Trudging across campus for early morning biology class, feasting on ramen, attending passionate SEC football games and just trying to figure out what in the hell I wanted to do with my life was pretty much the extent of my college experience. It was grand, but if I could do it again it would look much different. In fact, at least visually, it would look a lot like the Graduate Hotel in Tempe, Arizona: curated and thoughtful with just enough party in the mix to keep you young. Recently, though, I’ve been feeling pretty old, trying to recover from an L.A.-to-Phoenix move as well as getting used to the 110-degree summer days, so enrolling in Staycation 101 was exactly what my family and I needed.
The Graduate Hotel concept is simple: place one-of-a-kind hotels in some of the nation’s most passionate college towns to produce a unique experience (while still paying homage to the local influences of the respective universities). So far, their locations include Athens, Georgia, Madison, Wisconsin, Oxford, Mississippi, Charlottesville, Virginia, and since September of 2014, Tempe, Arizona, the location for my weekend retreat.
Upon arrival I was struck by the attention to design around every corner. The front of the hotel features a large, patterned cement wall, instantly setting the tone for the late-’60s-to-early-’70s theme found throughout. Each of the Graduate’s locations take inspiration from the local schools, and here in Tempe, Arizona State University’s background in human origins and life sciences inspired the giant digital scan of Darwin’s Origin of Species that covers the check-in desk. A giant ant farm on the back wall is a tip of the hat to ASU’s work in social insect research, and locally sourced Native American artwork on the walls compiled by their art department pays homage to the local tribes.
Brightly colored rugs and furniture you’d expect to see in Austin Powers’ lavish ’60s pad adorn the lobby and hallways while the rooms with various types of paintings (any room with a piece of artwork featuring a Ford Bronco Scout is tops in my book) and stars-and-stripes throw blankets create an inviting setting. Small details — such as a room key that looks like an old school ID, the key holder that looks like an old library card, and even the hotel info book in the room that looks like a composition book — aid the nostalgia. Crosley radios in the room on top of Mid-Century-style desks and dressers, as well as globe lamps on the sides of the bed, further this blast-from-the-past aura.
Small details such as a room key which looks like an old school ID, the key holder which looks like an old library card and even the hotel info book in the room that looks like a composition book aide the nostalgia.
Of course, no homage to college days is complete without food and alcohol, and there the Graduate delivers to grad-student standards. The hotel is flanked by two restaurants. To the east, there’s the Normal Diner, which, in perfect college form, is a renovated IHOP. They are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but with outstanding first-meal options such as fried chicken and red velvet waffles, eggs Benedict with citrus hollandaise and a breakfast egg biscuit with spicy Sriracha aioli, you won’t even get to lunch. For something lighter, try the very unique Green Bowl, which creates a dairy-free yogurt-like mixture out of Açaí and coconut oil, blended and placed on top of granola, goji berries, coconut and banana slices. Hearty and cold, it’s the perfect way to start an Arizona day — or get over your Arizona night.
To the west is the repair-shop-inspired Tapacubo. The bar glistens, covered as it is in 38,000 Mexican pesos, and for a refreshing margarita you can look no further than the fuel pump — essentially a creative form of frat-party funneling. Their signature guac with pepitas and charred serrano chillies is a must and the unique fry-bread street taco (imagine a funnel cake-like base) will not disappoint. The decor is creative with a Craftsman tool chest functioning as a server station and various car wheels creating chandeliers.
Graduate Hotels has come up with a brilliant equation consisting of nostalgia, style and location making each hotel an ideal spot to crash when in town for a football game or a cool spot for mom and dad to stay when they insist on visiting their studious offspring. And, with each spot being different and unique to its respective area, you’ll get a local feel while enjoying the comfort of a professional hotel setting. It definitely takes you back to those memorable college days (for better or for worse), and the nostalgia comes with modern, real-life comforts. Unfortunately, though, they can only do so much for your relaxation, and as for those student loans — they continue on even after you check out.