Putting Britons up for the night in consistently affordable and decent rooms is good business.
The ubiquitous Premier Inn proved that again recently, delivering another bumper set of results for its parent group Whitbread.
Yet, while a room under one of its hotels’ purple signs usually provides the necessary combination of reliable quality and a comfortable place to flop, it’s unlikely to win any style points and won’t be the most inspiring of evenings.
This creates an obvious gap in the market that Soho House – the fashionable chain of members clubs – has decided to step into with its Mollie’s motels.
Mollie’s Motel & Diner at Cribbs Causeway on the outskirts of Bristol is Soho House’s second foray into the budget hotel market
The concept is simple. Take the consistently affordable and decent quality rooms recipe and add a stylish twist, with Soho House-designed interiors and an Americana vibe, to nab some of that roaring overnight trade.
There is a sprinkling of high-tech stuff at Mollie’s to appeal to today’s digitally-minded traveller: such as an app to check-in and cast to the room’s TV, order food and drink, use as a key to your room. And, of course, you can charge your electric car if you have one.
On top of that, there is also Mollie’s Diner – a slice of American roadside retro serving food all day that’s open to guests and the public.
There are currently just two Mollie’s motels, the first in Oxfordshire and the second on the outskirts of Bristol, while a third variation on the theme is due to open in Manchester’s Old Granada Studios this year. Ten more are in the pipeline.
To test out how it compares to Britain’s budget hotel giants, I stayed the night at Mollie’s Bristol, perched above the M5 at Cribbs Causeway on the northern outskirts of the city. Mollie’s says rooms start from £70 but you are more likely to pay about £80 to £95 and potentially more on popular nights.
You may have guessed already that Cribbs Causeway is not the most glamourous of locations – it’s your classic edge-of-city web of dual carriageways and retail parks – but Mollie’s manages to stand out from a drab crowd with its stylish black angular diner in front of the motel.
In an interesting juxtaposition, it is next to a Travelodge, which looks distinctly old fashioned by comparison. A quick check online showed that Travelodge coming out at a similar price for a room as Mollie’s on popular nights.
I’ve never stayed at the Cribb’s Causeway Travelodge, so I won’t pass judgement on what that’s like, but I have spent the night at plenty of others and many a Premier Inn before, so how does the Mollie’s experience compare to that pair in general?
It is undeniably a more stylish prospect than my previous experiences at either a Premier Inn or Travelodge.
The reception desk at Mollie’s doubles as a bar and coffee shop at the heart of a lounge area
First impressions are good. Mollie’s Bristol’s 123 rooms are housed in a pair of three-storey, black clad buildings with a central glass-fronted lobby and courtyard garden behind that.
It doesn’t quite tick all the classic American movie motel boxes: you don’t get to park directly in front of your bedroom door and instead pull up in the car park round the back. It’s also missing the stereotypical bored motel clerk found in Hollywood’s versions.
Entering the building you are met with a reception desk that doubles as bar and coffee shop – where you can check in old-fashioned, non-app style if you wish or just order a drink – at the heart of a lounge area with tables, chairs and low-slung sofa and armchair seating.
It’s clearly designed as a place to hang out, whether for a drink in the evening or coffee in the daytime, and has areas clearly aimed at those doing a bit of WFM – working from motel.
Behind the lobby is a garden area with planting and seating, with bedrooms on the three floors of the internal side of both buildings overlooking it.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get one of those and instead got a ground floor room overlooking the car park. It is called a motel, so you can’t really complain about that, but on a return visit, I’d request one of the rooms overlooking the garden.
Bedrooms are a cut above budget hotel rivals’s styling with wood panelling, Conran furniture, plush sheets and Cowshed toiletries
The bedroom itself lived up to Mollie’s promise of a ‘high-spec contemporary room’ and was stylish decorated and well laid out.
It looked and felt high-end, with walls partially clad in natural oak slat panelling, an armchair, small table and chair, a floor standing lamp, wood floors and a big comfy bed. There was everything you’d need to get comfortable and relax – and once you pulled the thick floor-to-ceiling curtains there was calm and privacy from the world outside.
After driving down solo after work from London and arriving at about 8pm, I was keen to get out of the room though and into Mollie’s Diner, with the thought of cold beer and a rack of ribs on my mind.
Housed in a barn-style building, with an open kitchen down one side, booth and table seating and, of course, some retro American diner décor, this offers something that’s a cut above what you usually find at the Premier Inn, Travelodge or even Novotel.
An all-day menu from midday has what you’d expect on it: nachos, hot wings, salads, burgers, ribs, mac and cheese, steaks etc. Yet, while it’s easy to write this kind of menu, years of dining experience has taught me that it’s harder for places to pull off getting the food right.
Mollie’s Diner does manage that trick though: hot wings were spicy and flavoursome, set off nicely by a classic blue cheese sauce, while the half rack of ribs was meaty, quality pork that fell off the bone and was so substantial that I was glad the menu hadn’t tried to tempt me with a full rack.
A local pale ale from Bristol Beer Factory was indeed ice cold and the menu had a selection of well-considered and reasonably-priced wines, including a decent Castelao from Portugal and a Chilean merlot.
Back in my room that night, I slept soundly and comfortably, with no disturbance from outside noise or the motorway, although there was a bit of internal noise that crept through as early birds made their exits.
Mollie’s Diner is the chain’s take on the classic American roadside diner, with an open kitchen on one side and booth and table seating taking up the rest of the barn style building
That morning I returned to sample Mollie’s Diner’s take on American-style breakfast, with a menu offering granola, pancakes, eggs many different ways, and, of course, a full English. After the meal the night before, I wasn’t opting for the latter, so chose just scrambled eggs, bacon and sourdough toast. Albeit somewhat strangely, I had to order scrambled eggs and salmon, remove the fish and add bacon to achieve this combination.
Then it was time to get back to my room, grab my stuff and head on my way. Pitstop at Mollie’s over and done.
Would I stay again? I probably wouldn’t rush to holiday in Cribbs Causeway – although it is very conveniently located close to the inland surfing lake at The Wave (where I was headed) some lovely countryside and, of course, Bristol – but I’d definitely go back to a Mollie’s.
As a convenient affordable place to stay, it beats anything I’ve experienced from the two big name British budget hotel offerings hands down. The only downside is that duo have hotels in pretty much any mainstream location you need, but there is only a few Mollie’s.
If Soho House can roll out more Mollie’s while keeping the quality level high, it could be onto a winner.
Simon Lambert was a guest of Mollie’s. More information at Mollies.com.