The New Golden Age of the Motor Lodge

Boutique brands and independent hoteliers are breathing new life into the American roadside inn.

"There's something so nostalgic about the road trip," says Rob Blood, founder and president of Lark Hotels. "Roll down the windows, turn up the music, let your hair blow back." He cites these fond memories of childhood family vacations as inspiration for his company's new sub-brand, Bluebird by Lark, which launched in June with the goal of reviving the classic American roadside inn.

Bluebird purchases and renovates old properties (places Blood describes as "memory-making spots") that are dated or in disrepair. The brand's first opening was the 42-room Spa City Motor Lodge (doubles from $119) in Saratoga Springs, New York — formerly the 1963 Saratoga Downtowner Motel. It was quickly followed by the 50-key Parker Beach Lodge (doubles from $199) on Cape Cod, in Massachusetts, built in 1970 as the Windjammer Motor Inn. The newest acquisition is the former Mountaineer Inn, a 1960 ski chalet in Stowe, Vermont. It reopened in October as the 51-room Tälta Lodge (doubles from $129), offering mountain-inspired design, a hot tub, and a gear shed stocked with bikes and fishing supplies.

A guest room at a modern motor lodge
A guest room at Spa City Motor Lodge, a Bluebird property, in Saratoga Springs, New York. Read McKendree/Courtesy of Spa City Motor Lodge

Blood is just one of many who are hoping to rescue these treasures of American driving culture. The outdoors-focused Skyline Lodge (doubles from $179) in Highlands, North Carolina — conceived in the 1920s as a hilltop casino and reborn in 1965 as a motel — reopened under new ownership in July. The 40-room inn off U.S. Route 64 follows the classic model of exterior-entry rooms arranged around a communal gathering space; extensive renovations have replaced the courtyard swimming pool with a lawn outfitted with lounge seating, firepits, and games.

A courtyard pool at a modern motor lodge
The courtyard pool at Parker Beach Lodge, a Cape Cod inn from the new brand Bluebird by Lark. Read McKendree/Courtesy of Parker Beach Lodge

"A motor lodge should be clean, cozy, and easy to find," says Adriana Farmiga, co-owner, with Alix Umen, of the 16-key Starlite Motel (doubles from $200), in Kerhonkson, New York. Built in 1958, the property, on the Catskills' Route 209, is another textbook motor lodge, with exterior room access, a pool, and an outdoor lounge area. Farmiga and Umen purchased the Starlite and reimagined it with airy rooms and a canteen that will spotlight local wines and spirits.

The lawn at the Skyline Lodge in North Carolina
The courtyard lawn at the Skyline Lodge, in Highlands, North Carolina. Andrew Cebulka/Courtesy of Skyline Lodge

And travelers taking to the open road in Texas can head to the town of Salado and the 48-room Shady Villa Hotel (doubles from $149), a new project from the Austin-based Bunkhouse Group. First built in 1861 and expanded in the 1950s, this revamped property (formerly the Stagecoach Inn) features a swimming pool lined with native flora and a Texan-inspired restaurant.

Getting to any of these places requires getting behind the wheel. But for Blood, that's exactly the point. "A motor lodge is about how you can celebrate the entire journey," he says. Travelers, start your engines.

A version of this story first appeared in the December 2021/January 2022 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline On the Road Again.

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