From Hitchcock to Tarantino, the seedy roadside motel has been a classic feature of American silver screen, serving as an emblem of the great open road and its drifters.
In the UK, however, roadside establishments conjure up an altogether dowdier image – one of weed-strewn forecourts and tired-looking service stations that enjoyed their last lick of paint in the late 1960s.
Yet, on both sides of the pond, it would appear that roadside experience is undergoing an overhaul, with luxury the name of the game.
Inspired by the eye of filmmaker Wes Anderson, in 2017 US design firm US firm AvroKO renovated a California’s Motor Lodge and Spa. Similarly, Nicole Cota Studio was briefed to create New Orleans’s first boutique roadside hotel, aptly named The Drifter.
Earlier this year saw Mollie’s Motel and Diner opened its doors in Oxfordshire, UK. Located off the A420 road, between Bristol and Oxford, the hotel is the brainchild of luxury hospitality group Soho House.
As group founder and CEO Nick Jones explains below, the aim of Mollie’s is to transform the British roadside experience from one of A-to-B expediency to one in which travellers can immerse themselves in an experience altogether more pleasurable.
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Each of Mollie’s 79 bedrooms has the décor of a hotel more synonymous with a contemporary city centre inn than a motorway pitstop. The rooms serve as a homage to minimalism, from their pale green walls to blond-wood panelling and velvet armchairs.
For all its modern furnishings and technology – reservations can only be made through its app or website – Mollie’s also doffs it cap to its 1950s US precursor through its diner, which includes Cadillac-style banquettes and a menu of burgers and waffles.
According to Jones, if Mollie’s prove a hit, Soho House might well be cutting the ribbon on similar such roadside properties in the near future.
Ross Davies: Why the move to the roadside? What was the rationale behind the decision to launch Mollie’s Motel and Diner?
Nick Jones: It’s been a long-standing passion project of mine to have a go at reinventing the British roadside experience. I like looking at how we can change the way things are done and improve them for the customer. My aim with Mollie’s is to offer affordable style for everyone to eat, drink and sleep over.
RD: What kind of guest are you targeting here? Business travellers? Families?
NJ: Mollie’s is for everyone. We’re seeing people staying who are travelling to the area for work in the week, those who need a spare room in the area, and local people who have friends or family staying and want to put them up for a night. I hope the local community will continue to see Mollie’s as an exciting addition to their area.
RD: What are the main factors that go into creating a luxury roadside guest experience – compared to Soho House’s other properties?
NJ: Everything we do is driven by the customer and giving them the best possible experience. The rooms are simple, but they have all the things I think are most important if you’re stopping on the roadside or passing through with family – comfortable king-size beds, rainforest showers, air-conditioning, full-size Cowshed products in the showers, while everything else you need can be bought downstairs in the general store.
RD: The concept of motels, particularly diners, is steeped in Americana – did you do any kind of research into the aesthetics of US motels and diners?
NJ: We did a lot of research into the 1950s and the American motel and diner experience. Taking inspiration from the finishes used within the restaurants, we have kept the materials true to those used back in 1950s and incorporating those into the design. For example, we were inspired by the stitching used in old 1950s American Cadillac cars for the design of the banquettes in the diner. Our aim was to bring something relevant to the roadside and re-invent the typical American diner again, but with a contemporary twist.
RD: Much of the guest experience appears to pivot on tech, such as the Mollie’s app – do you incorporate this sort of tech into all your properties?
NJ: I want this to be the blueprint for the future of Soho House – using technology to create a more streamlined experience, from the moment you book right through to closing your door for the night. Bookings can only be made on the Mollie’s app and website, driving more value to the customer. Guests also use the app to check-in, place orders and book tables.
RD: What kind of future do you envisage for the roadside hotel space? Do you think we might see more properties springing up?
NJ: We want to see how this does first, but if all goes well, I want to open more around the UK, on the roadside and in city centres. We’re looking at opening another motel and diner near Bristol, and a city centre Mollie’s in Manchester. It will have all the same values – affordable style, comfortable rooms, and mobile booking and check-in, but each one will be slightly different.