For many travelers, hotels are nothing more than a generic place to sleep and store their luggage while they spend their days exploring exotic locales. In some cases, however, the accommodations steal the show.
From doing jail time to sleeping in a treehouse, these unique hotels and inns from New York to New Hampshire prove that sometimes it’s all about where you stay rather than where you’re going.
Everybody Go: Motel YOTEL
There’s no bellhop, no front desk checking in guests, and no carpeted lobby with plushy couches and fake accent plants.
Instead, a row of neat, self-service kiosks line a purple wall, and YOBOT, a robotic luggage concierge, sits idle in a corner, waiting to stow bags into a storage bin.
It’s IKEA meets the Jetsons at New York City’s YOTEL (570 10th Ave.), a 713-room hotel located in Midtown Manhattan (with locations in Boston, Europe and Asia), offering travelers nothing less than a 21st century experience.
From 5th Dimension’s “Up, Up and Away” being piped into the elevator, to the mock Roy Lichtenstein, Drowning Girl, poster hanging in the 4th floor reception area, it’s mod, funky, and weird in a good way.
The rooftop terrace is one of the best in the city and includes a restaurant, bar, and outdoor cinema where guests can munch on popcorn while watching films like “Grease” and “La La Land.”
Rooms are dubbed cabins, and that’s exactly what they feel like: smart, modern and decidedly compact. Available in various sizes and price points, premium cabins are the most economical and come with motorized, convertible beds to help maximize space in the tight room.
Cabins are also equipped with a techno wall, complete with a YOTEL channel dedicated to meditations and mindfulness, as well as multiple power points for the high-tech traveler and free WiFi.
The only downside is that most cabins either use glass doors or sliding curtains to separate the bathroom from the rest of the room, which can leave guests feeling exposed, depending on who they are sharing the room with. Cabins prices vary. yotel.com
A Rose By Any Other Name
Stretched across Narraganset Bay, the Pell (or Newport) Bridge rises impressively behind Rose Island, an 18-acre island and wildlife refuge located just off Newport, R.I.
Purportedly named for its rose-like shape, it was used by both British and colonial troops during the Revolutionary War and later as storage for explosives during World Wars I and II, making the tiny island a historical destination, along with the lighthouse that stands watch along its southwestern point.
Built in 1869 to help guide local shipping traffic, the Rose Island Lighthouse, operated now by the Rose Island Lighthouse Foundation, has illuminated the night sky for many of its 147 years and continues to do so much to the delight of guests who book a stay there.
Open year-round and offering just six rooms (including one located inside a former soldier barracks building), it’s not a Marriott, which is exactly the appeal. With no WiFi, limited electricity, outdoor bathrooms and nary a soul for miles, it’s a complete disconnect for nature-lovers, bird-watchers, or anyone who finds solace in the sound of lapping water with only passing boats and a rocking buoy to cut the quiet.
To reach the island, guests must take a short cruise aboard the Starfish, a 32-foot lobster boat, and bring their own essentials like food, beverages and personal items. There’s an outdoor grill for cooking, a fire pit, Adirondack chairs and an abundance of sea glass waiting to be scavenged.
Nestled along the bay, the Foghorn Building (set next to the lighthouse), with brick walls and seafaring accoutrements, is the most enchanting of the rooms. With nothing but water visible from all the windows, it redefines the notion of a waterfront view.
The best view, however, just might be of the stunning sunsets, and those can be seen from anywhere on the island. Starting at $75 a night. From $200 a night in season (July to October), and discounted during the off season. roseisland.org
Winthrop & Vivian
Tucked away in the hills of Litchfield County and sitting on 113 pastoral acres, is Winvian Farm (155 Alain White Road, Morris), a stunning collection of freestanding, five-star cottages owned by Maggie Smith.
Designed by a series of architects, each of the 18 cottages offers its own exclusive motif, including the Artist, a delightful bungalow set amidst the trees and stocked with easels, canvas, and paint for the would-be artist.
Charter Oak is a two-story, lofted barn with attached silo (housing a jacuzzi and screened-in retreat), and a mammoth, white oak tree growing directly in the middle of the cottage.
Suspended 35 feet in the air is Treehouse, and it’s exactly what it sounds like; a total dream come true for kids of any age. Luxurious and refined, it offers a gas fireplace, steam shower, full bar, and dazzling views of the surrounding forest.
Golfers will feel right at home staying at the Golf cottage considering that the structure’s entire floor is a green (albeit a carpeted one), and clubs are provided so guests can practice their putt as much as they’d like.
Other cottages include Greenhouse, Camping, Maritime, Music, Secret Society and Helicopter (a cottage with a 1968 Sikorsky Sea King Pelican HH3F helicopter smack dab in the center where guests can sit inside on a comfy sofa and watch TV on the installed flat screen television).
Named after Winthrop and Vivian Smith, former owners of the property, Winvian Farm is anything but kitschy. Instead with an on-site spa, farm-to-table cuisine sourced from gardens on the property, and sophisticated amenities, it’s inspired, tasteful, and an unparalleled experience. From $389 a night. winvian.com
It’s more than just a little tongue-in-cheek that a former confessional now serves as a bar and wine cellar at the Belfry Inn and Bistro, a bed and breakfast located in Sandwich, Mass. (6 Jarves St).
Blasphemous? Maybe. Cool? Definitely.
Consecrated in 1901, the Corpus Christi Catholic church served the charming Cape Cod community for more than 90 years before the congregation relocated in 1994 and put the property up for sale.
With something akin to holy inspiration, proprietor Christopher Wilson purchased the Abbey and painstakingly converted it into an inn that’s a religious experience in its own right.
Committed to preserving and using many of the church’s original fixtures, as well as the overall aesthetic, Wilson’s inn features cavernous ceilings, hanging sanctuary lights, stained-glass windows, and warm wood walls and accents.
And old pew serves as part of the bar, the choir loft is a sitting room, and there are carved chalices in the railings.
Inspired by the Book of Genesis, the rooms are named, respectively, after the six days of the week, (no Sunday, it’s a day of rest), and each one is distinctly different, offering varying color and décor stylings.
The second floor Tuesday Room features a vaulted wood ceiling and brilliant rose Catherine window that takes up an entire wall. Whether you’re religious or not, the effect is nothing short of heavenly.
There’s also an on-site bistro at the Abbey and a burger bar next door at the Belfry’s other guest house, The Painted Lady, an 1882, historic Victorian home that once served as the church rectory. From $179 a night. belfryinn.com
It’s the one jail that no one wants to escape from. In fact, life without parole at The Liberty Hotel would probably be the kind of sentence anyone would be happy to have handed down.
Located in the Beacon Hill district of Boston (215 Charles St.), The Liberty is housed in the former Charles Street Jail, once a lockup for some of the city’s most notorious prisoners including hitmen, a former city mayor and Malcolm X.
Built in 1851, with a stunning 90-foot rotunda and wings that allowed prisoners to be segregated by gender and offense, the jail was considered an architectural feat. It operated for nearly 140 years before it eventually shuttered in 1990 after being cited for poor living conditions.
A decade later, developers restored and converted the property into a 298-room hotel, including 18 guest rooms set within what remains of the historic jail, complete with barred doors and windows.
Carefully preserved, the dizzying rotunda and its catwalks serve as the hotel lobby. With iron chandeliers, brick walls, massive windows, and contemporary design elements, it feels both sleek and industrial, making it, far and away, the centerpiece of the hotel.
And there are plenty of nods to the property’s infamous past, including Clink (get it?), a hip restaurant with framed celebrity mug shots and wrought-iron cell doors used to separate tables, guest rooms with custom-made time pieces in the rooms, nightstands that resemble safes, and Do Not Disturb signs made from “solitary” tags and jailors’ keys. From $389 a night. libertyhotel.com
For anyone who’s ever joined the B-52s in belting out “Tin roof…rusted,” there’s a real-life love shack located in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
Featuring a fireplace, hot tub, psychedelic lights, disco ball, and, yep, fiber-optic tin roof, the Love Shack room at Adventure Suites (3440 White Mountain Highway, North Conway) is all about getting groovy, baby.
For a more serious dance party, there’s The Club, a 10-person, two-level suite, complete with stage lights, dance floor and state-of-the-art sound system.
Guests don’t have to worry about cranking up the volume or dealing with disgruntled neighbors, the suite, like all the hotel’s other rooms, is completely soundproof, ensuring that everyone can boogie down all night long.
Conceived and created by owner Kathy Brassill, the theme hotel opened in 1998 and offers 18 wildly different rooms, all designed with whimsy and fun in mind.
Even the hotel’s exterior, with its quirky New England village façade, lets visitors know from the moment they pull up, they’re in for the something completely different.
And there’s a little something for everyone including the Showtime suite, which houses a projection screen, popcorn machine and luxury theater seats for film buffs.
Motorcycle Madness is geared toward bike enthusiasts, who have the option of driving their bikes right into the room through its own dedicated garage.
For real thrill seekers, Adventure Suites is introducing a five-level Haunted Castle suite that will accommodate up to 18 people. Using projection, audio, video and special effects customized to the guests’ individual scare preference, it will serve as the only simulated haunted hotel room in the world and opens in November. From $149 a night. adventuresuites.com.