If you’re in the mood to hit the road (and who isn’t these days?), the multifaceted town of Saratoga Springs is a great road trip pit stop—though once you stop there, you may find it hard to leave. A mere 30 miles north of Albany on I-87, this historic town with its lively arts scene, classic architecture, spas, iconic racetrack, lush parks, and array of fine dining and drinking could keep you busy for days.
The town has a range of luxury hotels and midcentury motels, but right in the middle is the brand-new Spa City Motor Lodge, a smartly updated take on the classic roadside lodging of yesteryear, well-situated on the mile-long Broadway Historic District. This upscale motel is an affordable option aimed straight at family and friend groups—road trippers looking for an in-town, stylish Saratoga experience without a huge price tag.
Roadside motels (or motor lodges) are having a moment. Whether it’s a nostalgic hankering for free-spirited, simple travel, or a practical desire for exterior-corridor hotels in a COVID-conscious world, more travelers are checking them out. And more hotel companies have proved eager to do the big investment to revamp midcentury antiques into memorable travel experiences.
Spa City Motor Lodge opened in June 2021 and is the first in a new line of Bluebird motels by Lark, the New England–based boutique hotel company which specializes in adaptive reuse and recycling of prime properties. For instance, this property — one of four revamped Bluebird motor lodges launching this year in Cape Cod, Stowe, and Hunter in the Catskills — had been a midtown Saratoga lodging eyesore that had long since fallen into disrepair, until it caught Lark’s eye. Working with California design firm EDG, Lark had fun executing a new take on a classic midcentury motor lodge that manages to be both old-school Americana and site-specific, featuring local art and the books of authors who’ve penned bestsellers while in residence at yet another of Saratoga’s cultural gems: the Yaddo writer’s colony.
In Spa City’s case, the renovation started with painting the outside an eye-catching black. Next, Lark crafted an airy communal atrium out of what used to be a decrepit swimming pool. Then, it redid the rooms as purposefully minimalist—a serene retreat from the road trip and bustling town.
The entryway to the lodge has a distinctive retro wooden sign, which hides a cozy viewing deck above it. The most striking feature of Bluebird’s Spa City is its sunny atrium courtyard, with a number of casual seating groupings and tables for group hangouts. Much of that seating is positioned on top of a filled-in swimming pool, with the pool cleverly evoked in a painting on the poured-cement floor and a long communal table at one end as the diving board. A coffee station called “The Deep End” is at the other end. Arching above the big space is a refurbished glass ceiling through which light pours.
With 42 rooms and nine different room types, this roadside inn can accommodate groups of any size. Couples looking for extra space will enjoy the King Balcony with direct access to a shared balcony and the sunny interior courtyard. For those looking to work from the road, the interior courtyard provides a communal space, while the Double Queen, King, King with Balcony and King Deluxe rooms all have dedicated writing desks.
Each simple-yet-sophisticated guest room has high ceilings with freshly painted white walls (no droopy wallpaper), glossy concrete floors (no funky-smelling carpet), and white linens and towels (no brown paisley bedspreads). Extra touches include books and artwork by local creatives and light-blocking Levelor blinds for the windows. All the rooms face onto the glass-topped atrium, allowing its sunlight to gently wake guests in the morning via a tall frosted-glass door sidelight. It offers light and privacy, a rare commodity in original midcentury motels.
Bluebird’s nod to its self-service, on-the-go motel archetype is evident with the minimal storage for clothing (although it does provide two white cotton robes) and a small cube fridge in the room. There’s a nice-sized self-parking lot right outside the front lobby (and a free municipal garage right behind the lodge). Anyone who needs a java fix can seek out the communal coffee and water station in the atrium. But frankly, why dally there when there are so many gourmet coffee bars and restaurants right outside the door?
About what’s right outside the door: the Motor Lodge is smack in the center of Saratoga’s dining and shopping district, next to The Wine Bar and across the street from The Merc Kitchen and Bar and Cantina, two gems in the town’s top-tier restaurant scene. A few blocks away are visitor favorites Seneca, with creatively rustic meals by a CIA-trained chef, and Tatu Tacos & Tequila, with craft tacos and drinks (don’t miss the churro waffle and ice cream dessert).
Self-guided walking tours abound in this scenic town. Walk a few blocks south to manicured Congress Park, the rambling town green created back in the 1800s to showcase the town’s various mineral springs, with a historic casino and merry-go-round to boot. Head north on Broadway past the commercial district and you’ll come upon beautiful turn-of-the century mansions with horse-racing motifs and gardens lining the road to Skidmore College. A few blocks behind the Spa City lodge is the Beekman Street Arts District, where artisans and galleries set up shop. For those who like guided tours, the family-friendly Saratoga Spring Ghost Tour offers a history walk through lovely nighttime Saratoga among the ghosts of yesteryear.
Finally, a whole afternoon could be whiled away at Saratoga Spa State Park, a short car ride from downtown Saratoga. There, visitors will find walking trails, a manicured golf course, a Victorian-era public swimming pool, the historic Gideon Putnam grand hotel, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) with live music, the National Museum of Dance, and a classic car museum sprinkled among many bath features from Saratoga’s heyday as a spa town.
Spa City Motor Lodge
The Spa City Motor Lodge offers midscale pricing from $101– $359. Pricing rises and falls depending on size of room and what’s going on in Saratoga during the chosen stay dates. (Hint: expect higher-priced rooms during music festivals at SPAC and the August horse-racing season.)