Suzannah Powell already knew that the Drifter Hotel was a great place to host a party.
The New Orleans-based independent musician, working under the stage name Boyfriend (her latest single “El Niño” features rap star Lil Wayne), she had performed a number of gigs at the renovated motor lodge built in 1956.
So when she tied the knot with her beau Ryan Chavez under the magnolias of Audubon Park in 2019, it was obvious where the afterparty should be.
“It’s a great place to have a party,” she said. “A lot of my guests were strangers or tourists [to the area], so I loved the idea of being able to take over the whole space and having a social hub.”
Her wedding reception hosted some 300 guests and featured live musical performances, dancing and catering by Nola legend Big Freedia.
“There’s something about being at a motel that means the second you step outside your door, it’s party time,” she said. “At a big hotel in the French Quarter, where are you going to hang out? The lobby? I don’t think so.”
The “vibe” at the 20-room Drifter was also a draw: practical rooms for her younger guests, pink astroturf in the courtyard, a cocktail bar inside, a disco ball suspended over the clothing-optional swimming pool and a transparent lucite stage hovering over the pool-water. Everything was already in place.
But for Powell and many others, the price of a motor lodge wedding or reception is what seals the deal. The cost of renting out the Drifter ranges from $1,500 to $4,500 for a reception and includes four hours of event time.
The set up fee for a ceremony and reception is $2,500 and just $750 for a ceremony-only wedding.
Responding to demand for casual, fun and affordable wedding venues, once seedy dive motels around the country are being targeted by investors and made over into quirky, cool love nests for the 21st century.
In March, Fort Greene-based developer Stephen Wendell opened Camptown — a 50-key, 1930s motor lodge on 22 acres in Leeds, NY, (10 minutes from the Hudson). Once known as the Rip Van Winkle Motor Lodge, he scooped up the property off-market in early 2020.
“Right away we were inundated with wedding requests,” says Michael Pino-Hojlo, the F&B manager at the resort. “Honestly I was a little surprised.”
In addition to the converted motor lodge, Camptown also has 26 cabins, for a total of 50 rooms and 71 beds. The multi-bed accommodations and the fun amenities — like the fire pits, pool, event space and bar — all lend themselves to multifaceted, multigenerational fun, adds Pino-Hojlo.
“I think that there’s a nostalgia element,” Pino-Hojlo said. “Motor Inns bring back memories of family vacations growing up. They are nods to like simpler times.”
In the 20-room motor lodge, Wendell refreshed the retro flops with modern floorplans and amenities.
“Your sister and her two kids can stay in one of the cabins, but you and your friend, or a couple can stay in one of the motor lodge rooms,” says Pino-Hojlo. “It kind of lends to different vibes and each of the areas of the property.”
Brides and grooms here tend to wed outdoors, with a picturesque view of the Catskills in the background. The venue says it caters to both traditional ceremonies with seated rehearsals, and to those brides who prefer to let their hair down — think killer pool parties and weenie roasts over open campfires.
Speaking of food, in-house catering leans towards outdoor cookery, overseen by the resident restaurant Casa Susanna, which they describe as “insane, modern Mexican… the type of thing you wouldn’t think you can find Upstate.” Camptown can host seated dinners of up to 140, but if you are fine with your guests frolicking about, you can push the guest list to 200. Pricing starts at about $50,000.
“For people who don’t want a traditional setting, it almost feels like a destination wedding that’s just two hours from the city. It brings everyone together for a fun weekend without feeling like a structured wedding,” says Pino-Hojlo.
Another sleazy-to-please-ye motel transformation can be found in the bachelorette capital of the world, Nashville, Tenn. There, the aptly named Dive Motel has become Instagram famous for its old school cool weddings.
Originally known as the Key Motel and dating back to 1956 — Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton and Hank Williams are said to have all stayed here — the 23-room inn recently received a “vintage-inspired” reno.
The venue is broken up between a swim club, a bar and lounge and playful rooms.
The swim club comes stacked with a pool deck, cabanas, hot tub, sauna and satellite bar, as well as dedicated staff. Just don’t forget to byo DJ and up to 250 of those near and dear.
A weekend buyout of that area will set you back $20,000. But you’ll probably want to take over the bar and dance under their gold disco ball. It can host 125 and seated 45. Weekend rates for that space start at $7,000.
Meanwhile the rooms can handle up to 52 of your funnest guests. Each abode comes with a “party switch” that activates a personal disco ball and the “Dive Radio” with four stations: Sex, Drugs, Rock ’n’ Roll, and Sleep.
Room styles vary from “cabins” to “penthouses” — there is even a honeymoon suite with dual, six-foot soaking tubs.
Buy the whole place out and they’ll do you a deal: $16,000 (during the week) to $23,000 (on the weekend) and they’ll toss in a complimentary Bloody Mary bar in the morning, and free mini bars for each room.
Nashville or Nola, no matter where you check-in for your wedding, do a thorough vibe check first, Powell says, because that’s what makes the party pop.
“We wanted our guests to be like ‘Wow, that was a rad party,’” Powell said. “So we just leaned into the ‘us’ of it all and introduced our guests to our lifestyle.”