How Wilco’s Bassist and His Friends Turned a Berkshires Motel Into Tourists, a Dream Summer Getaway

What once was a one-star hotel in North Adams, Massachusetts, is now an eco-friendly lodge with a James Beard Award–winning chef where everyone is welcome.

How Wilco’s Bassist and His Friends Turned a Berkshires Motel Into Tourists, a Dream Summer Getaway

Tourists opened on July 30, 2018, in the Berkshires.

Photo by Nick Simonite

Between Mass MoCA and Tanglewood—the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra—North Adams, Massachusetts, has become an epicenter of art and music in New England and a popular weekend getaway for people living on the East Coast. But the small town’s history as a summer destination goes back to when the Mohawk Trail, the first U.S. scenic byway, opened in 1914, drawing a generation of newly mobile travelers through the Berkshires.

Now, one of the midcentury motor lodges located on that historic road has reopened as Tourists, a brand-new, 48-room resort from John Stirratt, the bassist from Wilco, Ben Svenson, from the design-led development company Broder, as well as a diverse group that includes Brooklyn Magazine’s founder, the former chef of San Francisco’s Bar Tartine, and a local brewer from North Adams.

Airport Rooms and Tourist Home, 861 State Road, North Adams, MA. Operated by Virginia Stevens for 50 Years between 1944 and 1994, the 1813 Farmhouse undoubtedly had a long history of hospitality even before those years, in a place that has always attracted visitors. The simple sign TOURISTS, placed by Virginia and others on the Mohawk Trail beckoned motorists to stop and stay a while. #berkshires #mohawktrail A post shared by TOURISTS (@touristswelcome) on Jan 21, 2018 at 5:45am PST

The group was inspired to name the hotel Tourists after finding a vintage sign on the property while they were renovating it.

“It was a word that spoke to the history of this region in particular,” Svenson told AFAR. “A lot of what we’re trying to do is to tap into an economy that really moved the needle in North Adams not so long ago. There has been a huge tourism legacy here and we wanted to tie into that past and remind people all it has to offer.”

Using the foundation from a midcentury motor lodge, the 48 rooms at TOURISTS have been rebuilt from the ground up.

Using the foundation from a midcentury motor lodge, the 48 rooms at TOURISTS have been rebuilt from the ground up.

Photo by Nick Simonite

Even though the midcentury Redwoods Motel was still operational when they bought it, the one-star motel was in such a state of disrepair, the team decided to keep the foundation but rebuild the rest from scratch to create an eco-friendly hotel with a minimalist vibe that Stirratt describes as an “austere luxurious experience.” Designed by architect Hank Scollard, a protege of MASS MoCA architect Simeon Bruner, the rooms have built-in king beds, high-vaulted ceilings, and picture windows looking over the forest behind the hotel. To further bring the outdoors inside, the LEED platinum eligible-hotel also has an advanced air circulation system that brings fresh air into each room every hour. Some rooms come with bunk beds for families, and all of them include outdoor space via semi-private patios or private decks with outdoor showers.

A new hotel is about to blow minds. Follow @touristswelcome to see how. Opens July 30. Thanks @stirratt2 for having me. #morethanahotel #experience #theberkshires #summernights #getaway A post shared by John Dolan (@johndolanphotog) on Jul 1, 2018 at 5:05pm PDT

While Stirratt had been coming to North Adams for years to play at Tanglewood, he and the rest of the team had to convince chef Cortney Burns, formerly of San Francisco’s Bar Tartine and Duna, to move out east to head up the food program at TOURISTS. For now, Burns cooks the lighter fare that is served at the lodge and deck bar, but in early 2019 she’ll open the hotel’s restaurant, LOOM, in a church-like structure on the property that used to be the home of a Welsh temperance society.

In addition to the restaurant and the hotel, two other structures on the property have been repurposed into centralized spaces for guests. A 1962 ranch house now serves as the hotel’s lodge, where guests can drink coffee in front of the fireplace in the morning, enjoy a snack in the evening, or spend time outdoors on the patio that overlooks the pool. The 1813 farmhouse, just a short walk away, has been transformed into a cocktail lounge and live music venue.

Stirratt also convinced his friends from New Orleans Airlift, an artist collective famous for building pieces of playable architecture, to come out last summer and build the Chime Chapel, which he describes as a “little nest stage out in the woods” behind the property where he plans to host shows throughout the summer.

In addition to organized shows at the Chime Chapel, Stirratt says he plans on luring friends in bands out to Tourists while they’re touring the Northeast.

“We like this idea of off-hand musical performances,” Stirratt said. “The real magic has happened with these accidental musical combinations that you just can’t plan. We’re looking for more magic like that.”

Tourists opened on July 30, 2018. Rates average $195 per night.

>> Next: The Sweetest Small Towns to Visit in the U.S. This Summer

Lyndsey Matthews is the senior commerce editor at AFAR who covers travel gear, packing advice, and points and loyalty.
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