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Michigan couple tours country documenting kitschy, themed hotels

Corey and Margaret Bienert lay in a red heart-shaped tub in a tiled bathroom
Courtesy
/
A Pretty Cool Hotel Tour
You'll see plenty of heart-shaped tubs if you follow the couple on social media.

For many, honeymoon suites and themed motels are a thing of a past.

But one Michigan couple is bringing these vintage, kitschy stays to a whole new audience online.

Margaret Bienert and her husband Corey run the project, A Pretty Cool Hotel Tour. Their pictures of heart-shaped tubs and clamshell beds get thousands of likes on social media.

Bienert says they've stopped at honeymoon suites in Paw Paw and Mackinaw City, themed hotels in Galena, Illinois and Dodgeville, Wisconsin and even a chain of hotels across the Midwest that have private pools in each room.

WKAR's Sophia Saliby spoke with Margaret about how the project got started and some of her other recommendations for summer travel in the Midwest.

Interview Highlights

On why they started documenting these hotels

Once we actually had time to start sharing in 2020, I realized how many people were also interested. But yeah, I think what interested us was just the drastically different designs that you'll see there from what I'm used to seeing. I mean, we both traveled for work for a long time. We've seen a lot of hotels, but we had never seen private pools, heart-shaped tubs, themed rooms with spaceship beds and all these kind of wild things. So yeah, I think it was just as two photographers traveling, it was so fun to come across such elaborate rooms, even if they were kind of old.

On some of the interesting stays they've been to in the Midwest

There are some heart-shaped tubs, so we've done, you know, there's a Days Inn up in Mackinaw City, I think it is, that has a heart-shaped tub. There's one in Paw Paw, Michigan. They're just kind of like, you know, in these old motels that have heart-shaped tubs. But I mean, themed-motels in the Midwest are definitely still around. there's there's something called the Don Q Inn in Wisconsin, and they have a lot of old cool themed-rooms that are still functioning. There's a chain called Sybaris Pool Suites across kind of a few states in the Midwest, and they have the private pools and even have like a private waterslide like it's a very fun place to go.

On how to learn to travel with a partner

Part of it is just taking more road trips and figuring out what works and finding out what each other's expectations are, which can be hard at first, because you might not even know that you're expecting something, but it's good to figure those things out. I think it's helped us to learn we should both have a pair of headphones and sometimes we need to be in our own worlds even if we're sitting next to each other for a 12-hour road trip.

Interview Transcript

Corey Bienert holds his wife, Margaret while standing on a bed with a huge clamshell headboard
Courtesy
/
A Pretty Cool Hotel Tour
Clamshell beds also frequently appear on the couple's social media.

Sophia Saliby: For many, honeymoon suites and themed motels are a thing of a past.

But one Michigan couple is bringing these vintage, kitschy stays to a whole new audience online.

Margaret Bienert and her husband Corey run the project, A Pretty Cool Hotel Tour.

And Margaret joins me now. Thank you for being here.

Margaret Bienert: Thank you for having me.

Saliby: This project started during the pandemic, right? What got you interested in unique hotels?

Bienert: Yeah, actually, we had started a couple years before the pandemic, but it was just a side project for my husband and I, and we weren't really prioritizing sharing much of it. So, as soon as the pandemic hit, and we were staying at home, I had thousands of these photos to go through of, yeah, these really cool, kitschy hotels that I'd shared a little bit about them before and there was a mix reviews of, kind of, "Why are you staying in these old weird places?"

But also, once we actually had time to start sharing in 2020, I realized how many people were also interested. But yeah, I think what interested us was just the drastically different designs that you'll see there from what I'm used to seeing.

We've seen a lot of hotels, but we had never seen private pools, heart-shaped tubs, themed rooms with spaceship beds and all these kind of wild things.

I mean, we both traveled for work for a long time. We've seen a lot of hotels, but we had never seen private pools, heart-shaped tubs, themed rooms with spaceship beds and all these kind of wild things. So yeah, I think it was just as two photographers traveling, it was so fun to come across such elaborate rooms, even if they were kind of old.

Saliby: Some of the suites you stay in are in, like chain, motels, like Days Inns and Best Westerns, but it's not, you know, common. How hard is it to find these kinds of like diamonds in the rough?

Bienert: Surprisingly hard. I mean, some of them are a little easier because some of these places will have it on their website that they have some theme rooms. Some of them even have like pictures in the lobby, so you might even see, you know, at a Days Inn, "Oh, wow, they have a picture in the lobby of this cave room that they have or something."

But then, I mean, we've been doing this project now for several years, and I still come across chain hotels that have a themed room that I never found before.

It's not magic. I just spend hours and hours combing through the internet and phone books to find these old places.

So, I think one of our most common questions is, "How do you find these places?" And I always say it's kind of like a magic trick, it seems really amazing until you realize it's just, it's not magic. I just spend hours and hours combing through the internet and phone books to find these old places.

Saliby: I think for some people, there may be a stigma attached to these hotels, because they're, you know, might be strictly for adults or pay-by-the-hour.

Why do you think the content you make still resonates with an audience of you know, like, hundreds of thousands of people?

Bienert: I mean, that's a great question, especially coming from the Midwest, I knew that it wasn't going to be very normal at first. And so, I think we kind of prepared ourselves for a little bit of questioning around why we would go to these places. But I think when it comes down to it, I like to kind of push the boundary of why those places aren't okay for someone like, you know, well, for any adults.

You know, I think growing up in the Midwest, I was very aware of a sensitivity towards anything adult. And then once I became an adult, I kind of wanted to push back on why. Because I actually think there's value in exploring your adult relationships and yourself as an adult. And so yeah, I think I kind of like the fact that people get to learn and you know, sometimes their first reaction is being disgusted or questioning why we would do it.

It just pushes you out of your day-to-day life with your partner, and I think there's something to be said for that.

We've gotten messages from people, married couples who have said, "Oh, we know about that place in our city, but we always thought it sounded so gross. And after we saw your video, after 30 years of marriage, we went, and it was the best anniversary ever." Because it just pushes you out of your day-to-day life with your partner, and I think there's something to be said for that.

Saliby: Are there any theme hotels you would recommend in Michigan or if not in the Midwest?

Bienert: There are a bunch in the Midwest. I don't think we have gone to any specifically themed hotels in Michigan. There are some heart-shaped tubs, so we've done, you know, there's a Days Inn up in Mackinaw City, I think it is, that has a heart-shaped tub. There's one in Paw Paw, Michigan.

They're just kind of like, you know, in these old motels that have heart-shaped tubs. But I mean, theme motels in the Midwest are definitely still around. There's there's something called the Don Q Inn in Wisconsin, and they have a lot of old cool theme rooms that are still functioning.

There's a chain called Sybaris Pool Suites across kind of a few states in the Midwest, and they have the private pools and even have like a private waterslide, like it's a very fun place to go. So yeah, I think there's a lot of really fun places around the Midwest. And then Michigan specifically, I mean, we have a few places on our list to check out this summer. So, I think we'll see what we find.

But last summer, we did a tour of some of the rooms at the Grand Hotel up on Mackinac Island. And I mean, those are, obviously they're not like the classic theme hotel, but they're very iconic designs, and it was really fun to get to see that.

Saliby: I do want to ask you this one last question. You spend a lot of time traveling with your husband. Do you have any tips for couples on how to avoid conflict on the road?

Bienert: That's a great question. I mean, part of it is just taking more road trips and figuring out what works and finding out what each other's expectations are, which can be hard at first, because you might not even know that you're expecting something, but it's good to figure those things out.

I think it's helped us to learn we should both have a pair of headphones, and sometimes we need to be in our own worlds even if we're sitting next to each other for a 12-hour road trip.

Saliby: Margaret Bienert runs A Pretty Cool Hotel Tour with her husband, which you can find on most social media platforms. Thank you for joining me.

Bienert: Thanks so much for having me.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

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