Photograph courtesy the Joule, a Luxury Collection Hotel
The most authentic and unique hotels in the central U.S., chosen by National Geographic Traveler editors for the 2011 Stay List
Hotel Sax Chicago, Chicago, Ill.
Draws its vibe from Windy City music scene. Right next to House of Blues, where guests get VIP access. Rooms rock: 42-inch flatscreens, paisley headboards, snakeskin-pattern wingbacks. DJ spins tunes in Louis XIV-style lounge full of red crushed velvet. Close to Loop theater district. 353 rooms; from $129.
The Talbott Hotel, Chicago, Ill.
A 1927 Gold Coast beauty a block and a half off the Magnificent Mile (Michigan Avenue) and near Rush Street dining. Tradition reigns: lots of antique furnishing throughout, snap-to-it room service, larger-than-average rooms (375 square feet) with lithographs. Ahead of the curve with its purchase of wind-energy credits and Green Seal certification. 149 rooms; from $129.
The Bonaparte Inn, Bonaparte, Iowa
Americana by the Des Moines River. Former glove factory built of local-fired brick and native wood, repurposed as a B&B in keeping with the slow-go villages of Van Buren County (no fast food, not a single stoplight). Antique room furnishings include classic rockers. Breakfast by a warming hearth best followed by a stroll through Bonaparte Riverfront Historic District: pottery works, restored mills. 13 rooms; from $95.
Circle S Ranch and Country Inn, Lawrence, Kan.
An old plank-sided barn-style place surrounded by rolling hills with grazing bison. Rooms on three floors and a hot tub in the silo. Themed rooms: Cowboy, Celestial, Trail. Hayrides through tallgrass prairie. Run by fifth-generation homesteaders. Their mission? To preserve a sense of pioneer life on the prairie. 12 rooms; from $150, incl. breakfast.
Historic Boone Tavern Hotel, Berea, Ky.
Appalachian hospitality with a green streak in "Folk Arts and Crafts Capital of Kentucky." Century-old architecture—Ionic columns, gabled roof—freshly recast as state's first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified hotel. Menu, pure Southern comfort: spoonbread, shrimp and grits, chicken flakes in a bird's nest. Owned by Berea College (first integrated college in the South), its woodcraft department has contributed a hundred years' worth of handmade furnishings to guest rooms. 63 rooms; from $117.
Bayou Cabins, Breaux Bridge, La.
Café and accommodations on 125-mile-long Bayou Teche, crawfish capital of the world. Eclectic collection of authentic Cajun cabins, some transported from the bayous—one with 1949 newspapers as wallpaper. Best local grub around: boudin, pralines, homemade root beer. Locals gather mornings over coffee to speak French with guests. Local Cajun events held in this area year-round. 14 cabins; from $60.
Soniat, New Orleans, La.
Southern Creole hospitality packaged into three historic town houses in lower (quieter) French Quarter. Palmettos and banana trees tropicalize interior courtyard. Rooms? Pure 19th-century soul despite the Wi-Fi. Authentic creole breakfast with Louisiana strawberries. Staffers have inside scoop on the Big Easy. 31 rooms; from $159.
The Joule, Dallas, Tex.
A 1920s Neo-Gothic structure turbocharged with fashion-forward design. Richly colored rooms with ergonomic chairs, flat-screen TVs, phones with buttons for personal shoppers at the nearby Neiman Marcus flagship store. Outdoor pool cantilevers eight feet over sidewalk, revealing swimmers to pedestrians ten stories below. 129 rooms; from $340.
Hotel Palomar Dallas, Dallas, Tex.
A 1960s-vintage Hilton recast as a mid-century-modern hostelry: infinity-edge deck pool, geometric design in rooms with 32-inch plasmas, free Wi-Fi. Sociable wine receptions nightly, in-room pet goldfish upon request. Nostalgic Trader Vic's a culinary counterbalance to forward leaning regional American grille. DART rapid transit across the street. 198 rooms; from $199.
Hotel Paisano, Marfa, Tex.
A 1930 cattlemen's hotel in a West Texas desert town (pop. 1,880). Spanish-heritage design with Hollywood movie-making connection. Lots of legacy details: old room radiators converted to bedside tables, original 1929 Kohler bath fixtures. Top choice: Rock Hudson Suite. Gallery, café. While in Marfa visit Chinati Foundation's large-scale art installations. 33 rooms; from $99.
The Blacksmith Inn on the Shore, Bailey's Harbor, Wisc.
Half-timbered replica of a German blacksmith's house rooted on a wild Door County beach. Most rooms have cherrywood four-posters (watch sunrise from bed), lakefront balconies. Kayak or sail the lake. Free bikes for cruising artist galleries; classic Adirondack chairs on dock for staying put. Portion of room rate contributes to local land trust. 15 rooms and 1 house; from $145, incl. breakfast.
The Delafield Hotel, Delafield, Wisc.
A redbrick inn playing a starring role in a small town renaissance on rolling hills of Kettle Moraine forest. Gee-whiz suites with oversize tubs, multihead showers. Restaurant with floor-to-ceiling private booths. Live music. Town eminently walkable: antiques stores, boutiques. 38 rooms; from $159.
White Gull Inn, Fish Creek, Wisc.
A 1896 clapboard inn in bayside village centrally situated on 75-mile-long Door Peninsula. Antiques, prints, and fabrics establish turn-of-century character. Don't miss traditional fish boils, held most summer evenings, with locally caught whitefish cooked Nordic-style over open fire. Artist galleries, lighthouses, winter sleigh rides through local orchard and winery. 13 rooms; from $155.
Hotel Metro, Milwaukee, Wisc.
Art deco limestone-block hotel in Mil Town's revitalized historic area. Burled maple columns in the lobby; rooms have green slate tile, low-flush toilets, and recycled-material carpet. Soak in saltwater hot tub in rooftop Zen garden. Stroll through history on nearby Riverwalk, a three-mile course through downtown and the historic Third Ward. 63 suites; from $209.
The Iron Horse Hotel, Milwaukee, Wisc.
A converted warehouse in historic tannery district. Loft-style look with exposed brick walls, post-and-beam construction. Old boiler room being turned into a hot tub; gears of old elevator displayed as industrial art. Nearby: the new Harley Davidson museum. 102 suites; from $129.
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