Mad Men Meets David Lynch
Review by Todd Perley
I am a connoisseur of non-franchised, cheap motels. The funkier and weirder, the better. This kind of kink often ends in disaster. Broken showers, slimy ice, mystery smells, bedbugs. I once saw two maids throwing down in the parking lot using amenities from their carts as projectiles.
If you want a less…harrowing experience on an American roadtrip, may I recommend the Koolwink Motel?
Remember 1962? Yah, me neither. Yet I have a nostalgia for an era for which I was not present. This retro gem is tucked away in the hills of eastern West Virginia, (somehow surrounded by Maryland on three sides), just two hours west of D.C.
The lobby plays sappy 1950s lounge music, as the staff greet you with smiles so genuine, it’s frankly alarming. There will be amiable chit chat as you check in, because they are actually interested in your travels, and what brought you to Koolwink. When I tell them we drink from their logo’ed glasses (available for cheap purchase at the front desk) at home in New Orleans, their eyes dance with delight. Family owned since 1936, that sense of family comes through...and includes you.
The rooms are non-ironically mid-century modern, and bafflingly immaculate. Deep pile shag wall to wall so clean you could drop your baby on it as you kick off your shoes and imagine Peggy Olson doing the same sixty years ago. There is a brook that babbles at you behind the motel as you fetch a bucket of ice for the whiskey you (hopefully?) brought, because sitting in the gazebo is going to require a Don Draper-like cocktail to complete the effect.
In any big city, the overall vibe would be hipster-kitsch, but out in sweet little Romney, it’s just honest vintage, and expertly-maintained by the Mauk family for ninety years. On your next mid-Atlantic road trip, venture off the ugly interstates a bit to visit the Koolwink and bask in a bygone era. But with WiFi.
The Koolwink Motel, 24350 Northwestern Turnpike, Romney, WV 26757.
Rooms from USD71, see their website here.
Some impressive, lesser-spotted, in-room amenities at the beautiful Four Seasons Bangkok Chao Phraya River: A pool bag for your sunbathing whatnots, two types of umbrella (rainy and parasol styles), a button in the loo that activates the Do Not Disturb light on your room door, and a pair of scissors for opening the milk carton without an unforeseen spillage.
With over 60 hotels worldwide (and growing), you’ve probably seen a Moxy, a ‘millennial’ brand launched by Marriott a few years ago. The regular Moxy hotels are a little stripped down, with minimalist rooms, check in at the lobby bar, grab-and-go food menus and the like. At these regular Moxy hotels, if you’re a 22 year old in town for a concert who wants to spend around $100 or less on a room, snap some cute photos for the ‘gram but you don’t care about fine dining, then it’s an ideal choice. This old warhorse felt a little out of place, but I can see the appeal as a starter hotel.
There is another kind of Moxy Hotel, though: Lightstone's Moxy properties. Currently there are five in New York (Lower East Side, Williamsburg, Times Square, Chelsea, and the East Village), plus Los Angeles and South Beach outposts. Though technically part of the Moxy brand, these particular Moxy hotels are’t like the other girls.
Mitchell Hochberg is the president of Lightstone, and he’s threading the needle of being brand-adjacent while remaining absolutely distinctive. I recently spent time with him on a group media tour of the new properties in the LES and Williamsburg, and let me tell you, buddy, he’s as New York as it gets. He’s excited for you to try his favorite bagel and lox, he talks baseball as a dyed-in-the-wool fan and if you x-rayed him, I’m pretty sure you’d find the I HEART NY logo running through his body like rings of a tree.
He’s worked with hotel industry legends like Ian Schrager, and though the mischief that those two may have enjoyed at Studio 54 back in the day remains very much a frivolous daydream of mine, I’m sure he might have some stories after a suitable amount of stiff drinks.
I’ve had a hundred dinners with a hundred company presidents and their (mostly understandably) bored-looking partners, but Mitchell and his wife are down-to-earth, enthusiastic hosts. They’re urbane without airs, socially inclusive and ardent ambassadors for New York City, especially considering they must have to entertain schmos like me a lot.
You could imagine being as comfortable with them in an East Village diner as at a black tie gala. Most times I see Mitch, he’s in a ball cap and track suit. They talk about regular family stuff, they’re chatty and open. I realize that no-one cares about some dinner I had, but I'll mention it because it sets the tone for Lightstone's Moxy ethos.
We chow down at Sake No Hana at the Moxy LES, a good example of the distinction. It’s a strikingly-designed Japanese izakaya, upscale looks but running the social gamut of guests. Hip kids drinking Asahi at the bar, family groups celebrating birthdays, corporate credit cards being flashed…it’s a real New York mix. Yes, Tiesto swings by to say hi to Mitch, but there's no sense of exclusivity and there’s no velvet rope. The Moxy in New Orleans has a bar with pressed paninis. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but let’s just mark the difference.
Hochberg and Lightstone have collaborated with innovative design companies to elevate their hotels. Small details at the LES property, some almost subliminal, pay homage to the neighborhood’s history as a haven for circus and burlesque performers. There’s a large dancing bear sculpture in the lobby but also tiny trapeze artists in the chandeliers and cheekily carnal images in the meeting room curtains that you only see on second glance. It’s risqué. Kind of edgy, even.
I’ll review a couple of the properties in detail very soon, but they all boast aesthetically memorable public spaces. Rooftop bars with saucy mini golf courses, basement nightclubs with dazzlingly high-end sound systems, and expansive hotel restaurants that you’re not just settling for because they’re convenient.
The rooms, too, are thoughtfully designed, with the guest experience - as opposed to the mindless exploitation of space for profit - very much in mind. Impressive (and presumably costly) floor-to-ceiling windows for those NYC panoramas, luxuriously high ceilings (at the expense of a revenue-generating extra floor in some cases), top-of-the range beds and bathrooms. Like Mitch says, when you're in a New York hotel, you’re likely not hanging out in the room much. A great shower, a comfy night’s sleep and those city views making you feel like you’re really, like the song says, a part of it.
Leaving the room is one thing, leaving the hotel might be another. Lightstone's Moxy hotels produce live onsite events that might be a drag cabaret or a name DJ, or - as was the case when I stayed - a trending food pop up that has lines round the block. I got my mitts on a scallion pancake burrito that dozens of selfie-sticked influencers were queuing for with febrile excitement. Only in New York, baby, etc.
The ‘experiential’ concept gets tossed around a lot these days, but it’s not an afterthought at these places. It’s built into the designs. I feel like if any element of the hotels didn’t show off or reflect well on the city, it's something that Mitchell would take very personally. He really HEARTS NY. Yes, he’s a businessman, but I honestly think that, beyond the hotels, he sincerely wants you to HEART NY too. And Mitch, if you ever want to tie one on and chat about the late 1970s off the record, you’ve got my email address. (PO)
Moxy Lower East Side is located at 145 Bowery Street, between Grand Street and Broome Street.
Moxy Williamsburg is located at 353 Bedford Ave, between 4th Street and 5th Streets.
Read our full review of the Moxy LES
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