Where to stay? Too many elements to consider when you look for a unique experience at a hotel. In Portland, it happened by accident or coincidence. I was supposed to have stayed just one night in Portland and move on the next morning. Since I began my road trip, it was my plan to avoid cities and focus on national parks. This was not meant to be a visit to urban areas; rather, it was about camping and hiking. Nonetheless, it turned out that I stopped by and stayed in a few cities because of how many hours I had been driving, or because there was not another option. Also, sometimes I needed to have good internet service, do laundry, and take care of other practical chores.
A few times on the road I came to cities where I knew someone. In Portland I knew a former employee who had worked for me in New York. After my first night in town, I spoke with him early in the morning and he offered to reserve a room for me at his hotel because he wanted me to see where he was working. He thought that having worked in hospitality, I would enjoy staying at the Kennedy School. So, instead of move on I stayed a second night in Portland. He was absolutely right! What a unique experience! The charm of the hotel is in its simplicity and austere feel of an old school. However, it was the atmosphere created by a relaxed and genuine costumer service that made my experience exceptional.
Now a hotel that houses a brewery, the Kennedy School had operated as an elementary school for over one-hundred years. After many years of abandonment, the old school was transformed into a hotel. One thing that makes it charming and unique is that it still looks and feels like a school, and preserves the history of the Kennedy Elementary School. Classrooms are now guest rooms. As I entered my room, the first thing I saw was the original classroom blackboard on which the word “Welcome” was written in chalk!!! Today this piece of rescued piece of Portland’s history, offers more than a classroom where you can comfortably sleep without being sent home with a note to your parents. And it is okay to have a beer or two in this old school!
Today, the McMenamins Kennedy School houses a movie theater, a restaurant, a cigar bar, a small bar, a larger lounge, and a brewery. What really captivated me was the restaurant where I had a wonderful brunch before leaving Portland. The decoration displays a collection of non-matching exotic lamps and other exotic objects. The waiters and staff do not wear uniforms and are encouraged to be themselves, bringing in their individual personalities. The unique experience made for a great way to start my day. There’s something very uplifting and motivating about an environment where people seem to enjoy what they are doing.
The Courtyard Restaurant is set in the transformed cafeteria of the old school. From the moment I stepped in to have brunch, I could not take my eyes off the eclectic collection of light fixtures. Each of them is unique! On a corner closer to the bar, an old gas lamp was probably one of my favorite. Alas, it is
hard to pick a favorite with so many never seen before designs and styles. Another feature of the restaurant are the old, comfortable mahogany booths. They transport you back in time and make you feel like are in the old childhood schools from the past. It does give a touch of distinguished character to the restaurant and to the experience of eating there, except for the beer that pours throughout this old school. The Courtyard also is unique for serving handcrafted ales brewed just a few steps away on the onsite brewery.
In the age of “cookie-cutters” hotel chains that promises a unique guest experience but in the end turn out to be the same everywhere you stay, unique hotels are my favorites. It does not have to be the most luxurious hotel, nor the most well-known hotels. What really catches my attention is the uniqueness of hotels that have unmatched characteristics and appeal. Working in the hospitality industry, I heard too many guests ask “where am I today” because hotels that lack that unique charm and personality look exactly the same anywhere you stay. For frequent guests who travel on business for most part of the year, the standard design and décor of brand hotels may bring some comforting sensation of being at the same place day in day out. But, for the leisure traveler who wants to experience the uniqueness of each destination, historic and boutique art hotels have more to offer. That was what my one night stay at the McMenamins Kennedy School in Portland was all about. There, not only the architecture of the building and its decoration make a clear distinction, but it spells out the character of Oregon! One of the hallmarks of Portland is the high concentration of breweries and its people’s love for great handcrafted beers. At the McMenamins Kennedy School, the passion for beer takes center stage!
Another feature of the McMenamins Kennedy School, is the soaking pool. Guests have complimentary access to the soaking pool, and the public can also have access to it for a fee. Surrounded by gardens, the soaking pool is a relaxing treat to be enjoyed. It is located in the old Teachers’ Lounge and it is decorated with multi-colored ceramic tiles. After relaxing in the soaking pool, it was time to enjoy the evening at the Cypress Room Bar. Rated as one of the best bars in its category, the Cypress Room is a rum bar. It has a Caribbean vibe with a great selection of rum and reggae music, making it the perfect place for a happy hour or that night cap, all of which offers a unique experience. However, if you prefer beer, housing a brewery onsite, the hotel has plenty of options to enjoy a good beer.
My friend in Portland was right! Staying one extra night in town and experiencing a day back in school was a unique experience. It turned out that I never left the hotel from the moment I checked in. And, I didn’t have to; this historic elementary school transformed into a hotel has everything to keep you busy and entertained within its walls.
Speaking of walls, they are covered with art work in the rooms and corridors depicting scenes and moments in the history of the old Kennedy Elementary School. Even if you are not an overnight guest, grab a beer or a cocktail and walk around to check the art around you. I visited Portland multiple times in the past, but this was a delightful surprise. It was a memorable moment and a unique experience on my road trip. Just one of those surprises that came around and made me forget the last of days on the road and made me look forward to the days ahead in the Pacific Northwest and beyond.