Pandemic Hotelling

June – November 2020

Hewing Hotel, Minneapolis, Minnesota ~ Hilton Tru, North Platte, Nebraska ~ The Kindler, Lincoln, Nebraska ~ Hotel Crosby, Stillwater, Minnesota

COVID-19 and hotel stays. As most travelers have found, the two don’t go well together. When the pandemic arrived in the U.S. in March, we were scheduled for a 12-day holiday in London at The Standard and in Amsterdam at The Dylan with a Eurostar journey between the two cities. Those plans got put on hold when, first, we thought we might not be able to get back from Europe and, then, when much of the world went under some sort of “stay at home order.” So we did just that until late June when it seemed okay enough for a quick night out of the house at the Hewing in Minneapolis. That was followed in mid-July by a road trip to Denver to visit family with stays in North Platte, Nebraska, at a Hilton Tru (outbound) and in Lincoln, Nebraska, at The Kindler (return). Thanksgiving brought a few days away from work and a stay at the Hotel Crosby.

Minneapolis, MN, USA ~ Hewing Hotel ~ June 2020

We had stayed at the Hewing once before and wanted a chance to get to know it better. It’s a Minneapolis favorite, and we were a bit underwhelmed on our first stay. We should have known that pandemic conditions would not lend themselves to a destination that is all about buzz — from its rooftop bar and pool to the lobby that has been called the North Loop’s (the neighborhood’s) living room. We arrived to a completely empty lobby — in fact, much of the public space on the first floor was cordoned off — and we made our way up to our room without encountering a single person. Once inside our room, we logged on to the special COVID guest information and learned that, to ensure health and safety for guests and for staff, the hotel was only booking rooms on every fourth night. We also noticed that amenities like the mini bar and decorative items like throw pillows had been removed. It all made sense, and, in fact, we had brought our own container of sanitizing cloths to give everything a quick wipe down, but it all made the room feel a little sad and empty, much like the rest of the hotel.

Our first stay at the the Hewing was in a standard king room; this time we chose a suite with the hopes of having some extra features and a good view. Our corner room was spacious and well-designed, but hopes for a good view were dashed when we walked in and saw that each of the room’s three windows began seven feet from the floor and went up from there. Even standing on the bed, we couldn’t see out. The lack of (any kind of) a view made us feel even more sealed off from the world. We contemplated asking if another room were available, but knowing all of the extra cleaning done and safety precautions taken — and because we were only staying one night — we didn’t want to cause a fuss.

So what do you do in a hotel that trades on hustle and bustle when everything that fosters that is shelved? We were able to have a masked and socially distanced drink on the rooftop. The pool was open to guests who reserved (we didn’t have swim gear), and a small group looked like they were having fun on the hot June afternoon. We took a few good walks down the nearly empty streets. And we got takeout burgers to eat back in the room while watching old movies. All in all, our Hewing stay wasn’t quite the break from pandemic world that we hoped for, but it was a welcome change of scenery and a surely safe outing.

We do have to compliment the hotel for COVID-related safety precautions taken. At a time when spending a night at any hotel might have seemed risky, we never felt like the hotel had anything less than our complete safety in mind.

Stay Details:

  • Hewing Hotel, North Loop Minneapolis
  • 1-night stay, June 27, 2020
  • Hennepin Suite

North Platte, NE, USA ~ Hilton Tru ~ July 2020

We’ve made the drive between Minneapolis and Denver dozens of times, and one thing we’ve learned is that — even in normal days — the road is heavily traveled, and lodgings can be in high demand. And most of them are your garden-variety roadside inns. When we planned to make the trek to Denver once again, we knew we should book ahead, and pandemic days made us lean toward one of the bigger chains, which we thought might have a better handle on health and safety protocols (at that time, many of the more rural areas between Minneapolis and Denver were treating coronavirus pretty casually). We figured we would do our stopover in North Platte, and did a search for possibilities. Perhaps not surprisingly, the options had grown since we had last stopped in the central Nebraska town, and we had lots of choices. Having never tried the Hilton Tru brand — and seeing that the brand was new to North Platte — we made the booking.

We weren’t sure what to expect when we pulled into the parking lot on the edge of town adjoining the highway. The hotel was visibly new, a big structure sitting on a bare lot surrounded on all sides by parking lots or a road. As we pulled in, it was clear that the pandemic was driving people to car travel; the parking lot was nearly full — quite the opposite of what we had experienced a few weeks earlier at the Hewing, and we weren’t sure what to think. Inside in the lobby, we found a fair bit of activity, but everything was well managed.

The room had a functional European vibe (complete with a few features to love); it reminded us of some of the places we stayed in Norway. The room was small, but space was optimized, and everything had its place; the room felt modern and clean (not the worst thing during a pandemic.) Overall, the feeling was friendly and fun, and the experience was more than we expected at a surprisingly low price point.

Stay Details:

  • Tru by Hilton, North Platte, Nebraska
  • 1-night stay, July 18, 2020
  • King Room

Lincoln, NE, USA ~ The Kindler ~ July 2020

On our return trip from Denver, we stopped in Lincoln, Nebraska. When we drive between Minneapolis and Denver, we typically opt to stay in Omaha, which is 60 miles to the east and a bit bigger with more choices. But Lincoln is home to the University of Nebraska, and we both have a fondness for college towns. We booked The Kindler in advance, having found it in a search for hotels close to the university. It billed itself as a modern deco hotel, which was intriguing for a town that loves its cornhuskers (not a concept immediately associated with deco, although, we suppose, the deco movement did celebrate business and industry).

Right away, it was clear that the 49-room Kindler was trying to make its mark in downtown Lincoln, offering visitors something more than the typical college-town lodging. We could imagine what the lobby bar — Boitano’s — might be like on a typical, non-pandemic July evening. We had booked a “luxury king” room, and upon check-in were told that we’d get a lovely room with a balcony; the staff just needed to check to make sure the room was ready. Unfortunately, something went askew, and when we returned with our bags to pick up the key, we were told that room was no longer available. The room we did get was quite nice with the exception of the view. Rather than a sliding glass door with a balcony on the front of the hotel, our room had a window overlooking a parking garage.

With the exception of the giant flat screen TV and built-in mini fridge, the room did have a deco feel and was very well executed. What’s more, everything was in pristine condition. The hotel is new, so everything is fresh; the team at The Kindler will have to work hard to keep the standards up, particularly when the Nebraska football fans roll into town, but so far, they had done a good job.

Boitano’s Lounge

Did we mention that the bar is named after figure skater Brian Boitano? We made a point of stopping in — it was open, but empty so seemed not too coronavirus risky — and we wanted to give the bartender a little business. She, like all of the other staff we encountered, was super helpful if not too experienced. We asked her about the name of the bar. Did Brian Boitano have a connection to Lincoln? Perhaps to the university? Apparently no, but the hotel’s owner, who lives in Arizona, is friends with Brian. Or maybe it was Brian’s mom? Or something like that. The bar is quite simply an homage, and we think Boitano would approve.

Stay Details:

Stillwater, MN, USA ~ Hotel Crosby ~ November 2020

We spent two nights at the Crosby over the Thanksgiving holiday, so we decided it deserved its own post. Find it here.

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