“One day, I put myself in the car and simply drove. I had no idea I would wind up at dusk turning up the driveway of the Bachelor Brothers’ Bed and Breakfast…a place for the gentle and bookish and ever-so-slightly confused.”
That’s the opening paragraph of Bill Richardson’s Bachelor Brothers’ Bed and Breakfast, a wonderfully odd little book about a fictional B&B that caters to passionate bibliophiles. If you are the sort of person who gets twitchy when you’re down to just two or three unread books, or if you mark your life by remembering what you were reading where and when, chances are you’ve longed for a place like the one described in Richardson’s books. I know I have. Here are a few of my favorite literary-minded hotels, inns, and B&Bs across the country.
New York, NY
Just blocks from the New York Public Library, the Library Hotel is endlessly fascinating to book people. Each of the ten floors is named after sections you are likely to find in a library or well-stocked bookstore, including “Social Sciences,” “Literature,” “The Arts,” “History,” “Technology” and “Religion.” Each room has a different theme associated with its floor. For example the Arts (seventh floor) has rooms devoted to architecture, paintings, music, and design. Literature, one floor up, has the Fiction, Classics, Fairy Tales, and Erotica rooms. Each room — like all NYC hotel rooms, these are quite cozy — includes a stack of books on the room’s theme.
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The general library, off the lobby, is home to another 7,000-plus books. Guests can take them to the terraced Poetry Garden on the 14th floor. The Writer’s Den, also on the 14th floor, has its own terrace plus a fireplace. Come evening, the hotel hosts a wine-and-cheese gathering in the Reading Room, and in the morning a deluxe continental breakfast is served. Rooms start at about $300.
Princess Anne, Maryland
Each room in the Alexander House Booklovers’ Bed & Breakfast is decorated to evoke the time and tastes of a famous author. The Langston Hughes Room is cool, streamlined, and jazzy. Nautical adventure abounds in the Robert Louis Stevenson Room, and the Jane Austen room is appropriately sedate. Portraits of authors decorate the walls, and the B&B’s wonderfully eclectic library invites browsing and borrowing. Breakfast, afternoon tea, and evening tipples are served in Café Colette.
In between books you can tour the lovely town of Princess Anne, with its slews of restored Federal-style homes and interesting little shops. Nearby Assateague and Chincoteague (35 minutes drive) islands boast pristine, undeveloped seashores populated by wild ponies. Rates for double occupancy start at $80. See the Web site for more information.
Haye on Wye, Wales
The Swan doesn’t have theme rooms. What it does have is the perfect location right in the middle of Hay-on-Wye, the second-hand book capital of the world. Cheap paperbacks, first editions, long out-of-print treasures — you can find them all here in 30-plus bookstores. Locals who aren’t in the book trade sell handmade jewelry, hats, pottery, glass, and paintings — much of it wonderful. A walk through the maze-like streets never fails to delight.
The family-run Swan is equally lovely, with cheerful guest rooms with all the modern conveniences. The restaurant serves lunch and dinner, including Herefordshire beef and Marches lamb with fruit and vegetables from the gardens and orchards of the Wye Valley. “Bookworm Breaks” include dinner and lodgings for two-night stays starting at $160. Standard rates (sans meals) from about $150. See the web site for more information.
Berry Manor Inn
Bibliophiles will feel right at home here, with the mechanical dancing hamster collection in the lobby and carefully chosen books placed on the toilet tank in each guestroom (usually something along the lines of ‘”Flushed with Pride, the Story of Thomas Crapper”).
Room décor is of the non-frilly Victorian variety — lush but not overwrought. The Inn has a well-stocked library featuring books by Maine residents such as Stephen King and Linda Greenshaw, along with treasures like an original set of Nancy Drew Mysteries (back when Nancy was spunky and fearless). A volunteer librarian arranges the books in a rather random fashion, resulting in serendipitous discoveries. The Inn’s front porch is a perfect place to spend the day with book in hand, unless you prefer to sit by the fire in the drawing room. Breakfast is served daily, as are the amazing home-baked pies, which easily sate late-night appetites. Rates from $115. For more information, click here.
The Algonquin Hotel
New York, NY
Since it opened for business back in 1902, the Algonquin has been known as a writers’ hotel. In the 1920s it was the setting for the Round Table, a daily lunch meeting of literary legends Dorothy Parker, George S. Kaufman, and Robert Benchley. Harold Ross created The New Yorker magazine here and William Faulkner wrote his 1949 Nobel Prize acceptance speech upstairs in his room. Novelist Mario Puzo signed his movie contract in the hotel’s lobby. Plaques on the walls document many other events in literary history.
But the Algonquin doesn’t live in the past. Guests can catch up on their reading with loaner iPods that have been loaded with audio versions of best-sellers and modern classics. The iPods are offered at no cost on a first-come, first-serve basis for use in the hotel’s legendary lobby or guest rooms. Book lovers may sneer at the idea of an audio recording replacing a real book, but we’re certain that some members of the Round Table would have been intrigued. Rooms start at around $400.
Sylvia Beach Hotel
The owners reveal that the hotel is “loved by many, but not all — the old building will give you a big hug or spit you out, depending on what really matters to you.” The major bone of contention seems to be the lack of TVs, radios and phones, which means this is the closest thing to heaven for book lovers. Each of the 20 rooms is exuberantly decorated to evoke the writings of popular authors. The Poe Room has a stuffed raven and a sharp blade dangling over the bed. The Agatha Christie Room harbors clues to a crime. the Dr. Seuss Room is home to a huge Cat In The Hat, while the Collette Room is totally grown-up with canopied bed and other romantic touches. Sylvia Beach, named after a muse of Hemingway and Fitzgerald, is located on a bluff overlooking the ocean. Breakfast and lunch are served daily in the “Tables of Content” dining room. There’s a well-stocked reading room with overstuffed chairs, a fireplace, tea, and coffee. At 10 p.m. each night there’s hot spiced wine. Rates start at $94 for the Willa Cather Room and go up to $183 for the Agatha Christie, Mark Twain or Collette rooms. See the Web site for details.