On your next vacation, would you opt to sleep in a trailer, a jail or a giant beagle? America is home to a variety of oddball theme hotels, and they aren’t just roadside curiosities.
In Boston, travelers can stay at the Liberty Hotel, a 300-room complex that used to be — and still resembles — the notorious Charles Street Jail.
Operating since 1851, the jail was closed in 1990 after a U.S. district court declared it too decrepit and overcrowded to house prisoners. After a transformative renovation, it reopened in 2007 as a trendsetting mega-hotel that retains what developer Richard L. Friedman calls its “jailiness.”
The Liberty’s exterior remains imposing, and the building still contains catwalks and iron bars. Director Sean Reardon credits the design for the hotel’s popularity: “When you look at our competitors, they’re just boxes with a sign.” Guests don’t actually sleep in the former slammer (most of the rooms are located in an adjacent, newly built 16-story tower), but Alibi bar occupies what used to be the drunk tank, a cell for those apprehended while intoxicated.
The Liberty isn’t the only high-end hotel to reclaim an abandoned space. Portland, Ore.'s, Kennedy School Hotel occupies a former elementary school. Other sites dismiss traditional buildings altogether: Arizona’s Shady Dell is a cluster of retro trailers, and Jules’ Undersea Lodge features a network of suites submerged in Florida’s Largo Sound (guests need scuba training to check in). The Winvian in serene Litchfield Hills, Conn., boasts a collection of cottages that evoke a golf course, a helicopter hangar and the inside of a beaver’s den, respectively.
In the ultra-strange category, there’s Dog Bark Park Inn. Husband-and-wife owners Dennis Sullivan and Frances Conklin found success in the ’90s on the QVC shopping channel with their chainsaw-carved wooden dogs. They wanted to go bigger and eventually constructed Sweet Willy, a single-suite bed and breakfast shaped like a massive beagle.
Dog Bark Park may register high on the novelty scale, but as its near-perfect travel-site scores attest, guests love the unusual B&B. In the peace and quiet of Cottonwood, Idaho (population: 944), the big dog flaunts its lack of a TV. “It’s an added luxury not to have it,” says Sullivan.
To fully enjoy any theme hotel, it also helps to be passionate about the motif. Sullivan knows this important fact about his clientele: “They’re dog lovers, of course.”
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