Style doesn't have to come at a price. In 21 cities across the nation, we found 25 hotels where sophisticated design and great value go hand in hand.

Simon Watson

Manhattan is deservedly notorious for obscene hotel rates; the average tariff recently topped $250, and even that sounds low to those who have tried to book a room here lately. Fortunately, there are exceptions—and we don't mean places where the remote control is bolted to the nightstand.

Hotelier Ian Schrager first wooed budget-minded guests a decade ago with the Paramount on 46th Street, heralding a trend for "cheap chic" that was, in reality, far more chic than cheap. But last November Schrager raised the stakes—or rather, lowered them—with the Hudson, just off Central Park South, whose smallest rooms rent for as little as $95 a night.

Go on, find another New York hotel where a C-note gets you bed linens of 300-thread-count Egyptian cotton, a CD player, and a private phone number for your room—not to mention access to a spa and an Olympic-sized pool, all within the hotel.

Of course, the real draw, as you may have heard, isn't the service (it can take three hours just to get a pot of coffee delivered to your room); it's the Scene. On any given night, everyone and his A&R rep seems to be vying for admission to the bar; the gossip columnists can't go a day without writing about the place. Schrager's hotels have created buzz ever since he hit upon the idea of "lobby socializing" at the Royalton back in the eighties, yet the Hudson's popularity must have exceeded even his expectations.

And the bar is quite a sight, with the surreal Francesco Clemente ceiling fresco (conveniently located about eight inches above your head), the amoeba chairs and gold-leaf settees, and an eerily illuminated glass floor. Only a few lucky people can look good lit from underneath, and most of them are here. On crowded nights, the bar has a guests-only policy—which makes that $95 room tariff either New York's best lodging value or its priciest cover charge. I know of a guy in TriBeCa who books himself a room here on weekends, just so he's guaranteed entry to the bar. Hey, it's sexier than bribing the doorman.

So what's the big attraction?For starters, that signature Philippe Starck design in the public areas: a whimsical cacophony of Charles Eames and Louis XV; of benches fashioned from tree trunks and fiberglass; of comic plays on scale, like the 500-gallon watering can in the courtyard. The courtyard itself is another selling point—in warm weather it achieves the seamless fusion of indoors and out that works so well at the Delano in Miami Beach and the Mondrian in West Hollywood. There's talk of recitals and readings being staged here, bringing real meaning to Schrager's concept of the hotel as theater.

Elsewhere, the ambience is positively Ivy League. Long, communal oak tables fill the Cafeteria restaurant, which calls to mind a college dining hall with its three-story-high ceiling and acres of dark-wood paneling. (Just as in a college dining hall, it's not about the food, but whom you lock eyes with.) The Library Bar—as cozy a spot as Schrager and Starck could hope to create—is dominated by a huge fireplace and an antique, royal purple pool table. Surrounded by chessboards and dusty old tomes, you can't help ordering a Cognac and holding forth on Foucault, or at least pretending you are.

The 1,000 guest rooms pick up on the collegiate theme, exploring what you might call Dorm Chic. Space is tight and most bathrooms have only stall showers. There isn't much by way of seating, either. ("We encourage people to get out of their rooms," my bellman admits.) Singles are outfitted with a brushed-aluminum naval chair and a very slim desk/table pushed against the foot of the bed—shades of freshman year—plus a couple of tiny stools that slide under the nightstands.

But what the room lacks in square footage and furniture, it makes up for in pure visuals. The rich African makore-wood paneling and floors add a warmth and elegance missing from most Schrager hotels, and offset the stark coolness of the ultra-white bed linens, the gauzy white curtains, and the white vinyl headboard. Funky Clemente-designed light boxes double as bedside reading lamps. Not that you'll be spending the night with a book. 356 W. 58th St.; 800/444-4786 or 212/554-6000, fax 212/554-6001; doubles from $125.

Baltimore's harbor bursts with historic sailing vessels, an aquarium, a science center, and both a Hard Rock Café and a Planet Hollywood, so you'd expect child-friendly hotels. What's surprising is how well the three-year-old, 65-room Pier 5 caters to both sides of its clientele: upscale couples and their sprouts. Without going overboard in its seafaring theme (just some portholes and wave-motif glass panels), the space tends toward playful—oddly shaped velour sofas and lounges in the skylighted lobby; a festive palette of purple, mustard, and olive; metal wastepaper baskets that look like tote bags. Even the room-service menu has child appeal: it's delivered from the Cheesecake Factory. But the spacious rooms, with terraces overlooking the city or the harbor, are strictly adult. So is the restaurant, McCormick & Schmick's, which serves top-notch seafood and carries an extensive collection of wine, scotch, and port. 711 Eastern Ave.; 877/207-9047 or 410/539-2000, fax 410/783-1469; doubles from $189.

Next time you're in D.C., head to the three linked Victorian town houses on a tree-lined block near Dupont Circle. On weeknights, the Tabard Inn's restaurant is buzzing with regulars who come for chef David Craig's inventive dishes or to eavesdrop on foreign journalists talking politics over cocktails at the bar. While all 40 rooms are eclectically furnished, the Penthouse, with its Persian rugs, Modigliani print, and gilded Venetian mirror, is the quirkiest. (At $185, it's also the most expensive.) The lounge is well-loved and full of character; on a Sunday evening, you can sink into an overstuffed chair, order Stilton and toasted walnuts with a glass of port, and listen while a jazz trio plays Ellington tunes into the night. 1739 N St. NW; 202/785-1277, fax 202/785-6173; doubles from $95.

Opened in 1911, the Georgian Terrace has served as Atlanta's classiest hotel, its seediest apartment house, and one of its most neglected landmarks. Now the once-fashionable Peachtree Street neighborhood is being restored, and it's taking the hotel with it. Gleaming from a fresh renovation, illusionist murals brighten the white, gold, and green color scheme. The rooms were actually once apartments, with that rare luxury: space. Most have full kitchens and washer-dryers, and range from 600 to 1,700 square feet. Views from the penthouse health club and rooftop pool are overwhelming—the Southern city's jagged skyline and lush hills are unobscured. No wonder this is a favored address for travelers like Michael Eisner and Whitney Houston. 659 Peachtree St.; 800/555-8000 or 404/897-1991, fax 404/724-9116; doubles from $129.

Maybe it's the games in the breakfast room—remember how absorbing a jigsaw puzzle could be?—or the cheerful staff, or the rooftop water beds, but the 71-room Townhouse is more than a place to sleep, it's fun. Where else would you get a beach ball instead of a mint on your pillow, or a complimentary condom to remind you that this is the place "For a Good Time." Designer India Mahdavi uses blocks of color (white, red) and shapes (circular rugs, L-shaped bolsters) to create an atmosphere that's clean-cut and comfortable. At the hotel's Bond St. Lounge, guests order up saketinis and sashimi, prepared by sushi chefs brought down from the original in New York. The opening of Nobu at the neighboring Shore Club later this year just might pull all the SoBe action to the upper reaches of the South Beach strip. 150 20th St.; 877/534-3800 or 305/534-3800, fax 305/534-3811; doubles from $125.

After its 1998 renovation, the 28-room Century with its alfresco Italian restaurant, Joia, was targeted by hipsters and fashionistas. Although it still draws celebrities and models, the current crowd is more subdued and grown-up than the attitudinally challenged clientele at the new club-restaurant Pearl across the street. The rooms' hardwood floors are balanced by comforting white duvets—but be aware that the sounds of late-night diners and early-morning dish-stackers may well ensure insomnia, so ask for a room away from the restaurant. If you want to party till dawn, however, the concierge will hand you VIP passes to any of the velvet-rope venues nearby. 140 Ocean Dr.; 888/982-3688 or 305/674-8855, fax 305/538-5733; doubles from $125.

In the French Quarter, where decked-out women are actually men and fruit drinks pack a 151-proof wallop, things aren't always what they seem. Same for the year-old W, which looks like a 19th-century building with its carriageway, horse-head hitching posts, and inner courtyard, but was actually built in the 1970's. Young hipsters who nurse their mornings-after here couldn't care less about its modern steel-frame construction, however. They're all fans of the hotel's delicious proximity to the fortune-tellers of Jackson Square; the bars, clubs, and strip joints of Bourbon Street; and the antiques of Royal Street. They sleep it off in rooms decorated with ruby and purple velvet throw pillows, black-and-white photographs of pussy willows, vintage-y Mike & Ike's candy dispensers, and 250-thread-count sheets. Lest they forget where they lie (N'awlins kitsch comes in small doses at the W), the voodoo doll in the mini-bar will remind them of the offbeat city they're visiting. 316 Chartres St.; 800/522-6963 or 504/581-1200, fax 504/523-2910; doubles from $179.

Each of nine apartment-like suites comes with a generous dose of color, as well as ample use of salvage-yard finds (a wrought-iron fence for a headboard; a table made from a manhole cover). No two rooms are the same: in No. 5, bleached-white furnishings, including a four-poster bed, are set against salmon-pink walls. No. 1 is eye-popping, with black-and-white checkered floors, periwinkle walls, and black leather barstools. All come with full kitchens and high-speed DSL Internet connections; six have private balconies. The Talbot Heirs may be within earshot of Beale Street's music clubs, but no one here gets the blues. 99 S. Second St.; 800/955-3956 or 901/527-9772, fax 901/527-3700; doubles from $200+.

In an effort to stay modern, Ohio's only small luxury hotel (which also occupies a space on the National Register of Historic Places) is constantly being updated. Its latest incarnation has 146 rooms, wired with high-speed Internet access and multi-line phones. The fitness center, too, is state-of-the-art. Angular sculptures add a contemporary flair to the Art Deco paintings that line the Cricket Lounge, where businesspeople and locals linger over glasses of Merlot. American classics, such as Hudson Valley foie gras and Atlantic salmon, are served up in the formal, candlelit Palace Restaurant. 601 Vine St.; 800/942-9000 or 513/381-3000, fax 513/651-0256; doubles from $165.

In 1895, the steel-and-glass Reliance Building, designed by Chicago architect Daniel Burnham, anticipated the modern skyscraper. Later towers overshadowed it—until 1999, when the Kimpton Group invested $27.5 million. Vivid mosaic floors, red marble walls, and filigreed elevator grills replicate the original State Street entrance to the 15-story tower. Upstairs, antique mahogany doors open onto indigo-and-gold guest rooms, where half-canopy beds and chaise longues seduce business and leisure travelers alike. 1 W. Washington St.; 888/271-1928 or 312/782-1111, fax 312/782-0899; doubles from $179.

This 1937 office building was transformed into a 65-room Deco den in 1998, but the thirties still linger: swing standards such as Johnny Mercer's "Glow Worm" paint a sonic backdrop to the chrome-and-wood lobby. Double rooms have large sitting areas furnished with seafoam-green sofas, oval ottomans, and retro lamps. You could venture just steps away to the Milwaukee Art Museum, with its new building by Santiago Calatrava that's about to open (see Artbeat, page 98), or stay in and sip cocktails from the oversized martini glasses that await in the mini-bar. 411 E. Mason St.; 877/638-7620 or 414/272-1937, fax 414/225-3282; doubles from $180.

The crown jewel at the Grand, in Scandinavian-flavored Minnesota, is its knockout Japanese restaurant, Mizu. That said, the hotel's two other restaurants, as well as its Aveda day spa and 58,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art workout space, are not to be overlooked. The 140 guest rooms, wrapped in creamy neutrals, all have CD players and high-speed Internet connections. Their marble-and-granite bathrooms feature extra-deep tubs; many have TV's for those who like to channel-surf while they soak. 615 Second Ave. S.; 866/843-4726 or 612/288-8888, fax 612/373-0407; doubles from $149.

The San José is so intensely hip that at first it seems to have jetted in with the latest wave of Hollywood types. But this 40-room inn is pure Austin. Built in the thirties, when bungalow-style motor courts were the last word in travel, the San José has done time as everything from a Bible school to a flophouse (and a brothel, if you believe local legend). New owner Liz Lambert recently resurrected it as a retro-mod hotel. Cowhide rugs pad cement floors; Eames chairs sit beside furniture made from warehouse beams; the pool is inspired by Japanese bento boxes. Thursday movie screenings in the parking lot bring out power brokers and Austin hipsters, along with the hotel's guests. 1316 S. Congress Ave.; 800/574-8897 or 512/444-7322, fax 512/444-7362; doubles from $95.

Though it's housed in a pair of landmark early-20th-century buildings, there's nothing old-school about the Hotel Monaco. A yo-yo, a Pez dispenser, and a deck of cards liven up the mini-bar selections, and the nightly fireside "altitude adjustment" hour in the lobby offers free wine and neck massages. Pets—of any (legal) variety—are welcome and stay free; a goldfish can even be delivered to your room if you left Fido at home. Humans are treated to fluffy feather beds, fish-shaped chocolates at turndown, and the Aveda day spa (for a fee). 1717 Champa St.; 800/397-5380 or 303/296-1717, fax 303/296-1818; doubles from $125.

Brick arches, a soaring great room with cast-iron chandeliers, curvy butter-colored walls, and 1920's Pueblo Deco sofas are just part of the $10 million renovation transforming this Sheraton into the very first example of "Albuquerque Style"—a fusion of Spanish, Native American, and Territorial design. Aside from the 187 Southwestern-inspired rooms, the Old Town has 22 suites, a formal ballroom, and a turquoise-ceilinged Mexican cantina where tequila shots are served in chili peppers. 800 Rio Grande Blvd. N.W.; 800/237-2133 or 505/843-6300, fax 505/842-9863; doubles from $99.

Even after a recent renovation (in preparation for the 2002 Winter Olympics), the Peery recalls the weathered glamour of a Wild West saloon. Tapestry carpets, crystal chandeliers, grand pianos, and other period antiques (the reception and concierge desks are the 1910 originals) add after-hours undertones to the cream-marble lobby, while lace-draped canopy beds in the 73 guest rooms lend more of a boudoir feel. But it's not all Gunsmoke and mirrors: there's a high-speed Internet connection next to the vintage nightstand, and a laser printer is available upon request. In keeping with the Stagecoach theme, guests can dine in-house under the gaslights of Christopher's Seafood & Steakhouse. 110 W. Broadway; 800/331-0073 or 801/521-4300, fax 801/575-5014; doubles from $117.

Vegas deals in volume, so this 668-room resort is the closest that Sin City offers to a boutique. Strategically placed one block off the Strip, the Hard Rock is near enough to feel the nightlife pulse, but far enough to steer clear of the crowds. In terms of style, though, it's miles away: rooms are airy (they even have windows that open), the lobby's chockablock with rock relics (Eric Clapton's guitar, Prince's idea of fashion), and the pool is lined with cable-ready cabanas and tons of imported sand. The trendy Nobu restaurant calls this place home, as do the MTV set, who come to town to hit the craps tables. You'll also find them kicking up their heels at Baby's, the late-night disco. Are you ready to rock?4455 Paradise Rd.; 800/473-7625 or 702/693-5000, fax 702/693-5588; doubles from $69.

What was once a retirement home is now L.A.'s newest boutique hotel, a two-story property just steps from the Beverly Center. The concrete and stained-glass structure has an atrium courtyard filled with sparkling shards of smooth, tumbled glass (yes, you can walk on it), and public spaces that glow in turquoise, sky blue, and lime greens—both testaments to the city's dramatic tendencies. But there's also a softer touch: the Élan's 50 smoke-free, earth-tone rooms are kitted out with DSL lines, goose-down comforters, and designer toiletries. The lobby, where retirees once played bridge tournaments, is now a stage for L.A.'s designer-clad beauties, who take meetings with casting directors while seated in geometric chairs and on faux-ostrich sofas. 8435 Beverly Blvd.; 888/611-0398 or 323/658-6663, fax 323/658-6640; doubles from $165.

Behind the simple brick façade, dark hallways yield to 46 lively red-and-white-and-black guest rooms. French crystal chandeliers are juxtaposed with Lucite barstools and low Asian-style tables, all under designer Kelly Wearstler's watchful eye. Wearstler combines everything but the kitchen sink, from Orientalism and classicism to twenties and seventies styles, creating a look that defies easy labels. But don't spend all your time in your quirky (and small) room, decoding the design scheme: the bar is the spot for a late-night cocktail and catching a glimpse of a rising star. 140 S. Lasky Dr.; 800/432-5444 or 310/271-2145, fax 310/281-4001; doubles from $160.

Above the youth and flux of San Francisco's commercial districts, Pacific Heights has always been demurely aloof. The beige Modernist shell of the Laurel Inn maintains the neighborhood's sense of secrecy, concealing the plush, dark comfort within. Forty-nine spacious guest rooms set a halcyon mood with walls and furnishings in honeyed hues and carbon blacks, accented with an occasional flourish of royal blue. Benches by George Nelson, carpets with a Matisse-like paper-cutout motif, and velvety fabrics add a forties flair. Any austerity suggested by the simple composition, however, is dispelled by the domestic hospitality of a welcoming concierge and the fresh muffins served in the lobby. 444 Presidio Ave.; 800/552-8735 or 415/567-8467, fax 415/928-1866; doubles from $145.

Bay Area visitors who want to stay in an ultra-sleek hotel just steps away from Union Square book themselves a room at the Diva. Shiny chrome, bold cobalt, streaks of yellow light, and knife-sharp angles give the lobby and 111 rooms a high-tech finish, while in-room Nintendos, bowls of bright green Granny Smiths, and a videotape vending machine add a dash of humor. The rooms are small—the doubles or kings, covered with silver bedspreads, take up much of the space—but still pay mind to detail: curved stainless-steel sculptures adorn the walls, molded mesh chairs and leather sofas surround oval Noguchi-like coffee tables, fixtures are industrial-strength. To warm up from the cool style, head next door to the California Pizza Kitchen (which also tends to room service) or the Starbucks, or ask the receptionist to recommend a sizzling night spot that San Francisco scenesters would prefer he keep secret. 440 Geary St.; 800/553-1900 or 415/885-0200, fax 415/346-6613; doubles from $149.

Near the heart of downtown, this 221-room hotel is an oasis of calm. Guests nestle into overstuffed armchairs in the canary-yellow lobby, reading novels or joining in the nightly wine-tastings. A sizable fitness center has treadmills and Stairmasters at the ready for athletic types; the in-house spa provides services for those who prefer being worked on to working out. And the rooms: high ceilings, golden carpets, and towering padded headboards bring cheer to the doubles; cappuccino-striped wallpaper, apricot silk curtains, and French doors enhance the spaciousness of the suites. 506 S.W. Washington St.; 800/711-2971 or 503/222-0001, fax 503/221-0004; doubles from $139.

Occupying the second floor of an old flophouse in Seattle's hip Belltown neighborhood, the Ace caters to young creatives prepared to spend $65 for a utilitarian white room with a platform bed and access to the white-on-white lobby. Of course, for that price they'll have to settle for a hike down the hall to use the bathroom (but they might run into alternative-music artists such as Rufus Wainwright or the Propellerheads on the way). Rockers—or laypeople—who prefer privacy can rent one of 16 deluxe suites that come with their very own facilities. For the Ace's globally conscious clientele, there's a copy of the Kama Sutra in each nightstand, and condoms are left at turndown. 2423 First Ave.; 206/448-4721, fax 206/374-0745; doubles (with shared bath) from $85, deluxe (with private bath) from $130.

It's the only place in town where guests can stake out white Adirondack chairs next to a rooftop garden, equipped with bottles of crisp Chardonnay and cracked Dungeness crab from the Pike Place Market, to toast the sun as it sets into Elliott Bay. It's just as placid inside: the lobby combines slate floors and Asian accents with contemporary Northwestern artwork, while the 70 guest rooms are dressed with Biedermeier-inspired and soft monochromatic furnishings (10 suites have yet to be updated from their French country design). The spacious, light-filled City Side rooms overlooking First Avenue ($180) are the best deal. But if you're a light sleeper, take a room on the inside (from $200), although those right on the courtyard can be dark. 86 Pine St.; 800/446-4484 or 206/443-3600, fax 206/448-0631; doubles from $180.

If Waikiki's endless parade of mai tais and muumuus gives you sensory overload, take a Continental time-out at the Royal Garden hotel. Here alabaster marble, silk upholstery, and lots of gold trim re-create an airy corner of the Italian Riviera. From the cherubic ceiling mural in the lobby to the four suites done in loud Versace logo prints, the entire hotel reflects eclectic European taste. The only real reminder that you're in Hawaii are the tropical palms in the gardens. If you'd like to spend a day pretending you're in Italy, just walk over a few blocks, where high-octane shops such as Fendi and Prada await your lire. 440 Olohana St.; 800/367-5666 or 808/943-0202, fax 808/946-8777; doubles from $150.

By Chris RubinColin MitchellDavid MurphyDerek FerrarElaine GlusacElizabeth GarnseyHannah WallaceHeidi Sherman MitchellJennifer HowzeJonathan LernerKimberly SeelyMalia BoydMargaret GuytonMarty OlmsteadMary BiersdorferMichelle PentzNina MalkinPeter Jon LindbergScott Dickensheets and Sunshine Flint