Ashlie Stevens is a writer based in Lexington, Kentucky. Her work has appeared in Slate, Salon, National Geographic, and The Guardian.
And keeping the twee decor to a minimum.
When Lyon Porter—a 35-year-old hockey player-turned-real estate developer—bought a Brooklyn townhouse for nearly a million dollars in early 2014, he originally planned to renovate the space for apartments. Then a trip to a Nicaraguan surf camp changed his mind.
“While there, I was inspired to do something more social,” Porter says.
By May, Porter could add “innkeeper” to his list of job titles after he opened The Urban Cowboy, a bed-and-breakfast with a “rustic Brooklyn sensibility” in Williamsburg. It features four bedrooms in a freestanding townhouse, a cabin and hot tub in the back yard, and an open parlor that boasts operable garage doors, a pot belly stove, exposed joists and brick, and wide-plank pine floors. Guests are greeted with the inquiry: “Can we get you water or whiskey?”
Single rooms range from $150 to $325 per night, the cabin is available for $450, or you can go “Full Cowboy”—which includes all four bedrooms plus the cabin—for $2,000 per night. A home-cooked breakfast is always included.
City-based B&Bs like “The Cowboy,” as Porter likes to call it, don’t just appeal to Instagram-obsessed twentysomethings. They’re an increasingly popular option for business travelers who are sick of generic hotel rooms with the same basic breakfast buffet options. Urban B&B owners have been steadily adapting to cash in on their interest.
The leisure travel industry suffered after 9/11 and the subsequent economic recession. The U.S. Travel Association calls the early 2000s a “lost decade,” and estimates 68 million lost visitors, $606 billion in lost spending, and 467,000 lost jobs within the hospitality industry. That meant that B&Bs had to turn some of their attention away from their traditional clientele of guests seeking long weekends away and concentrate on the weekday business travelers who make up 52 percent of the lodging industry’s profits.
The more successful transitions now mix a signature aesthetic with more modern amenities like free wi-fi, in-room data ports, and small business centers with printers, fax machines, and office supplies. The Small Business Development Center Network also reports that 42 percent of B&Bs now have conference rooms—a marked increase from 2000, when only 28 percent had a meeting space.
Another change: owners are ditching the doilies.
“Business travelers don’t want to deal with those,” jokes Genora Boykins, the owner of La Maison in Midtown, located in Houston, Texas. “The trick is not making guests feel like they are staying in someone’s old bedroom.”
Boykins, an in-house lawyer with a Fortune 500 Company, and her business partner, Sharon Owens, a former community relations executive, bought the property for La Maison in 1999 during the early stages of development in Midtown, despite neither partner having prior hospitality experience.
“We wanted to be entrepreneurs and start a business that would provide us with an established opportunity in the event of voluntary or forced retirement. In other words, we didn’t want to wait until we left corporate America to decide what to do next,” Boykins says. “We were also well aware of the fact that during the 1990s, Houston was viewed as a city that could not attract a lot of large-scale conventions due to the lack of concentrated hotel rooms, so a lot of planning efforts were underway to make Houston a top choice for convention business.”
In order to prepare for the new venture, the pair joined the Professional Association of Innkeepers, attended numerous conferences as “aspiring innkeepers,” and hired an architect who was a B&B aficionado to help design the space.
“While we offer the same room amenities as a hotel, we offer a more intimate setting that provides a quaint and quiet getaway right in the heart of the city without the large crowds of a large scale hotel,” Boykins says. “Many of our guests say that our B&B feels more like a boutique hotel. The décor is classical and elegant, yet comfortable and cozy. And, no doilies.”
La Maison has now been open almost 15 years, and Boykins estimates that 45 to 50 percent of guests are business travelers.
The numbers at the Cowboy look similar, although Porter hesitates to label his guests. “They are business travelers, but I doubt they would classify themselves as that. They are more creative: photographers, designers, writers, people here pitching ideas.”
Like a traditional B&B owner, Porter lives in the space alongside guests, so he eats, drinks and relaxes with them—and even goes so far as to invite them to parties that he hosts in his private living space.
“‘The Cowboy’ attracts such interesting people, why wouldn’t I want to party with them?” Porter says. “And the guests just keep coming back. I think I have one guest who has been here like 18 times for work since we first opened.”
Bobbi Rich (aka DJ Mama Hot Dog ) is a repeat guest, frequenting the B&B for both business and pleasure. She says that she has now visited The Urban Cowboy at least six times. “I’m like an employee there now; I help take people to their rooms and whatnot,” Rich laughs.
After the success of his Brooklyn outpost, Porter is opening The Urban Cowboy Nashville this winter. Porter says that the decoration of the Queen Anne-style building that he bought in Nashville—which he plans on renovating to include ten bedrooms, a restaurant, and a bar—will be heavily influenced by the city’s music culture. But, he adds, “of course there’s going to be a little Brooklyn style, too.”
Porter says that, thanks to the popularity of Airbnb, people are really after a sense of “authenticity of place” when they travel—something that B&Bs have over chain hotels. Guests want to see what it’s like to live in the city they’re visiting and appreciate lodging that captures that aesthetic. Plus, Porter notes: "Regarding decor, Nashville is the perfect opportunity to go full cowboy."