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The Porches Inn at MASS MoCA

Rural Intelligence Road TripsI have to make a confession: I was skeptical about staying at Porches. Although I love visiting MASS MoCA, I could not imagine paying to spend a night in converted Victorian factory-workers’ houses across from the museum in order to wake up in North Adams instead of my own bed. But when I was invited to participate in the innovative Berkshire Creative “Bar Camp” last Friday night, I decided that I would give myself a break and book a room at Porches so I wouldn’t have to drive the long 65 miles home on Route 7 after dark. What I didn’t anticipate was that I was also giving myself a treat—a vacation in my own backyard.

Rural Intelligence Road TripsPorches combines the personality and intimacy of a bed-and-breafast with all the comforts and professionalism of a world-class boutique hotel. When I checked in at 11 PM (after a delicious dinner at Cafe Latino and a pit stop at MASS MoCA’s mammoth Cuban Dance Party), I was welcomed by a bright-eyed desk clerk, who did not lose her cool when I reported that the key to my room did not work. “These are old fashioned locks and there’s one that’s a problem every night,” she said cheerfully as she came to my room and used the master key to get the door unstuck.

“Good Morning, North Adams!”

A visit to North Adams and MASS MoCA should be combined with a visit to Williamstown to see the The Clark, the Williams College Museum of Art, and, if the calendar is right, a play or two at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. If you’re not in a hurry, you can do an art walk of North Adams, but here are three iconic pitstops that give you a quick sense of the city’s quirky flavor.

Rural Intelligence Road Trips
Maya III by Jarvis Rockwell
73 Main Street; 413.664.8718
The son of Norman Rockwell built a 9 foot-pyramid covered with action figures at MASS MoCA in 2001, and now he has created a similar one, as well as expansive collages of ephemera, in his storefront studio. See Dan’s Diary for more pictures.
Rural Intelligence Road Trips
16 Eagle Street; 413.664.3262
Outsider artist Daniel Field has made a home for himself in a small storefront, where he displays his airplanes and trucks that he makes out of found objects.
Rural Intelligence Road Trips
Jack’s Hot Dog Stand
12 Eagle Street; 413.664.9006
Monday - Friday 10 AM - 7 PM; Saturday 10 AM - 4 PM; Closed Sunday
In business since 1917, you can feel the history of this once prosperous industrial city in this sliver of a lunch counter. The wondrous thing here are the hamburgers ($.95) and cheeseburgers ($1.20) made from fresh, handmade patties and served on warm rolls that come out of an ancient steamer built into the counter.

Porches has been very cleverly designed. It has a very long front porch with rocking chairs and porch swings that link the old buildings. Inside, the hallways have trompe l’oeil touches that suggest you are outside and they are decorated with kitschy paintings, signs and other Americana that make you smile.  My room made me smile, too. Although it was painted a high-gloss salmon-color that I could never live with on a daily basis, it had an exuberance that was energizing. The sitting room was outfitted with a desk overlooking the museum, a comfortable sofa and chairs, and a kitschy mid-century lamp.  The bed was dressed in pure white with a matelasse bedspread by Crispina with soft sheets and downy pillows. I couldn’t wait to crawl into bed.

But when I turned on the light in the bathroom, I changed my mind.  The all-white bathroom was immaculate; I suddenly felt like I was on a spa vacation and I opted for a midnight bath with the mineral salts provided and a beer from the mini bar.  (In the morning, I tried the separate stall shower with the rainwater head, which was heavenly.) The bathrobes and stack of white towels were to be expected, but I was struck by the fact that the hair dryer was not one of those awful contraptions glued to the wall; it was a normal hair dryer that was hung in a burlap bag from one of the Shaker pegs on the wall. I like a hotel that does not think you are going to steal the hair dryer.

Rural Intelligence Road Trips

Porches caters to business travelers as well as tourists, so there is a card you can fill out and hang on the door to have a room service breakfast delivered at a specified time. I wanted to sleep in, so instead of room service I opted for the buffet in the mustard-yellow breakfast room.  There were linen napkins, stacks of the Boston Globe and New York Times (and WiFi for checking email), pain au chocolat, granola, hard boiled eggs, cereals, and excellent Barrington Coffee.

I was upset that I hadn’t followed my mother’s cardinal rule of travel: Always Pack a Bathing Suit. It turns out that Porches has an outdoor heated swimming pool and hot tub that are kept open around-the-clock 365 days a year. There is also a New Agey firepit surrounded by rustic furniture on the hillside above the swimming pool. Rural Intelligence Road Trips It reminded me of a story I’d read about owner Nancy Fitzpatrick being a regular at Burning Man and seeing pictures of her funky Stockbridge house. I began to understand that Porches reflects Fitzpatrick’s multifaceted personality (she’s owns the Red Lion Inn and Country Curtains, and she serves on the board of MASS MoCA, the Boston Symphony and many other not-for-profits). Porches is artistic and sybaritic—an uncommonly urbane slice of the Berkshires.

The Porches Inn at MASS MoCA
231 River Street, North Adams; 413.664.0400
Rooms: $180 - $505 (but always ask about special promotions and packages)

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Posted by Dan Shaw on 05/05/09 at 06:49 AM • Permalink