Sweet Hotel in a Sweet Town
Last July, Don and I finished up a little Michigan road tripping, in the town of Saugatuck.
The charming town on the banks of the Kalamazoo River, has been attracting summer guests since the late 1800's. I searched the internet and found a place that once catered to those early tourists and I booked two nights.
Built in 1860's
We pulled up on a late Wednesday afternoon, in July. The place looked even more intriguing than the internet photos! I'm not sure what this building was when it first opened, but in the 1870's, it housed a furniture store.
I really can't imagine furniture stores, that long ago. The owner of the furniture store, ended up expanding and transforming the place into a summer resort/boarding house. I'm guessing his old business, furnished the hotel nicely!
A New Greek Revival Look
In 1923 a new owner took over and made the hotel even grander. George W. Maher was brought in to help with a new look. Maher, was a renowned architect, known for blending traditional styles with Prairie School styles. My knowledge is limited, but it's hard for me to see the European Arts and Crafts influence. I think the original building was Colonial and the Greek Columns were added.
My curiosity as always, led me to the internet. I couldn't find any images of the original design, but I learned more about Mr. Maher and his amazing career. Sadly he died in nearby Douglas, just a few years after the renovation. Seems like every time I do a little research I find a sad story. Maher evidently took his own life, due to struggles with health.
Back to Our Visit!
We arrived around 6:00 and grabbed a parking space right on the street! I was extra excited because our 2-day stay was going to be shared with my sister and sister-in-law! I kept fingers crossed as we headed in. I hoped Jennifer and Kate would be okay with our hotel pick.
As soon as we opened the door, I was relieved. It felt like we'd stepped into a cozy home. There was a set of stairs straight ahead and a wood paneled living room to the left.
To the right was a reception desk and another sitting area. So far so good!
Down the Hall
Jennifer and Kate texted us from their room. "We've been upgraded! We have a fireplace and two bath tubs!"
We checked in and found out that we had also been upgraded. That meant no stair climbing, with our bags. We headed down the hall, admiring all the antique goodies.
Lots of Carved Wood
I'm sure there were some good stories behind these fine pieces, especially the one with the curious carving of The Last Supper.
Maybe these were in the original furniture store. Who knows?
Our guest room door had a brass knocker. That's different. My photo does not show just how teeny tiny that door knocker was. Maybe it was just a tricky way to hide the peep hole. Or just a fancy way to show the room number.
However, I practically needed reading glasses to see the engraved number on the brass. More on that tiny knocker, later.
Our room was lovely.
There was no musty smell, which should almost be expected, with a hotel that is a century and a half old!
Maybe we were staying in a newer part. I hope not, since I usually ask for the most historic rooms. But the room was comfortable and classy, with antiques and fireplace.
The Tiffany style lamp certainly fit the era. There were a few framed prints, that I wouldn't have minded owning!
Ahhh for the Bathroom!
Even some of the very nicest historic hotels, have cramped bathrooms. I could have lived in this spacious and luxurious room!
The separate shower was large and the separate sinks were a bonus. The tub (with complimentary bath salts) was heavenly. I've never used a tub with a built in step!
After checking out the room, I wandered a bit.
I found the back stairs near the breakfast room.
I took a trip up the stairs to the second floor and peeked in a few open doors... before coming down the stairs in front. The upper rooms that I saw were nice, with good views. But, it was a treat not having to hike up and down, during our 2-day stay.
The glassed in porch was set up for the daily complimentary breakfast.
The next morning, Kate and Jennifer grabbed us a perfect table, at 8 am.
We had a nice view of the nearby park, while we sipped our coffee in flowered cups. Well, half of us chose the dainty ones, with saucers. I like having a cup or mug choice.
At the dresser, we helped ourselves to fruit, salads, olives and breads. Then our blueberry French toast and bacon arrived! (The next day was quiche)
As we lingered over coffee, a woman wandered in and we began to chat. She turned out to be the owner, Catherine Simon. She relaxed against a table and entertained us with her dry wit for a while. Pretty fun hearing about her nearly 30 years running the hotel... the fun of hosting her own family reunions... Kate told her she was the kind of relative everyone wants! Catherine answered, "You've got that right!"
Enjoying the Shared Space
In the back of the hotel, we found more sitting areas. There were wine glasses available and some fresh cookies. There was a player piano, that we didn't use and a TV that luckily wasn't on.
The first night, we chatted near the wood burning fireplace... which would be nice in winter. It felt like we were in our own home, hanging out. Except that we had to hush our voices occasionally, since rooms were nearby.
Lounging Near the Pool
The second evening, the air was balmy and we sat out on the lounge chairs near the pool.
At one point, I headed inside with my plastic cup to get some wine from the room.
In the hall I stopped to chat with some guests. Then I waved to Catherine, who was heading down our way... just in time to witness my faux pas. I could blame it on all the social distraction in the hallway. But I think I'll blame my goof on that door knocker! If the tiny number, on the tiny knocker hadn't been so tiny, then maybe I would have noticed that I was standing beside the wrong door.
I waved good-bye to the others, inserted the key and turned the knob. I wish I had a photo of the couple, seated in the cushioned chairs, holding their wine glasses... when they looked up, to see me coming into their room.
"Oh no! Oh I'm sorry! Oh I can't believe I did this! Oh... and why did my key even work?!" I just stood their rambling while they stared. Then they assured me it was fine and I thanked them for not throwing anything at me. I started to leave and the gracious, older man asked, "So what room are you in?" I hated to admit we were neighbors and I was staying next door. He smiled slightly, "Well, I guess we'll be paying you a visit, at 3 in the morning." There was a wink in his voice and I know he was kidding... but that comment sort of terrified me.
I had no more embarrassing moments that evening. In the morning I tiptoed out, trying to be a quiet neighbor. I went on a run, heading past the park. Who needs a hotel fitness room, when you've got Saugatuck sidewalks! I looked back at the long hotel, on that peaceful morning.
I asked Catherine later, how to get up to the roof balcony. She smiled, like she was sharing a secret. She told me that was where she lived and then she described her oasis on the 3rd floor. I wish we'd gotten an invitation.
In our two days, we never used our car once and that was a huge part of what made our hotel stay wonderful.
My morning run let me peek at the quiet town, without people.
On the River
Saugatuck was also charming, when it was filled with people.
We took the ferry over the Kalamazoo River, we shopped and dined and watched the crowds gather for music in the park. What an idyllic setting! We couldn't have asked for a better location.
Our 15-room hotel was the perfect size. It sat on a quiet street, in a town of less than 1,000... also a perfect size. Our stay was made extra special because we got to share it with Jennifer and Kate. Don and I are so used to traveling with just ourselves, that we forget how fun it is to enjoy hotel memories, with others.
By the time we 4 got the cars loaded, we were already sighing about our stay and laughing about our host. I told the others that I'd seen Catherine on my way out and I had gushed to her about our wonderful stay. I chuckled over Catherine's brief response. "Oh? Well, bye now!"
I felt like she was my mother, shooing me outside to go play. Was that annoying? Not at all. I just wanted Catherine to adopt us, so we could be invited to the next family reunion.
A Fun or Funny?
In July, Don and I traveled in Michigan. I insisted we visit the German town of Frankenmuth. "There's a lodge! It will be fun!"
Don showed interest when I told him I remembered eating at some German restaurant, when I was 16. I assured him that it would be an entertaining overnight. "It could be fun... or it might just be funny."
Historic... and Touristy
I had good, but vague memories of the little German town. However, the images I saw on the internet made "Michigan's Little Bavaria" look like a German theme park. Just how hokey would it be?
Then I decided, even if the town was jammed with tourists and dripping in corny German decor, it could be fun and memorable. Besides, Frankenmuth was more than a stage set. There was real history. The town was founded in 1845, by 15 German-Lutheran missionaries.
July 4th Weekend
We arrived on Friday, over 4th of July weekend. That could have been asking for trouble, right there.
But, we were ready to take on the whole Bavarian Inn & Frankenmuth Experience.
Bavarian Inn's Confusing History
When we spotted The Inn from Main Street, it looked like it covered the whole block. It actually looked pretty festive, with all the colorful flowers.
My photo just shows part of the rambling complex. Surprisingly, the right portion of building goes back to 1888. It was built as a hotel by the Fischers, the family that began the all you can eat fried chicken trend, in Frankenmuth. The hotel didn't have a Bavarian motif back then.
In 1950, the Zehnder family bought the Fischer Hotel. William (Tiny) Zehnder Jr. and his wife Dorothy ran the place.
Tiny (I so love that name) died over a decade ago, but Dorothy at 97, still can be found helping out in the restaurant's kitchen!
Zehnder's Famous Chicken Dinners?
This Zehnder family is confusing! It took a while to get this all figured out. So, across the street from Bavarian Inn, is Zehnder's Restaurant. Don and I actually ate there before checking in. This was the fried chicken biz, that Tiny's parents opened in 1928. Initially they served overflow customers from Fischer's.
Today both places serve fried chicken and German food... and are run independently, by different parts of the Zehnder fam. That's just strange. Two competing businesses across from each other... in a town of less than 5,000... both owned and run by the same family, that immigrated in the 1800's! Whew!
Then and Now
After a hearty lunch, Don and I headed across the street to the Bavarian Inn.
We walked through the beer garden, then through the door in the 50-foot Glockenspiel tower. This was part of the Old World expansion that Tiny added in 1959.
Lost in the Inn
Don and I headed inside and spent forever, wandering the halls, in search of the hotel lobby.
We found about 10 dining rooms, many with crowds waiting to be seated. But we found no front desk.
Across the River
Outside, we found a carriage driver, who pointed out the Bavarian Inn Lodge, across the Cass River.
She told us we could walk over the covered bridge. Okay, maybe this was Disney World! The sight of the complex, on 7 acres of land... was comical.
Holz Bruecke from 1979
The bridge (like the hotel) was not old. But it was pretty.
We followed a buggy across the bridge and met a couple who asked if we'd take their photo.
They had just become engaged. We had a fun chat and then the groom-to-be asked Don, "You've been married 40 years? What's your secret?" Don answered with a grin. "Be a good listener." Sweet.
Hiking to the Lodge
We headed down the road, laughing at ourselves. These buildings looked like a fairytale village!
What were we getting into? And why were we leaving our car way behind?
We passed a giant birdcage, with peacocks. We watched a few kids roll down the hill, on a nearby lawn.
When we got past the huge parking lot, there was a colorful lineup of buildings. Of course my photo from early morning, looks peaceful. At 2:00 pm, there were toddling tots and crying babies in strollers, old folks with walkers and smokers on benches.
But the flowers were pretty. And I was happily amused by the painted stucco, in the shady, garden area.
It was about 90 degrees, which felt pretty warm after our hike.
We were glad the lobby entrance was in the first building.
Lots to Study
I shouldn't be a travel snob. I shouldn't make fun. But it was hard not to laugh when I took in some of the decor, as we stood in the snaking, check in line.
My neck hurt from staring upward, at the upside down Christmas tree (decorated in spring colors) and the German dolls and wooden oxen yoke, deer heads and pastel umbrellas. What a display!
Where Do We Go?
I should have listened when we were given directions to our room. It was a confusing maze through all the buildings.
It would have been easier if we'd just walked outside and headed past the Banquet/Conference Center...
We could have just parked down by the "Tower Entrance". But instead we wandered inside, turning down many wrong halls and dodging families with all their pool gear. Were we the only guests with no children?
Don and I grinned and shushed each other, every time we read the special reminder signs! Then at last, we found our room!
I wish I'd taken some photos of all the cleaning carts and rollaway beds and folding cribs, that clogged the hall. But I must say, the staff couldn't have been friendlier. They cheerily apologized every time we stepped around their carts.
We stepped into our room and chuckled just a bit. The size was fantastic. We had no complaints about that.
The bathroom and furniture seemed a bit dated, but all was clean. We'd seen photos on the website, so it was no surprise. However the balcony door and windows bothered me. It was sort of industrial and odd. But at least I knew there was a balcony, with a river view, just outside them. We'd paid extra for that perk.
When we opened the door and realized we had a shared balcony, I suddenly was less enthused.
I hadn't pictured us sharing the balcony space with other families. Plus, we suddenly had no privacy in our room, when the curtains were open. Oh well.
The view of the trees and garden and river was nice. It was all pretty peaceful out there... just a few muffled squeals, now and then. That was off to the left, coming from the kids inside the tower, sliding down the enclosed water slides. Funny.
There was another odd thing about our room.
The wall decor made me think we had accidentally stepped into someone's personally decorated timeshare unit. I'm fine with some dated decor and slightly musty carpet. Don and I would stay only at Marriotts, if we had those concerns. But why were there so many framed photos?
At Home With the Claramunts
It took a while to get it, but our room was named for the Claramunt Family. There were pictures of Morrall and Nancy and their 3 kids all over the room. There were even family Baptismal certificates on the wall. Why?
Okay, I'm sure the Claramunts are outstanding folks. But it was strange being surrounded by them. And why are those frames not centered over the couch?
So I guess we weren't the only ones who lucked out with a family focused guest room. As it turns out, every one of the 360 guest rooms, is named for a local family or person in the community. Gee, if only I'd seen the list of all the room names, earlier. I could have requested to stay in the room that says MEYER on the door. That's my maiden name, from my German great grandfather. Next time?
After taking in the wonders of our room, we set off to explore.
Don and I peeked around at some of the pool excitement, but really we had no urge to participate.
There were 4 indoor pools, plus putt putt, ping pong and pool, as in billiards... gift shops, arcades. There was lots to delight the families.
Where's the Beer?
In the evening we hiked back across the bridge, in search of a little German beer.
We headed into the original building where the Fischers once got in a little trouble for selling beer, during prohibition. Evidently the Zehnders did as well, across the street!
The street entrance took us into a waiting area, for two of the dining rooms.
There were no crowds waiting, like there had been at lunch. We weren't hungry yet, but I was curious. I peered through the glass into Tiny's Room. That must be used for special events.
I peeked into the Family Crest Dining Room and I became less hungry. I just wasn't ready to eat another big meal in a big banquet room... even if the staff was dressed in festive lederhosen!
Beer and Pretzel!
Instead, I chose to be amused by a pouting mannequin, wearing his lederhosen.
He was sitting at a small bar. I sat beside him and posed with an empty mug. Don posed with pretzel and beer. Both were good and we were happy.
So we spent the evening in the building where the whole Frankenmuth fried chicken thing started, about a century ago and we didn't end up eating!
That is sinful. We could have eaten a German feast as well. But we just weren't hungry after our big lunch.
By the time we were hungry, the dining rooms were clearing out. Some of the rooms weren't even in use, which seems crazy. It was a Friday night in July!
Back to the Lodge
By 9:00, the German band was packing up in the beer garden and the Glockenspiel was playing its last little show.
We headed back over the bridge. Man it stays light, late in Michigan!
We found some life back at the lodge. The crowd at Lorelie's Lounge was a mix of locals and tourists. The live music was pretty decent and our server, Holly kept us happy with popcorn!
She assured us, the 10:00 Schnitzelbank Sing-a-long was a must. Don knows some German, so he was able to sing along, with the help of our napkin. What a hoot! They even had a real schnitzelbank work bench on display near the stage. I only wish we'd been able to do a little German polka dancing.
We slept well in our king bed, which actually came with both soft and hard pillows. Extra points for that. I woke early and threw on my running shoes.
One of the nicest parts of the stay, was getting up early before the heat and crowds. I had the most lovely run, over the bridge and into town. I even stopped to play the little instrument, beside the sidewalk.
Back on the Porch
After a quick shower, Don and I made coffee and pulled out some pastries, we'd brought with us. I was determined to use that shared balcony before we left.
Luckily our neighbors seemed to be sleeping. It was pretty pleasant and quiet. We packed up, said good bye to the Claramunt Clan. We were soon on our way.
It's a little ridiculous that we spent a night at the Bavarian Inn Lodge and we did not partake of the water activities or the dining! That's crazy.
Yes there was some hokey stuff and our room was not the most luxurious. But Don and I really enjoyed exploring and lounging and figuring out the odd Zehnder history. I don't know that we'll go out of our way to stay again in the future, but I'm mighty glad we stayed this time!
July 4th in Ann Arbor, Michigan
Don and I stayed at The Bell Tower, last month. It was about 90 degrees outside, which was about 50 degrees warmer than when we stayed, 15 years before.
It was Easter weekend, when our family stayed the first time. We had chosen the hotel, since U of M's campus was right across the street. Our daughter was taking a college tour. That seems so, so long ago!
Even Longer Ago
Even longer ago, I was a high school student, living in Ann Arbor. I remember this hotel, with its formal, almost European appearance.
Don also lived in Ann Arbor then. He was a student at U of M, but we didn't meet until a few years later, in St. Louis.
My Dad worked at U of M and it seemed like my parents were always meeting up with special guests for drinks or dinner, at the Bell Tower. It sounded like a ritzy place. Was it?
Dad's office was just around the corner from the hotel. I have fond memories of wandering around that familiar area. I didn't exactly hang out at the Bell Tower Hotel, but I wondered about it. I imagined important people staying there... like Arthur Miller or Leonard Bernstein. I'm not sure that they ever did.
When we arrived on July 4th, the street had just opened up, after a morning parade. We lucked out and got ourselves some free holiday parking, right in front.
I took a good look at the 3-story stone facade, with flags and window boxes. I'm not sure what they were thinking in 1967, when they added that oddball 4-story structure, with balconies. I'm pretty sure the angled building on the left, wasn't there before.
I don't actually remember what the lobby looked like, when I first peeked in, as a teenager.
But it probably had the same, proper English-looking decor.
Luckily, the upholstery and carpet seemed fresh. The fireplace wasn't needed on this July 4, but the a.c. was. It worked well. The woman checking us in was very pleasant. I asked if she had any idea how old the building was.
She didn't know, but happily looked for a history printout, that she recalled seeing once. She couldn't find it, but offered to do a Google search. That was actually very sweet of her. I thanked her for offering, but I'd already tried and failed to come up with anything. We finished checking in and carried our bags 5 steps up, to the elevator.
The elevator, was in the "new" building, beside one of the mod, 1960's glass windows. I had to smile at the curious mix of styles, in the space between the old and "new" buildings.
The sparkly ceiling fixture, drapes and spotlighted oil painting, seemed connected to the old building. The interesting artwork and the glass shelves with chess pieces, seemed a little more connected to the modern building.
Burton Memorial Tower
I had hoped we could get a room with a view of Burton Tower, across the street.
Since we were staying at the Bell Tower Hotel, it seemed fitting, to look out and see the 83 year old tower, that houses a grand carillon! But those rooms were higher in price. I settled for a photo, from the window near the elevator.
The second floor hall was quiet and clean. Our room on the left, was in the older building. I was suddenly glad we were staying at the 66-room Bell Tower Hotel and not at a Holiday Inn, on July 4th. Bell Tower had no pool, which meant there were no kids running down the hall in swimming suits.
There also weren't any parents with high school or college students. I'm sure the atmosphere will change, when campus is busy in the fall.
Our room was tiny and clean. Very tiny. But it was our choice to pick a room with the lowest rate.
The decor was slightly updated since our last visit, but it looked a little worn.
There was no bell tower to be seen from our window. In fact our view was about as bad as it gets. But, there were drapes and we could close them and imagine a better view.
The TV worked well and the bed and pillows were comfy. The closet shelf held the coffee maker and glasses. The bottled water was not complimentary, but that made it easier to be Green and not partake. I did appreciate that our small room, had 2 end tables with lamps. Yay for simple things.
The maid left the TV on in the bathroom, or we never would have known it was there. Out of 230 Notable Nights, this is only the second time we've had a TV built into our mirror. Not needed, but fun!
In past write ups, I've complained a lot about trendy bathrooms that use glass in their doors. Our nice, but small bathroom had a frosted glass window, in the door. Why? That little detail means... If you want to get up early and shower, you have to share your bathroom light, with the late sleeper. Oh well. It really wasn't a problem, this time.
The best part of our stay, was the location! Besides hearing beautiful sounds from over 50 bells, in the limestone tower, we were just steps away from campus.
We wandered in the evening and morning, spotting familiar buildings and a few we didn't recognize. We saw Heidi's first dorm and Don's old dorm... The Power Center where my dad directed plays... Hill Auditorium, where I watched my brother graduate from law school... And in the evening we joined my dear high school friend, Lorie, for some July 4th festivities on the lawn.
I was disappointed that our hotel no longer had a restaurant at all. I wanted to sit in the dining room/bar, where my parents once sipped Manhattans...
But our hotel was within easy walking distance of Main Street and State Street, with lots of food options. We wandered later that night and found some pizza and beer, which hit the spot.
Seeing the old theaters lit up, brought back memories.
I remember an organist performing before the movies, when I went to The Michigan, years ago. I remember cringing over "Jaws" at the State Theatre!
On Friday morning, Don raced down to put money in the meter by 8:00. Then we headed through the lobby, to the area where our complimentary breakfast was waiting.
In 2004, this area had been the Escoffier restaurant. I actually found the brochure from our last stay and had a good time comparing! We didn't have a chance to dine in that dark and formal room 15 years ago. But in 2019 we enjoyed a little breakfast. The bright modern look was an odd, but refreshing contrast to the rest of the hotel.
I wasn't hungry enough to sample all the hot and cold options, but I got the perfect amount for me. I was thrilled to grab a complimentary New York Times and the coffee was extra good. It was a nice end, to our easy stay.
On the 4th of July, we got a reasonably priced hotel room, just steps away from the U of M campus AND that wonderful Art Deco tower. Our memories won't really be about the room or the lobby. Mostly I'll remember our hotel as a cozy and quiet home base, surrounded by the heart of Ann Arbor and U of M. How easy it was to step out the door and head off in any direction, to wander and remember.
It was such a treat spotting places and buildings, that triggered memories. And how crazy that Don and I each had stories to share from the same years... when we both lived in Ann Arbor and didn't know each other.
So, we explored, we remembered and we discovered! That's notable. There's also a notable fact I learned about that sweet clock tower. But I won't share, because it just makes me sad. Too much knowledge is not always a good thing.
A Restaurant With a Hotel
Don and I had a few reasons to book Weber's Hotel for our recent visit. A night in a luxurious guest room, wasn't really one of them.
Our stay at Weber's, had more to do with the dining adventure, than the notable overnight. But that's how the family owned, Ann Arbor institution, would have it. It's always been mostly about the food.
Serving Food Since 1937
Herman Weber started selling burgers and beer, at an Ann Arbor gas station in 1937. After expanding the biz and moving to a couple locations, Herman and his wife Sonja, purchased property and opened Weber's Restaurant at its current location. This is how it looked in 1962 after opening.
Herman died a few years ago, but his son and grandsons operate the well loved restaurant and hotel, today.
This is how Weber's looked when Don and I pulled off Jackson Road, this past July.
The building looked totally different, than how I remembered it.
We parked and walked towards the entrance. I recognized the funny-shaped "W", that always reminded me of a devil's pitchfork.
The entrance was sleek and welcoming, with stone, wood, brick and flowers. There was a small crowd, relaxing on the side patio.
We rolled our bags through the front doors and suddenly laughed at ourselves. We had come through the restaurant's entrance and our suitcases looked a little out of place.
We drove around to the other side, where we found the entrance to the hotel. I had no memory of it, since my family only came to Weber's to eat, back in the seventies.
The hotel didn't exactly look 50 years old. It was built in 1969, to replace an older hotel owned by the Webers. Renovations and additions over the years, changed the look. But the funny W was still there!
It was July 3, the day we checked in. The busy staff was friendly. We chatted a bit about Victor, the Elk...
who is given a red nose and renamed Rudolph, every December.
Mid Century Modern?
I glanced around the hotel's interior. I have no idea how the decor looked when it was built, 50 years ago. The fairly recent renovation, looked clean and fresh.
The Mid Century Modern furniture and fixtures, fit the hotel's history pretty well. But the MCM style is becoming so common these days, it hardly feels retro, anymore.
The elevators were kind of fun.
There might be a story with those... but we were in a bit of a rush.
Room in the Older Section
We found our room at the end of the hall, near some diamond pane windows. I snapped a photo later, at night. I remember how those colorful diamonds glowed at night... back in 1975, when I was at Weber's last.
4th Floor Room
We dashed into our room to quickly change clothes for dinner. As I said, our overnight had more to do with our dining adventure.
I didn't have time to grumble about our lack of view. (All we could see was a roof) I didn't even care that there was a bathroom towel sitting on the sill, soaking up moisture from the a.c. unit. Oh well.
I did like the modern touches here and there. The space age lamps and artwork... the large desk, decent TV and heavenly soft bed, were all good.
I loved the smooth modern, rattan chair in the corner. I cared less for the bathroom, which had not been updated. Some rooms in the hotel, did have spiffier bathrooms. But I didn't really care.
Off to Dinner!
In minutes we were dressed and on our way. We found the hall that connected to the restaurant... and there it was! This was what our Weber's stay was really about. I was geared up, to revisit my past!
The swanky dining room had changed from the days when my family visited years ago. But the space with the vaulted ceiling, still had a festive feel. It was packed, when we entered. Not so much, when I took this photo, long after our meal.
Don and I were hungry, but this wasn't really about the food. We were excited about our very special dinner dates that night. Lorie and her mom, Judy were already seated at a lovely table, with white linens, surrounded by a lively July 4th holiday, weekend crowd! A piano player entertained nearby and waiters rushed back and forth.
A stranger actually took this photo after we finished dinner. We were unable to get our waiter, to stop for more than a second to snap a photo of our table. But I couldn't let the evening end without a picture, to remember our fun gathering.
We sipped cocktails and feasted on delicious breads. Our meals arrived on classic plates. Maple Leaf Farms Duck, Amish Chicken... All good! We talked for 3 hours, without a pause.
We pondered the past, remembering when Lorie and I met in high school, 45 years ago. We fretted over the state of our country. We eagerly discussed a new jazz club. We moped over a few downtown. And we laughed over old prom memories... Our table felt like a comfy island. We hardly took notice of all the noise and activity that surrounded us.
We really needed no extra entertainment at our table. But at one point, I just had to pull out my old Ford Motor Cookbook, featuring Weber's Supper Club, in 1963. I showed the watercolor image and dessert recipe, to Lorie and Judy. We all laughed and then I made the mistake of trying to include the busy waiter, in our book amusement.
"Do you by any chance still serve Almond Rum Cream Pie?" I asked. Our waiter was busy, but I refused to take a hint. He really did not want to look at my cookbook, but I sort of insisted. I knew better. I am very aware that my cookbook totally delights some and bores others. He had to remind me he was busy.
Luckily the failed cookbook attempt could not dampen our spirits. It just made us laugh harder. We celebrated the silliness by ordering another decadent dessert. Weber's has been serving the special ice cream treat with toasted coconut, hot fudge and whipped cream, since the '60's.
I made a quick trip to wash my sticky hands in the restroom... and to inquire at the hostess station. "Is Mr. Weber here tonight?" Rats. The man I'd observed was not the owner. Herman Weber's son probably would have loved peeking at the old cookbook and sharing memories. Or maybe not.
Quiet and Cozy
By the time we had finished up, most of the diners were gone. Lorie pointed out some of the cozier dining areas where she and her mom meet for their weekly dinners.
I've been wanting to join them here for years... and we finally did! We said our good byes and it all just felt so satisfying. What a perfect place to have our special reunion!
Wandering and Wondering
Before heading to our room, Don and I wandered back through some of the other dining areas and I wondered about all the celebrations and conversations that have taken place, since 1961. How many business deals? How many wedding proposals?
I remembered a couple special meals my family had enjoyed at Weber's, when I was a teen. When I spotted the round table in the corner, I remembered a dinner, where my father introduced his future wife. I can't say that was my best memory.
Now I have a " happy reunion" to add to my collection of Weber's memories.
Don and I took our time, heading back to our room.
We had a good old time looking at the photos on the Wall of Fame! So many curious guests have come to Weber's. Colonel Sanders, Leonard Bernstein, Louis Armstrong... Jimmy Durante.
Another Wall Surprise
I was pretty giddy, when I found a framed watercolor image on another wall. It was almost identical to the illustration in my cookbook.
That was some good entertainment before heading to our room.
In the morning, we took our $15. food voucher to the dining room for breakfast.
We had been given that voucher as a little perk, to make up for the fact the pool was closed for renovation.
I was impressed that the dining tables had linens, even in the morning. But, we decided to go for a faster breakfast, at the restaurant's bar.
We ordered cappuccinos and breakfast pastries and had the best time chatting with our young server, Megan.
Megan had only worked at Weber's for 2 weeks, but she had as much enthusiasm about the place as you'd expect from a faithful waiter with decades of Weber's memories.
So, I dared to pull the cookbook out of my bag. The hotel bar was quiet and relaxed and I needed to have some cookbook success after the night before.
Megan was chatty and upbeat and she passed the cookbook test with flying colors. She was delighted to flip through the pages AND she posed for me! Thanks Megan!
Before checking out, Don and I took one last look around. We wandered down a retro-modern staircase near the restaurant and climbed up a spiral staircase, in the pool area.
They were renovating the indoor pool space and I had to grin at the thought of how wildly modern, this atrium must have seemed in 1969. Back in the day, the pool view rooms, with their glass doors and spiral staircases, must have been extra exciting for the winter guests!
As we headed off, I tried to decide what was notable about our stay. For me it was all about connections. Our hotel was connected to a restaurant. The restaurant was connected to old memories.
But best of all, we made some new memories when we connected once again, with Lorie and Judy! glad we had a happy and notable night at Weber's!
Don and I have stayed at some wonderful historic hotels in Texas.
We love the small town gems, with easy access and lots of history. This past June, we chose an historic, high rise hotel, in the midsize city of Lubbock. Easy and interesting!
We arrived on a warm and windy, Saturday afternoon. The bricks on the street and the hotel, seemed to be absorbing the sunshine.
The 11-story, Renaissance revival structure, is no longer the tallest building in the old downtown. But it was the most impressive. Impressive and quiet, for a Saturday.
93 years ago, Hotel Lubbock opened up downtown, on the corner of Broadway and Avenue K. At that time, there was lots going on in the city, which was experiencing a boom due to the cotton industry.
The hotel didn't look much different back then... except it was 5 stories shorter and there were Model Ts parked nearby, instead of SUVs.
Last spring, Don read about the new hotel on the internet. The once abandoned hotel had made a comeback and there was an interesting twist! I was curious.
What was with that name? Evidently, Hotel Lubbock changed ownership, in 1961 and became Pioneer Hotel.
The "Pocket Hotel" term is a new thing, I guess. Googling didn't help much. We booked one of the 10 guest rooms and decided to find out. Yep, this 11-story building, only had 10 rooms for guests.
We arrived and parked in the lot, next door. Yay! You don't get free parking with big city hotels.
Then we headed towards the side door and Don pulled up the code from his phone. The Pioneer Pocket Hotel was a fully automated hotel! We weren't exactly sure what that meant, but we were eager to give it a try.
This is how the lobby would have looked, 50 or more years ago.
There were 142 guest rooms and lots of people to take care of those guests.
This is how the lobby looked, when we walked in on Saturday afternoon.
There was no desk and no bellman. We knew that ahead of time, but it was still odd.
There was nice seating, in the modern space. But there were no people using the tables or velvety chairs.
That's because most of the people who walk through this lobby, are coming to dine or drink. Others are heading up to their homes, since the building reopened with condos, in 2012.
Up We Go
It felt strange to breeze through the lobby and head straight for the elevator. There were two.
One was for the condo residents. The elevator with the vintage hotel image, was for hotel guests. We headed up.
307 - The Pioneer Room
The 10 hotel rooms were on the 3rd floor. It was oddly quiet when we walked down the hall. No cleaning carts or hints of hotel life. We punched in the code to our room.
Each room had a name and theme. Vineyard, Windmill, Cotton... Our Pioneer Room, had no covered wagon or bonnet decor. Instead it was filled with wonderful vintage photos of the Lubbock area. From the days it was called Pioneer Hotel?
We chose the cheapest of the rooms. There were 8 suites and 2 rooms, to choose from. Ours was cozy, with only 310 square feet. But it felt fresh and clean and was less than $100.
I would suggest getting 2 slim tables and moving the queen bed into the center.
There was really no view. I had to stand on the bench to look out and all I could see were the windows and walls on both sides and a roof below.
Oh well, the people who live in the condos need the view more than I do.
All the Extras
Luckily, our room was well equipped. There was a Keurig coffeemaker and a fridge and room sink. There were nice Poggesi bath products and even a toothbrush kit.
There were extra pillows and linens. If we'd decided we were needing something, it would have been a little trickier, since there was no front desk to call.
By 4:30 the lobby was brighter.
The sliding doors to the West Table Restaurant were open. The restaurant looked classy and comfortable.
The Italian marble floors were glossy and dramatic. The original staircase invited even more drama. I headed up, to try to find the ballroom.
I had read about all the events that had been held in the glamorous space, over the years. But there was no access. I peered down from a railing and enjoyed the lobby view, instead.
Curious About History
I love exploring old hotels and usually the desk staff can point me in a good direction. It was a little frustrating, having no one there. But, I let the wall art, with old downtown images, give me some hints about the past history.
It was fun imagining the downtown, before the businesses moved out towards shopping centers and malls. I wondered what the area looked like in 1975, when the old hotel building became a low income retirement center. Or in 1994, when the 11-story building was in disrepair and closed down for good.
Hungry and Thirsty
By 5:00, Don and I were ready to make use of some of the food & drink options, in the building.
The Coffee Shop was closed, but it looked like a pretty fun space.
The Brewery LBK
Don loves a local brewery and this one was right off the lobby.
The atmosphere was inviting, with some fun table games and dartboards. I helped Don sample a flight, but mostly I loved the complimentary popcorn.
We had a view out the door, of the patio area, with a pair of loose chihuahuas that had arrived on their own. The tiny dogs were cute, but not nearly as cute as the entire worried staff, that kept appearing from the kitchen in their aprons, fretting over the poor lost pups. The dogs' stressed owner, eventually arrived in her car and everyone quietly cheered.
We read some stellar reviews about the hotel's restaurant. But the menu was a little pricey and we weren't hungry enough to indulge.
We decided to head on down the street, to get something lighter.
We headed north on Avenue K, in search of what we thought, was the Arts or Depot District. I'm guessing, we took some wrong turns. We passed a couple wig shops and a tattoo parlor... a boarded up Kress Store.
The hot wind was whipping up dust. Paper trash and plastic cups were tumbling down the street. We turned at one point and headed back to our safe oasis, standing tall in the glowing evening light.
One Quick Pic
Just before crossing over to our hotel, I had to pause to admire the old brick in the alley.
There was something a little unsettling about our wandering, but it's nice to know, this area is being rejuvenated. I'm so glad they have held onto the brick.
The West Table Bar
It was fun to see how lively the restaurant, bar and brewery had become. Hungry now, Don and I took 2, of 4 stools at the bar, where "Cousin" and his amazing mustache, served us well!
Best of all, we enjoyed the good humored service of Cousin and his sidekick, Jameson, while they worked behind the bar. What a great team they were. I loved hearing stories about Cousin and his youth... the land he grew up on, changing from cotton to peanuts to vineyards. From Jameson we learned about Lubbock's dramatic weather. Specifically, a recent wall of dust, (known as haboob) that struck the town! What entertaining talk!
We slept well in our cozy Pioneer Room. I rose early and headed out with my camera to take one more photo of the hotel.
Besides the wind, which was still blowing, all was quiet, that Sunday morning... until I heard a voice yelling. I looked up to see a man staggering down the sidewalk. He was waving some kind of sign, as if it were a flag.
I gulped and aimed myself towards the entrance. "Don't panic. Don't panic." I reminded myself that I needed to remain calm, or I would fumble with the code and not get the door open. (I know myself) I got safely inside and pulled the door behind me, before the creepy man got to the corner. Whew.
Off We Go
Don and I packed up and headed out by 8:30. It was quiet in the lobby, as expected.
There was no one to ask about our stay. No key to hand over. We drove out of town, through the Depot District, down Buddy Holly Avenue. All was quiet and empty. I wish we'd found this area, the night before.
Our Pocket Hotel experience was easy and comfortable, clean and attractive. But I guess I'm old fashioned. I like to connect with our hotel hosts. Airbnb has made the automated check in more common, but I still prefer having someone available at the desk... when I'm chased inside by a creepy stranger.
I wish I could have learned more about the hotel's history. Did the Pioneer name mean something? I Googled for info and ended up with some gory news stories, about a number of past hotel murders, specifically on the 4th floor. Yikes! I guess I'm glad I didn't have that notable bit of information, before we stayed.
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!