3.26.19 / New York / Los Angeles

Shane Fonner’s Latest Road Trip Takes Him From Coast to Coast

From Blue Mountains to Graceland to White Sands, stopping at the most charming hotels along the way

Following his journey down the PCH last year, Palmiers du Mal Creative Director and friend of A Hotel Life Shane Fonner recently headed coast to coast from New York  to Los Angeles with his PIC (and wife) Jane. They were met with some winter chills, even deep in the South, but still managed to find some magic along the way. With pit stops at some iconic sites, scenic views of the country, and nights at some of the most alluring boutique hotels away from the coasts, Fonner recounts his latest adventure.

Having prepped our bodies and road acumen for copious hours driving during the infamous PCH Road Trip of 2018, Jane and I were ready to go coast-to-coast, balls to the wall. We had whetted our appetite along the Pacific, graced by the golden and violet hues thrown by the West Coast sun.
Unsurprisingly the early stretches of our journey from New York to Los Angeles in winter were to be a dramatic departure from late summer coastal California. Darkness descends early and I’m sure we missed some sumptuous scenery.

Regardless, the trip from my hometown of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to Nashville was a series of Waffle Houses and Exxon stations broken up by the occasional Sheetz.

Deep into Virginia, we chased the sunset over the Blue Mountains along scenic vantage points. Into the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, we rolled Route 40 into our first stop—The Bobby Hotel in buzzing Nashville, TN. The sprawling lobby features a sweeping staircase and the hallways are the widest I’ve ever seen. The rustic-industrial bar demanded a negroni so I obliged as Jane freshened up in the well-appointed suite. Still really cold, the coziness of the Bobby was really inviting.

Scenes from The Bobby in Nashville

The Bobby is ideally located in downtown Nashville, within walking distance of some really great music venues and restaurants. Just behind the hotel is Printers Alley, lined with nefarious looking places, and we ducked into Skull’s Rainbow Room. It did not disappoint. In the morning, we grabbed a coffee at the surprisingly good café in the Bobby lobby before heading over to our friend Savannah Yarborough’s Atelier Savasto look into some badass custom leather jackets. A romanticdinner for two at Rolf & Daughtersin Germantown was the only way I could imagine ending our time in Music City.

The next morning we were bound for New Orleans and had two options: head south and miss Graceland or head west and then south and hit Graceland. So we hit Graceland (pronounced: Grace-LIND). We waited for an hour and a half in the crisp Memphis air after sweet-talking the lady at the counter (“Where you from? New York? Oh, rats and cockroach NewYork!”) into giving us a much earlier time slot than we deserved. The collection of jumpsuits is breathtaking. We took my green velvet shoes and a jaunty pep in our step onwards to New Orleans.

Paid respect at Graceland

The King and I.

“America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, andNew Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland.”

Tennessee Williams may have been right. We’d been before but this time was different: It was moody. It was grim. It was sultry and spectacular. The Hotel Peter & Paul opened in late 2018 in the Marigny and in my opinion, blew the doors off anything I could have expected. Spread throughout a retrofitted church, schoolhouse, and rectory, Hotel Peter & Paul became one of my favorite hotels within minutes; it fits perfectly in the mise-en-scène as if it’s a vital part of the neighborhood’s actual fiber. The collateral is all executed in ecclesiastical style, with the informational tome rendered as psalm book and drippy lemon yellow. The Elysian Bar is dimly lit, grand and warm, lined with ferns—the kind of place you can imagine embracing all of your despotic artistic intuition.

Hotel Peter & Paul, New Orleans

The first of my new series: Pretentious Portraits (Hotel Peter & Paul, New Orleans).

In the morning, we strode through murky fog discovering hip restaurants and bars away from the French Quarter and across some railroad tracks into Bywater. At some point, we rambled into Blue Dream, a weed-tinted vintage shop full of crystals and some custom Gildan tees that are très chic. N7 was the only choice for dinner and proffered a mean cocktail in a converted front yard not far from afore-mentioned railroad tracks.

Moody Louisiana along the banks of the Mississippi (right).

Moments from The Line – Austin TX

We had finally hit Route 10, which would take us from New Orleans to Santa Monica through a large swath of America. Mainly Texas. After heading off course through the sullen, saturated swamplands of plantation-era Louisiana, Jane and I joined what seemed like a thirty-lane highway that took us through Houston, Houston and Houston and eventually spit us out in Katy astride of thousand-pump gas stations and car dealerships with a minimum twenty-thousand cars apiece. It’s hard to imagine that many cars ever being sold.

We veered right off of Route 10 and headed towards Austin where we would ring in 2019. We drove up Congress into The Line Hotel. Beautifully set over Lady Bird Lake, The Line is a bright, beautiful hotel that was a heavenly apparition following several hours of high-intensity driving. We dined at Arlo Grey, located off the lobby of The Line with prime water views. The food was outstanding and the drinks came with Line-branded ice cubes. Our room had views up Congress to the state capitol building, the country’s tallest, exceeding even the capitol building in Washington, DC. “Everything’s bigger in Texas,” they said.

We walked through downtown Austin, meandering to the new library and eventually landing in the Eastside, a bustling neighborhood ripe with backyard bars and tattoos and delicious food everywhere. New Year’s Eve dinner found us at Il Bruttowhere we had some divine pasta before heading back to Dean’s One Trick Pony where we thought we’d see a killer fireworks display over the water.

Bucolic scenes from the road in West Texas.

Chinati Foundation and The Lost Horse Saloon, Marfa

We woke up early well rested and ready for a drive across the plains of Texas to see some art. Still freezing, we drove west chasing the sun yet again. There’s a solemnity and solitude to West Texas that I wasn’t expecting to love, but I did. It’s quiet, expansive, and never-ending. I imagine if I were a troubled artist ready to drop it all and escape to pure tranquility and a near-constant meditative state I might end up here permanently. Marfa makes sense. We ran afoul of weather that seemed to change in chaotic fits of microclimates, up a pleasant sunny incline to find a horrendous snowstorm on the other side of the hill that had blanketed everything in sight white.

Marfa was even colder than Austin, which was colder than New Orleans. We thought the southern route was going to get us some decent weather but we were mistaken. We spent the evening holed up in the Lost Horse saloon after seeing the Marfa Lights and El Cosmico. We drove north up Route 90 for an obligatory stop at Prada Marfa, did a dance with some French tourists who also wanted a virgin background for their basic pictures, and eventually reconvened to spend some quality time with Route 10. Once at El Paso, we encountered our first of several mandatory Border Patrol stops.

Prada Marfa, and Jane in White Sands

Open road in New Mexico.

We called another audible because when are we going to be driving here again and after El Paso went northeast to White Sands. Arriving after several hours of unremarkable, unrelenting scenery and another Border Patrol checkpoint, GPS landed us at a closed gate with a lonesome, ominous sign. Due to the government shutdown (that clearly didn’t affect the Border Patrol), the park was closed. Not to be turned away, Jane displayed an admirable amount of Sagittarian will and we pulled up the road a bit until we found a cascading wall of white sand which had overtaken the barrier fence, and we climbed up and over and into the closed park. We spun around and twirled and danced in the freezing desert air like it wasn’t 18 degrees.

Having secured some real thirst trap content, we stopped in Las Cruces for some tacos. Pro move. After dipping into a corny roadside market and buying a dream catcher and some moccasins further afield in New Mexico, we continued riding our boo Route 10 into Arizona. Ultimately we had to part ways again if only for a night, to visit the exceptionally implausible Bisbee and the very special Object Limited. Nestled more than a mile high, up an ever-ascending road, a stone’s throw and a mighty high multiple-fence jump into Mexico, Object Limited challenges the hotel paradigm. Without a traditional reception desk and many things one might associate with a hotel, it asked questions of what a hotel fundamentally is. Katie, the GM, was super welcoming without being overbearing in the least, in a way that really resonated with us both. It was the perfect level of service and hospitality.

The old mining town of Bisbee, AZ – now a bohemian artists enclave.

Mise en scene at Object Bisbee

The rooms at Object Limited are completely shoppable. You want that chair? Ask how much. That poster? We bought it, along with a vase and an antique mirror. Every piece has a story, and they’re happy to tell you all about it. The building was immaculate, and the town just perfect. There’s a circular layout to the former mining town. It’s a bit Dante’s Inferno meets Positano in the high desert of southern Arizona; it’s pure magic. I’d almost prefer not to talk about it with such fervent honesty but the experience demands it. There are a few charismatic bars and cafes and the town is littered with artists and musicians. As the mining industry moved on and the price of real estate plummeted, creatives moved in and began buying up property, rendering it an imaginative, quietly pioneering oasis just an hour and a half from Tucson.

Pretentious Portraits, no. 2 (Object Limited, Bisbee AZ).

Tombstone, the Town Too Tough to Die, and green velvet slippers.

After another chilly night, we awoke to the cleanest air I’ve breathed in eons. Refreshed and revitalized, we were aching for some heat, descending into the warmer air of the valleys below through the tourist trap of Tombstone, saguaro forests and eventually into Manifest Destiny herself, sweet home California. Across the state line we ran into another Border Patrol checkpoint, which was eye-opening in the sense that if you watched the fervor regarding the border on TV alone without visiting you’d think there was no one down there playing defense and folks were just streaming over a line in the sand into America and taking our jobs!

Eventually, we cruised past the Salton Sea and into Palm Springs, excited by the sight of palm trees and the promise of warmer climes. Alas, it was still extremely chilly. The welcome, however, was warm at Villa Royale, a new hotel in a formerly private home off the main drag and ideally planted in a fairly residential part of town in the shadow of the San Jacinto Mountains. Villa Royale’s multiple courtyards and spacious rooms were superb, with warm wood tones framing a decidedly thoughtful mid-century overtone. There’s a healthy dose of restraint, and Villa Royale feels authentically of the place.

Villa Royale’s mid-century revitalization

The courtyards and their bougainvillea charmed. You can imagine a modern-day Rat Pack hanging out in the dim, clubby Del Rey bar and restaurant on site, and it draws in a fashionable crowd. Juxtaposed with the big box hotels in Palm Springs, Villa Royale was a much needed breath of fresh air—an authentic slice of desert life within the 2 Hour Rule (a regulation that kept actors under contract with a studio in Hollywood within a 2 hour drive of set at all times, and partly gave birth to the resort scene of Palm Springs).

Pretentious Portraits, no. 3 (Villa Royale, Palm Springs CA).

In the crisp light of morning in Palm Springs, we embarked for Los Angeles. A friend had told me that on past cross-country road trips he’d eventually become impatient to arrive on the Pacific Coast. After nearly 3,700 miles of driving and ten days on the road, I almost agreed. Ultimately what I’ll remember most are the special moments with my wife, seeing things we’d never seen and going places we’d never been, experiencing a series of phenomenal hotels, meeting people from every background imaginable, coming to the realization that we’re all in this together despite any tumultuous political context, and consistently chasing the sunset.


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