The sign outside Haven, a hip new motel in Montauk (Photo: Jonathan Bloom)
Some of my most memorable childhood vacations involved piling into the family Pinto and stopping at roadside motels as we traveled across the country to see my grandparents. There was nothing better than parking in front of your room and having your car right there, just in case you forgot something in the back seat. The layout was usually the same: two double beds, a small bathroom, a couple of chairs on the porch, a window overlooking the parking lot. Inevitably, there was Putt-Putt golf nearby. Looking back, I realize that what these places lacked in charm was actually quite charming.
Poolside at Haven (Photo: Jonathan Bloom)
And while little family-owned motels across the country are being replaced by big-brand interstate hotels, there’s a growing community of hoteliers who are taking over old properties and revamping them — like Haven in Montauk, a funky fishing town at the tip of Long Island once known for its simple summer pursuits. In recent years, Montauk has been discovered and recolonized by the hipster kids of the families who once vacationed there.
A porch at Haven (Photo: Jonathan Bloom)
Haven is the brainchild of 30-year-old Eric Mourkakos, who along with his entrepreneurial family bought the 1978 motel 10 years ago, but rechristened it Haven last year with an overhaul of the property. “It’s where the DJs come to hide away after their sets,” explained Jenny Cabido, who runs the property with her husband, Patrick Cabido, a former manager at Surf Lodge.
A room at Haven (Photo: Laura Begley Bloom)
I’ve spent most of my adult life seeking out stylish boutique hotels and glamorous resorts, but pulling into the parking lot at Haven — right by our room! — brought back happy memories of growing up. When we arrived with our toddler, Lucy, on a recent Friday afternoon, Jenny and her 2-year-old daughter, Mila, were there to welcome us. There wasn’t any need for a tour of the grounds or an explanation of how the lights worked. No room service menus. No fuss. Just a simple family-friendly motel with Scandinavian-style furnishings, pint-sized chairs (which Lucy loved), and a big inflatable swan floating in the kidney-shaped pool.
Lucy, in a chair just her size by the pool at Haven (Photo: Jonathan Bloom)
Granted, there were signs of the new Montauk, like coconut water and Skinnygirl Sparklers in the minibar, and tales of celebrity spotting, from Kelly Killoren Bensimon to singer G. Love. But the hotel puts the emphasis on quintessential summer experiences: We lounged by the pool and chatted with the other guests and grilled s’mores over the fire pit with a couple who was there on their babymoon.
With Haven’s manager��Jenny Cabido (Photo: Jonathan Bloom)
During her downtime, Jenny brought out toys and chalk and played with Lucy. And just down the road was a sliver of a bayside beach where the hotel can set up an umbrella and blanket for guests. Oh, and did I mention that the rates start at $225 a night in high season? A relative bargain in the Hamptons.
Feel like taking your own motel trip? Here are a few of my other favorite revamped motels across the country.
A corner of the lobby at the Postcard Inn (Photo: Postcard Inn)
In the land of cool motels, St. Petersburg’s Postcard Inn is a standout, set right on the beach, with surfing-themed rooms and a wide-open lobby. A great perk: Florida and Georgia residents get 20 percent off the already low rates. In the Florida Keys, the waterfront Casa Morada was opened by a team who learned the ropes from none other than the original boutique hotelier Ian Schrager.
Palm Springs’ Ace Hotel (Photo: Ace Hotel & Swim Club)
California is another hot bed for converted motels — especially in the Palm Springs area. The Ace Hotel & Swim Club in Palm Springs comes complete with a vintage photo booth, bingo nights, and a poolside bar in an old teardrop trailer. In nearby Desert Hot Springs, a down-at-the-heels 1948 property has been turned into the spa-themed Miracle Manor Retreat.
Austin’s Hotel San José (Photo: Hotel San José)
Hotelier Liz Lambert has started a veritable cottage industry in her native state. Her original project was Austin’s Hotel San José, a seedy-turned-chic motel with concrete floors and kimono bathrobes.
A blast from the past at Portland’s Jupiter Hotel (Photo: Jupiter Hotel)
This former motor inn once sat above a sketchy speakeasy: Now the Jupiter Hotel is at the center of the Portland scene, thanks to its Doug Fir Lounge, one of city’s top live-music venues. Rooms open onto a courtyard studded with bamboo trees and that marker of a hip motel: a fire pit.