When real estate developer (and former Starwood Hotels & Resorts executive) Paul McGowan was touring colleges with his daughter, he couldn’t find decent accommodations near the schools they visited. So he launched Study Hotels in 2008, with the Study at Yale. A modernist tower in Philadelphia followed, and the Study at University of Chicago is due in 2021.
He’d found a void in the market: Plenty of college towns offer little more than a weathered chain hotel, with a floral comforter and a microwave, if you’re lucky. With Study Hotels, McGowan took aim at college-town visitors who long for something chicer.
Others took notice. Graduate Hotels debuted in 2014 in a renovated foundry near the University of Georgia’s campus in Athens; now there are 19 Graduates, including Minneapolis, each waving a collegiate pennant in its design. Each offers a kind of cool kitsch.
While big brands such as Hilton, Marriott and Nobu are starting to notice the vibrant culture of college towns, the independents — such as the Inn at Hastings Park, a five-year-old Relais & Châteaux property 15 miles from Boston that offers a cookbook course at Radcliffe’s Schlesinger Library — are paving the way. Here are five prospects.
Graduate Providence (R.I.)
Near the Rhode Island School of Design and Johnson & Wales University, this 1922 landmark (formerly the Biltmore Providence) has been transformed into a bustling hub, incorporating old and new, with an ornate ballroom, yoga on the terrace and a doughnut festival. (The Providence-Warwick area has more doughnut shops per capita than any other city in the country.)
There’s an enormous portrait of André Leon Talley, the fashion arbiter who has a master’s from nearby Brown University, in the lobby. The kaleidoscope of color carries through to the 294 bedrooms, with red leather headboards, tufted green velvet chairs, plaid throws and desk blotters with zebra-skin trim. Some suites have sleeper sofas to accommodate the whole family, which obviously includes dogs (from about $159; 11 Dorrance St., graduatehotels.com/providence).
The Study at University City (Philadelphia)
There’s a giant pair of reading glasses — the logo of Study Hotels — marking this hotel’s location between Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania. The hotel takes books pretty seriously: The common space, called the Living Room, and the 212 spare and airy rooms are stocked with volumes from New York City’s Strand bookstore.
Room rates include standards such as Wi-Fi but other unexpected features, too: bottled water, access to events including gallery openings, and postcards at the Living Room’s writing desk. (The Study will also stick on a stamp and mail it.) Another perk: Guests staying during college move-in weekends can ship boxes to the hotel in advance and store them until needed (from about $270; 20 S. 33rd St., thestudyatuniversitycity.com).
21c Museum Hotel Durham (N.C.)
One of eight locations in the boutique-hotel-in-a-contemporary-art-museum concept, this address has historic architectural credentials, as well. The original Hill Building, an Art Deco skyscraper completed in 1937, was designed by Shreve, Lamb & Harmon, better known for the Empire State Building.
Less than a 10-minute drive from Duke University, the hotel collaborates with the school on social and charity events and draws a fairly international crowd. It’s primarily a museum, free and open to the public, with revolving shows, a permanent collection and more than 10,500 square feet of exhibition space. Original work also hangs in the 125 minimalist rooms, which were designed by Deborah Berke Partners and are stocked with Nespresso machines and Malin+Goetz toiletries. Pack a mat for Yoga With Art sessions among the sculptures, paintings and photographs on weekends (from about $189; 111 Corcoran St., 21cmuseum hotels.com/durham).
The Clement Hotel (Palo Alto, Calif.)
The Clement is an all-inclusive urban resort in Silicon Valley that strives for a residential atmosphere. The room rate includes all food and beverages (even booze), valet parking, internet access, everything in the minibar (stocked with guest preferences in advance) and a service charge (5% of the room rate, 100% of which is distributed to the staff) so you don’t have to tip.
The 21 one-bedroom suites — and two single rooms that can be combined for a two-bedroom suite — are homey deluxe: bathrooms are vast enough for a tub, a shower and a Toto toilet that does everything but tie your shoes.
There are barbecues by the rooftop pool, which overlooks the Stanford University campus, on summer weekends and whenever Stanford football has a home game (from about $600; 711 El Camino Real, theclementpaloalto.com).
Austin Motel (Texas)
The quirkiest in the class, this motel — in operation since 1938 — reinvented itself in 2017. A carport lit by rainbow neon complements its distinctive sign, and the deep kidney-bean shaped pool is a portal to a bygone era. Guest rooms are decorated with Voutsa wallpaper, push-button phones and Tivoli alarm clocks. The vibe is retro without being gimmicky, the trademark of the Texas design and developing company Bunkhouse.
The gift shop sells cheeky Americana (plus beer and snacks), and the restaurant Joann’s Fine Food is a souped-up diner where locals and students — University of Texas and St. Edward’s University are both nearby — fill the turquoise booths and rub elbows at the bright red counter (from about $125; 1220 S. Congress Av., austinmotel.com).