Hotel rates have doubled and even tripled in a number of U.S. and Canadian cities over the past 15 years. It can be awfully challenging to find a decent yet affordable place to stay in a number of popular urban gay destinations. There is, however, one excellent way to save money while also enjoying a more personal experience than you’re likely to at a large hotel: book a room at a gay-friendly bed-and-breakfast inn.
In many world-class cities, standard rooms at big hotels - especially those that cater to business travelers - easily command $250 or more per night. In these destinations (i.e., New York City, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago), it’s fair to call a stylish inn with rates under $150 a bargain. Consider a charming, upscale property like Boston’s gay-owned Clarendon Square Inn, a sophisticated retreat whose rooms have CD players, phones with automated voice mail, high-quality bath amenities, and in some cases a working fireplace. Rates here start at $139, which may not sound super low - but for comparable accommodations in one of Boston’s top hotels you’d easily shell out $250 or even $350 per night.
If you’re truly looking to spend as little money as possible, staying at a bed-and-breakfast in which some or all of the rooms share baths can save you a big bundle of cash. You’ll rarely find a better bargain than Washington, D.C.’s Bed and Breakfast at the William-Lewis House, which comprises a pair of neighboring late 1800s town houses replete with Oriental rugs, period-style wallpapers, and fine antiques. There’s also a lush and secluded deck and yard out back with a hot tub. Rates are a generous $69 to $159 nightly - the only catch is that all rooms share baths (but they’re extremely clean and attractive bathrooms at that).
You’ll find a similarly great deal at the gay-owned Willows Inn, a 1903 Edwardian house that’s steps from the trendy restaurants and gay bars in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood. For as little as $95 nightly, you can book one of the warmly furnished rooms with Wi-Fi, TVs and VCRs, small refrigerators, private sinks, top-of-the-line bath amenities, and kimono robes. Rates also include a pleasant Continental breakfast (fresh fruit, yogurt, fresh-baked treats, and such). Just keep in mind that the 12 guest rooms share eight bathrooms. Considering the inn’s loyal clientele, plenty of gay and lesbian travelers out there don’t mind the slight inconvenience.
In fact, if you’re willing to go the shared-bath route, you can find some outstanding deals, among them Boston’s cheerfully decorated Oasis Guesthouse ($79 and up), which draws a mostly male clientele but also some women and straights. It’s well situated, a short walk from the hip South End. Another good bet is the MacMaster House ($105 and up), on Portland, Oregon’s swank King’s Hill; it has both shared and private baths, and several rooms have fireplaces.
In general, you can often expect to save money by staying at a gay-exclusive property versus one that draws a mainstream crowd and can therefore market to a far larger pool of potential travelers. In Montreal, for instance, Lindsey’s Bed and Breakfast ranks among the most beautifully furnished women’s inns in Canada, and yet rates range from just $75 to $95 Canadian, which includes a superb, creatively prepared hot breakfast. The guy-oriented La Conciergerie is another Montreal favorite - it’s just a short walk from gay nightlife and has well-maintained, antiques-filled rooms and a private hot tub. Here you’ll pay about $99 to $119 Canadian for a double with a shared bath and just $159 for a suite with private bath.
Another good reason to choose a smaller inn over a large hotel is location - in quite a few cities it’s difficult to find big hotels that are close to gay neighborhoods. In Houston, you can easily walk to the lesbian and gay bars in Montrose from the attractive and friendly Lovett Inn ($90 and up) - whereas from just about any full-scale hotel in the city, you’ll need a car to reach the neighborhood. The City Inns group in Chicago has three small, recently renovated, gay-popular boutique properties all within an easy walk of the fabulous nightlife in the city’s Boystown section, an area with few hotels. Rates at these three properties - the City Suites, the Majestic, and the Willows - start around $109 and include free Wi-Fi. Factor in all the money you save on cabs from downtown hotels, and this is a pretty nice deal.
The same goes for one of Manhattan’s favorite gay/lesbian lodging options, the Chelsea Pines Inn, which occupies a classic 1850s town house right in the heart of the city’s gay epicenter. Rooms with semiprivate bath (sink and shower are in your room but the toilet is shared with several other rooms on same floor) start at $140, while private baths begin at $175 (but the Pines frequently offers specials with even lower rates). This is truly a steal by New York City standards. And in Seattle, you’ll not find a more ideally located property than the Gaslight Inn ($88 and up), a lovingly tended turn-of-the-century house in the ultra-hip Capitol Hill neighborhood. There’s a large heated pool outside, along with space for sunning.
Of course, price aside, a perfectly good reason to consider a smaller inn or bed-and-breakfast is that, at least in some cities, these smaller properties offer the most charm. This is definitely the case in Tucson, Arizona, where most of the city’s inns occupy historic adobe or Craftsman-style houses. The gay-owned Catalina Park Inn is set in a 1927 Neoclassical Revival inn that blends Californian and Southwestern styles to create a sophisticated but unpretentious ambience. With rates beginning at $136 in high season and just $106 in the spring and fall (it’s closed in the summer), the Catalina makes for an ideal retreat.
Atlanta’s Gaslight Inn (no relation to the same-named Seattle property), with rates beginning at $115, is one of that city’s most stylish lodging options. The gay-owned, Craftsman-style B&B in the cosmopolitan Virginia-Highland neighborhood exudes romance, with its plush canopy beds and, in some cases, whirlpool tubs and wood-burning fireplaces. Not far from Denver’s leafy Cheesman Park, the Capitol Hill Mansion (from $114) is a stately Queen Anne Victorian on an attractive residential street. Owners Jay Hadley and Carl Schmidt serve a lavish full breakfast each morning as well as refreshments and snacks in the afternoon; guests enjoy such pleasing amenities as free Wi-Fi and fresh flowers in every room, and gas fireplaces, whirlpool tubs, and private balconies in the top units.
New Orleans is perhaps the best example of a city that’s simply ideal if you love staying in smaller, historic properties. Right in the heart of the French Quarter, a stone’s throw from the city’s hottest gay bars, you can find rooms beginning at just $95 at the Bon Maison Guest House, an 1830s red-stucco town house that feels completely cloistered once you get past the entrance and sneak a peak of the delightful courtyard. And over in the city’s up-and-coming Mid-City neighborhood - close to City Park and a number of great restaurants - you can snag a room for as little as $99 in summer and $135 during busy times at the impeccably restored 1896 O’Malley House. Rooms at this gay-owned inn are spacious and filled with stunning antiques. You won’t find accommodations this beautiful at any big hotel in New Orleans, no matter what you’re willing to pay.
Andrew Collins is the author of Fodor’s Gay Guide to the USA and eight additional travel guides.
The Little Black Book
Bed and Breakfast at the William-Lewis House (Washington, DC, 202-462-7574 or 800-465-7574, www.wlewishous.com). Bon Maison Guest House (New Orleans, LA, 504-561-8498, www.bonmaison.com). Capitol Hill Mansion (Denver, CO, 303-839-5221 or 800-839-9329, www.capitolhillmansion.com). Catalina Park Inn (Tucson, AZ, 520-792-4541 or 800-792-4885, www.catalinaparkinn.com). Chelsea Pines Inn (New York, NY, 212-929-1023 or 888-546-2700, www.chelseapinesinn.com). City Suites (Chicago, IL, 773-404-3400 or 800-248-9108, www.cityinns.com/citysuites). Clarendon Square Inn (Boston, MA, 617-536-2229, www.clarendonsquare.com). 1896 O’Malley House (New Orleans, LA, 504-488-5896 or 866-226-1896, www.1896omalleyhouse.com). Gaslight Inn (Atlanta, GA, 404-875-1001, www.gaslightinn.com). Gaslight Inn (Seattle, WA, 206-325-3654, www.gaslight-inn.com). La Conciergerie (Montreal, Quebec, 514-289-9297, www.laconciergerie.ca). Lindsey’s Bed and Breakfast for Women (Montreal, Quebec, 514-843-4869 or 888-655-8655, www.lindseys.ca). Lovett Inn (Houston, TX, 713-522-5224 or 800-779-5224, www.lovettinn.com). Majestic Hotel (Chicago, IL, 773-404-3499 or 800-727-5108, www.cityinns.com/majestic). MacMaster House (Portland, OR, 503-223-7362 or 800-774-9523, www.macmaster.com). Oasis Guesthouse (Boston, MA, 617-267-2262 or 800-230-0105, www.oasisgh.com). Willows Hotel (Chicago, IL, 773-528-8400 or 800-787-3108, www.cityinns.com/willows). Willows Inn (San Francisco, CA, 415-431-4770 or 800-431-0277, www.willowssf.com).