It seemed that the first article on This Is Not Bland just had to be about the kitsch-lovers Californian mecca, that is the Madonna Inn. I’m full of pining and sighing deeply to myself just writing this and working out how and when I can escape back there.
This motel build in the late 50s has since morphed into a hotel with a by-gone era motel heart. It really is straight off the freeway (in true motel style), in San Luis Obispo, pretty much halfway between San Francisco and LA.
A family business, still owned and run by the family, though now a much bigger concern than it’s humble beginnings. I think that’s what makes it so special. No tastemaker has come in and thrown their weight around here. The creepy swinging dolls in the restaurant lobby are (living?!) proof of that.
The exterior is full of white picket and alpine panelling with candy pink flourishes. Pink lamposts!! Their own mini-mountain (OK, it’s a hill!) as a backdrop, which you head up towards to enjoy the cute, retro pool.
A large chunk of the building houses the Gold Rush Steak House, the Silver Bar Cocktail Lounge and a dance-floor to enjoy when on certain nights swing bands adeptly set the mood. The Steak House is made up of gold-trimmed, pink-clad booths, chandeliers, fairy lights and a no-messing-about rose print carpet. They have their own jewel-coloured glassware (which you can buy in the shop to bling up your own at-home dining). The cocktail lounge bar itself is a stunner, surrounded with intricately carved, tactile wood.
If for some terrible reason you were passing by but couldn’t stay, the Copper Cafe is at least worth the stop for a bite to eat. It’ll be a big bite, mind you. Carved wood, red leather, swirly carpets and lots of copper. It’s got quite an old Germanic-European feel to it. And the food is blissfully satisfying. What I’d describe as proper Americana.
General grub aside, the cakes are a magical marvel. No seriously. I don’t even like cake. But these are not only the prettiest cakes that I ever did see, but they are also fantasically tasty. Kind of light and moist and fluffy and sweet but not too sweet. They are very specific to this cafe and famous in their own right. I’ve never had the like anywhere else. Though in darker times I still sit and brood about the time my other half, Mark stole the cherry from my slice of cake and hence became known as Mark Two-Cherries.
Each room or suite has an individual design and lots of them, particularly the ones first created back in the day, feature A LOT of rock. A rock shower with gold swan taps? Don’t mind if I do! Rooms include Caveman, the Love Nest, Yahoo (as in the cowboy call, not the search engine), Harvard Square and the Austrian. The rooms are always massive and there are suites with up to 3 bedrooms. The decoration is kind of nana kitschy chic with a rock thrown in. It probably shouldn’t work but it just does.
The place seems ever-expanding, but not in an obnoxious way. Being out of town, they have a lot of land to play with and more recent additions such as the Spa, Banquet Rooms, a Secret Garden and Hot Pink Tennis Courts are very much in-keeping with the non-blandness of this special place.
The shop is a mixture of monstrosities and treasures depending on what is your want. I’ve previously lugged some of their glass goblets halfway around the US and then back over the pond to the UK and it was sooo worth it. The barware, little soap cakes and pink sugar are all utterly delightful. The apparel is generally not my cup of tea, except, of course, for the huge, pink, soft, fluffy dressing gown. Yep, took one of those mammoth things home too. They even have their own brand wine and food. It’s quite a mish-mash of things but if I lived in the USA, I could easily fill a trunk! As it, I have a serious eye on their pink ice bucket for a future trip.
I can’t imagine a world without the Madonna Inn. It’s so refreshingly it’s own thing. A true testament to the family that they haven’t sold out to genericism. It’s not cutting-edge, it’s not hip, it is what it is and that is a little wonderous, a little magical, a lot of comfortable and a lot of fun. I truly believe that if every single person spent just one night in the Madonna Inn, the world would, without double, be a better place. Long may she reign!!