Bed, Breakfast and Beyond
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STOUT’S ISLAND LODGE
Birchwood, Wisconsin / Chicago millionaire Frank D. Stout loved his private island retreat so much, the story goes, that when he knew he was dying, he hired a well-known race-car driver to speed him there, so he could take his last breath in the place that had given him so many fond memories. He didn’t make it, passing away in nearby Rice Lake. But the Island of Happy Days, as he called it, is truly to die for.
In 1900, Stout inherited part of his father’s lumber fortune and quickly became one of the country’s richest men. He acquired the 28-acre island in the middle of 1,800-acre Red Cedar Lake and spent $1.5 million (in 1915 dollars) building a summer lodge there in the fashion of the famous Adirondack camps, including cabins for his children, guest and servant quarters, a recreation hall, and a boathouse. (He also built the Tagalong Golf Course on the mainland, modeled after Scotland’s St. Andrews golf courses and still open for play.) These log buildings—recognized by the National Historic Register—are still the heart of Stout’s Island Lodge, and they’re so delightfully anachronistic that guests may be moved to don white flannels and ties to play croquet on the Great Lawn.
Within the main lodge, the shore lodge, and the surrounding cabins, there are about 40 accommodations. The main lodge is something out of a Bavarian fairy tale—dark wood, four-inch plank floors, and a vaulted ceiling crossed by heavy carved beams imported from Germany. Snowshoes, giant wooden skis, and a few taxidermied deer heads mix with old photographs of the Stout family at play. In the saloon, the thick wood and leather furniture of the Arts and Crafts Movement offers classic comfort for relaxing with a brandy old-fashioned. Or two.
The cabins blend into the trees; dark-stained, their roofs green with moss, they seem to rise organically out of the ground. Railings are often made of sticks. Many of the cabins have screened porches and fireplaces and are furnished with antiques, including a canopy bed here and there; the newer ones have the carpet and light-wood décor of modern getaways. All, of course, are quiet—no cars, no interlopers. The only way to access the island is via the ferry that returns to the mainland once every hour.
A tennis court, croquet lawn, and an assortment of kayaks, canoes, and boats are available. For real solitude, wander the smaller, uninhabited island linked by an iron bridge, a structure given to Stout by Andrew Carnegie. The boathouse boasts a game room with Ping-Pong, billiards, and the resort’s only television. Stout used to have an office in this room overlooking the lake; stock prices received via telegraph were scribbled on the walls. They’ve long since been painted over, but Stout’s roll-top desk remains, a reminder of the man whose idyllic retreat can now be yours. —TIM GIHRING
» Stout’s Island Lodge, 2799 27th St., Birchwood, Wisconsin, 715-354-3646, www.stoutslodge.com
Houston, Minnesota / “This was a fluke, actually,” says Jim Schultz, who owns the Bunkhouse at Silver Creek Ranch, just outside of Houston, about his foray into the hospitality world. Fourteen years ago, Jim’s wife, Marlene, was outside washing windows when she was approached by a group of Wisconsin deer hunters who were looking for a place to spend the night. Marlene offered them the small room attached to their indoor horse arena (which they’d been using to store tack and host 4-H meetings). And the Bunkhouse was born.
Since then, the Schultzes have upgraded from air mattresses to rustic log bunk beds (made by Jim and a neighboring craftsman) that are covered with handmade quilts (some made by Jim’s mother). The utilitarian space has been transformed into a cozy cabin that sleeps eight. The furnishings certainly don’t scream luxury: a retro range and refrigerator, a cowboy hat hanging on the wall, a snapshot of Jim riding Cody the buffalo (of Dances with Wolves fame) in a local parade. But the digs themselves are novel by design. Two large windows look directly into the horse arena, so the kitchen chairs can double as VIP box seats, and the adjacent concrete silo has been converted into a bedroom. The way the Schultzes see it, snorers can be quarantined, mom and dad can have some privacy, and a proper gentleman traveling with a group of ladies won’t have to sleep in his truck.
The Bunkhouse primarily attracts equestrians, as the ranch is surrounded by 25 miles of trails on 1,600 acres of hills and valleys that Jim refers to as the “mountains of Minnesota.” But it also draws deer and turkey hunters, bicyclists, snowmobilers, and small groups looking to rest up or horse around. “We’ve had everyone from nuns to newlyweds,” Jim remarks.
Jim and Marlene are horse people. They own six horses and have space to stable or paddock more than twice that number. A musty tack room in the barn holds evidence of the family’s equine expertise: more than a hundred trophies earned at horse shows over the years. Unfortunately for novice riders, the Bunkhouse is strictly BYOH—bring your own horse. (“Too many of those damned lawyers around,” jokes Jim, who understands liability—he has a small legal practice in downtown Houston, where Marlene also works.)
The Bunkhouse isn’t exactly a bed and breakfast—coffee, sarsaparilla, and buffalo jerky are more of a sunup snack. But repeat guests don’t seem to mind. “As they say down in southern Minnesota,” Jim hollers to a departing guest, “y’all come back now.” And they do. —RACHEL HUTTON
» The Bunkhouse, 501 S. Jefferson, Houston, 507-896-2080 or 507-896-3156 (business hours), www.bluffcountry.com/bunkhouse.htm
THE COVINGTON INN
St. Paul, Minnesota / There’s a reason sailors tend to be small. Boats are built with six-foot ceilings, tight spiral staircases, beds tucked into crannies, and narrow hallways in which even an average man’s shoulders will brush both walls. The Covington is no exception.
The former towboat, now updated, spit-shined, and called the Covington Inn, is permanently moored off the main pier at Harriet Island in St. Paul. Fans of fresh fish may be disappointed to learn that the No Wake Café, which shared the boat with the B&B and was run by the previous owners, is no more. Liz Miller, who served as the on-site innkeeper for two years before buying the Covington in early 2004, now operates the place strictly as a B&B. But her breakfasts—baked French toast with caramel applesauce, bacon, fresh fruit, orange juice, and coffee—may make the blow a bit easier to bear.
Small- to mid-size guests will be more than comfortable on the Covington. The salon, where breakfast is served and backgammon players converge around the fireplace, has four small tables and shelves stocked with books such as Moby-Dick and Mark Twain’s Mississippi. Adjoining it is the Mates Quarters, where you can well imagine six slightly drunken dockhands retiring for the evening. The furnishings are spare, and the bathroom offers guests the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to use a Pullman commode—a miniature stainless steel toilet that retracts into a pocket in the wall.
Claustrophobics may want to avoid the Riverview Suite downstairs, where the bed is on a platform enclosed on three sides and porthole windows provide the “view.” On the top deck, however, the Master’s Quarters offers a nice vista as well as a brass bed, easy chairs, a private entrance to the deck, and a regulation-size toilet. But it is the Pilot House Suite that most mariners would choose: two levels with a bedroom and a small sitting room at the very top of the boat, up a set of metal stairs, where you will find a comfy couch, a table for two, and the navigation controls.
The Covington is a unique experience—beloved by those who want to be lulled to sleep by the sound of lapping water. Events on nearby Harriet Island, such as Ribfest and A Taste of Minnesota, are a draw as well. And any time there are fireworks going off, this is the place to be. They explode right over the boat—likely the Twin Cities’ most authentic display of bombs bursting in midair. —ANN M. BAUER
» The Covington Inn, 100 Harriet Island Rd., B3, St. Paul, 651-292-1411, www.covingtoninn.com
SWEETGRASS COVE GUESTHOUSE & BODYWORK STUDIO
Grand Portage, Minnesota / Rick Anderson loves a good squall. With his white wooden house just 25 yards from the rocky shore of Lake Superior—his lawn quickly giving way to the churning foam of three-foot waves—the proprietor of Sweetgrass Cove Guesthouse & Bodywork Studio takes to his outdoor hot tub when the fury of Gitchi-Gami rides in on snow and rain. “There’s nothing like it,” he says of soaking in 104-degree water as the sky turns white around him.
That Anderson should revel in nature’s violence is intriguing given the calm, almost spiritual, nature of his combination bed and breakfast and massage spa. Sweetgrass Cove is a very private place, about 12 miles from the Canadian border and 30 miles north of Grand Marais on scenic Highway 61; the only nearby settlement is Grand Portage, another mile or so up the road. This is the heart of the Grand Portage Reservation—more than 37,000 tribally owned acres and about 600 residents. Anderson is a member of the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa (his parents live in Grand Marais), though for many years he traveled the world as an officer on a cruise ship and led tour groups before resettling here. Other than otters, eagles, and seagulls, you’re likely to see only Anderson, his partner Richard, and Lucy, their gregarious Irish terrier. “She was kind of a hothouse flower at first,” says Anderson. “Now she’s a real rez dog.”
Anderson never liked the forced camaraderie of many bed and breakfasts, so Sweetgrass emphasizes solitude. No sign marks the driveway, and no more than two guests are accommodated at a time, staying in a private wing of the house that feels like a separate cottage. Anderson, rather than come through the house, carries breakfast across the deck to your table.
The guest quarters include a living room decorated in acquisitions from Anderson’s travels—Iranian rugs, a Buddha on the windowsill—with a seven-foot window seat, organic coffee ready to percolate, and a stack of National Geographics on the table. A staircase leads to a cozy sleeping nook lofted in the house’s quiet wing. A third space is where Anderson sets up his massage table if you’re game (an hour for $55); he also offers a sea-salt body scrub and herbal wrap. Guests typically come for the works—the silence, the nature, and the mini-spa experience. “It’s a place where, if you want to, you can feel transformed,” Anderson says.
Sweetgrass contradicts the notion that luxury means sleek and swank. In the backyard, a classic wood-fueled Finnish sauna stands a few feet from the hot tub on a wooden deck. It is almost rustic and almost chic—rustchic. Anderson’s breakfasts include scones, a fruit plate, and waffles covered in strawberries. He also offers dinner, which is guaranteed to be the best for miles around—fresh lake fish, risotto, and asparagus, garnished with rosemary cut from his own herb garden.
As dusk falls, Anderson brings some fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies. “Looks like you’re going to get a storm tonight!” he notes gleefully.
The hot tub is all yours. —TIM GIHRING
» Sweetgrass Cove Guesthouse & Bodywork Studio, 6880 E. Hwy. 61, Grand Portage, 218-475-2421 or 866-475-2421, www.sweetgrasscove.com
THE GUEST HOUSE AT THE VAN DUSEN MANSION
Minneapolis, Minnesota / Don’t be fooled by the urban street corner on which the Van Dusen Mansion sits. Walk inside the gates and through the massive front doors at 1900 LaSalle and it’s a little like that moment in The Wizard of Oz when everything goes from black and white to color—only here, the movement is from the 21st century to the late 19th, and from city traffic and noise to a cool, clean calm.
The Romanesque structure was built in 1892 as the home of grain elevator magnate George Washington Van Dusen and his wife, Nancy. Since then, it’s served as the headquarters for Hamline University’s law school and Horst Rechelbacher’s cosmetology school. In the mid-1990s, it was slated for demolition, then saved at the eleventh hour by preservationists and declared a historic landmark.
Current owner and innkeeper Chris Viken has operated the Van Dusen since 2001 and kept its furnishings as true to period as possible. The main floor’s three parlors feature stone fireplaces, tasseled hassocks, candelabras, and the Asian tapestries that were popular in 1890s home décor. There’s a music room with an ornately carved mantel and a grand piano. The dining room has a coffered ceiling and the sort of long, lace-covered table seen in Gothic films.
But there is none of the chilliness you might expect to find in a stone castle. The rooms are spotlessly clean, glowing with the light of squat lamps on polished wood. An enormous Caravaggio-style painting hangs over the central staircase. And Coffee, a silky moppet of a dog, accompanies newcomers as they take the grand tour.
There are four guest suites at the Van Dusen, each named after one of the principals who worked on the restoration project and sporting his particular taste in design. Timothy’s Room, for instance, is decorated in apricot tones with cream-colored tile around the fireplace; a ceiling fan spins lazily in the oversized bathroom, and the sitting room includes extra sleeping space. Michael’s Room was inspired by the Alhambra and features darker hues, reading lights over the bed, soft easy chairs, pillars, and stone surrounding the double whirlpool bath.
Viken’s husband, Earl Clausen, runs the event center, two separate buildings on the grounds. The Carriage House provides seating for up to 126; the newer, more modern Grand Parlor can accommodate 200 for a sit-down dinner and up to 350 for a more casual reception.
But Viken and Clausen are careful to draw lines between their individual concerns. “It’s important to me that we keep the event business separate from the guest house,” she says. “People visit us from all over the world, and they want to feel the history of the place. I know I’m still in awe, every day.” —ANN M. BAUER
» The Guest House at the Van Dusen Mansion, 1900 LaSalle Ave., Minneapolis, 612-874-1900, www.vandusencenter.com