture the levels in this photo.
I kind of wish they had chosen to lean more towards Supper Club than Arcade. But if that's what it takes to lure young guests to keep an historic hotel open, I'm okay with that!
I'm guessing the pool tables and arcade games are sitting where dining tables once stood. I do recognize the hanging light fixtures from the earliest photos.
Don was happy to study every album cover.
He definitely owned more albums in the '60's and '70's than I did.
I recognized plenty though. I was happy to spot a Herman's Hermits album. For my 10th birthday, I was allowed to take a few friends to Des Moines to see their movie! One of those friends lives in Iowa City now. Joanna said her family has enjoyed a Staycation or two at The Highlander!
We pretty much had the place to ourselves. I tried to imagine all these tables and games in use, by U of Iowa students on weekends.
I imagined the decor in the early 70's, when these splendid chandeliers shined down on fancy tables... and my friend Marla had her Homecoming Dinner here!
Don wasn't thrilled about losing money in arcade games. He was amused enough by the totally free (and silly) video, on the Guitar Hero screen.
I insisted we embrace what the Supper Club has become. I purchased tokens and got a very silly fortune from Zoltar.
I know nothing about arcade games, but least I felt confident with old pinball machines. Maybe not. I kept losing tokens which made me sort of lose my mind.
The nice guy working behind the sunken bar assured me that some of the machines were funky. It wasn't me. He gave me a pile of tokens and by the time I was sort of having fun, they were gone. Oh well.
We ordered some food at the bar and suddenly wished there were more people to watch. I could have guided people. "The Munsters pinball works!"
The pork sandwich was actually pretty tasty and came with chips and chunky pico de gallo. Not bad!
Another quiet food place, was located near the indoor pool. We could help ourselves to complimentary sodas and coffee. The bartender dashed in here a couple times to make milkshakes I believe.
We mostly just stopped in to enjoy some 1960's trivia, on the wall.
Top 10 Tunes of 1967
I was 10 in 1967, so I have fun memories of every single one of these 10 songs!
However I can't believe "The Letter" was more popular than "Georgie Girl", "All You Need is Love" or "Up, Up and Away"! My opinion of course.
This Snack Shack area also served complimentary breakfast the next day.
The warmer held breakfast sandwiches wrapped in foil. We were content with yogurt and oatmeal. We wondered again, what this would be like on a weekend. There seemed to be a lot of unlocked liquor bottles...
The Highlander Supper Club added the hotel and pool area in the early 1970's.
This is the view of the indoor pool, with the Snack Shack on the left.
When this indoor beauty opened in 1974, I'm sure it was an impressive oasis. You could book a super groovy room overlooking the pool!
Before renovations, I'm guessing this would be the last view I'd want to have from my motel balcony. Chlorine smells and sounds of splashing and "Marco Polo-ing".
But the space was lovely! Comfy sitting areas with no mildew smells. The "garage doors" let in lots of light.
The hot tub looked so inviting and we had suits with us! But it was closed for maintenance. Rats.
But we made use of the chill atmosphere and ordered drinks from the bar for a poolside toast.
Cheers to unbreakable glasses that don't look like plastic! Cheers to our innocent pre-teen years in the 1960's. What fun to remember those days!
The Highlander Hotel was hipper and bolder and classier than I expected!
Without crowds, we got to enjoy drinks by the pool and silly games at the Supper Club. We enjoyed wandering and taking in all the nostalgia of the sixties and seventies. We enjoyed our peaceful, comfy room. I'd love to go back on a weekend when all 90 rooms are booked and just see what it's like! Maybe...
My New Year's Resolution for 2014 was to start documenting some of the memorable overnights I've had in some very odd and curious motels and hotels. Like the adventures in my Dining Blog, I have learned to enjoy the surprises that happen when you step out of the comfort zone, far away from the well-known chains.
I began with a few entries recalling my very first home away from home memories from my youth. Then, I started sharing about some of the quirky and unforgettable motels, hotels and inns that my husband and I have discovered in recent years.
The best part about this challenge was making some lists with Don and getting on the road in search of new overnight adventures. I gave myself a 2-year goal to write up 90 stories and the goal was met. Now we just keep on adding!