We happened to notice "U.S.A. All the Way," an interesting essay about American design that appeared a couple weeks ago in a New York Times's T Magazine style supplement. The author, Walter Kirn, gives a generous nod to the Portland, Ore., based Ace hotel minichain, praising its practice of "renovating buildings in cities like Seattle, New York and Palm Springs, Calif., in a manner that preserves their local color while updating them with hipster eclecticism, all while keeping the room rates reasonable. It's a peculiarly American strategy, combining our fondness for respecting tradition with our libertarian playfulness and our utilitarian good sense."
We agree. The company's New York City outpost made our Best Value, Hidden Gems, and Best Rooms roundups. Opened this year in a renovated 1904 SRO building and set among fragrance emporiums and knock-off watch shops in off-the-beaten-path Murray Hill, the hotel has been hyped for its cool design, big-name chefs, and quirky rooms. Still, the hotel pledges to price their basic rooms under $200 a night, which is cheap in the Big Apple.
We thought it'd be worth adding a few other properties that generally take the approach Kirn describes.
The Liberty Hotel in the North End and Beacon Hill, Boston
Practical definitely meets playful in Boston's former Charles Street Jail, now the Liberty Hotel. The hotel plays with the incarceration theme in an impressively designed lobby, Clink. restaurant, Alibi lounge, and exposed iron jail bars throughout the building, while keeping things relatively affordable with no-nonsense rooms and no-frills service.
Hotel Angeleno in West LA, Los Angeles
Originally a Holiday Inn, the California boutique chain Joie de Vivre renovated this unique spindle-shaped building alongside the 405 Freeway. They fluffed up the pie-shaped rooms and outfitted the hotel with amenities that mean something for guests, like free Wi-Fi, a heated pool, and great lounge space, while keeping it a great deal for guests.
Phoenix Hotel - Civic Center in Union Square, San Francisco
Once the Caravan Lodge Motel, Joie de Vivre CEO Chip Conley bought this Tenderloin-district property in 1987. Despite the seedy location, he attracted touring musicians with cheap tour bus parking in the motel's big lot, an atmospheric courtyard pool, hip Bambuddha Lounge, and basic-but-funky rooms. The hotel is now known for its roster of rocker guests, but room rates are impressively reasonable, making it a great place for anyone -- starving musicians and regular folks alike -- who's on tour in the city by the bay.