Bored of cutesey B&Bs and faceless motels? We feel your pain. Want to sleep where Elvis once did? Us too. That’s how we ended up making an unscheduled stop in Abilene, Texas last week. Not because we wanted to visit Abilene, but because of a place to stay that sounded pretty special: the Sparhawk Art Gallery B&B.
In its previous incarnation as the 1930s Sunset Lodge Motel, it was Abilene’s premiere motel and the place of choice for the likes of Elvis, Al Jolson, and the magnificent Marlene Dietrich, all of whom stopped by when they were touring Texas. A few years ago, all but the front annex of the motel was demolished. That was set to go as well, but a local artist, Donovan Sparhawk (we hope that’s his real name), fell in love with it, bought it, and opened up an art gallery inside, along with three rooms to rent. So now, although it’s on the main road into Abilene, it feels like you’re staying in a nice secluded cottage surrounded by lots of trees.
There are only three rooms here and they’re all pretty simple but tastefully done. We took the cheap one on the end—it had a tiled floor, lots of rugs and throws and funky blue furniture and a tiled table and mirrors in the corner of the room—definitely a step up from other motels. The bathroom had the original green tiles and bathtub left over from the motel days, so although the tub was a little stained from the decades, we were very excited to think we could be sharing Elvis’ bath (they don’t know which room he stayed in, but we decided it was definitely ours).
What We Liked:
The bed was comfy, the atmosphere was chill—it’s only just off the I-20 but feels like you’re on retreat. Donovan is a great host—he throws in a mini art lesson with your room fee, he has lots of dogs to pay you attention, and he shows you his projects (he’s currently working on breaking the record for the world’s biggest paper airplane). It's all very bizarre, but we loved it.
What We Didn’t Like:
There’s no Wi-Fi so we couldn’t get online. There is a café down the road which has it, and Donovan tried to lend us his modem but we couldn’t make it work. He’s a bit artsy fartsy and anti-computer, so don’t expect much sympathy when you need to send a work file over immediately—he’ll just tell you to chill. Also, he’s a bit too chill with money—he offered us the smallest room for $65, rather than the regular price of $90. We had no change, so gave him $80, and never got the change. We didn’t know you had to tip motel owners.
Breakfast is served at the bar outside, which is a pretty nice set up. And for what’s basically a carpark, he’s made a lovely rock garden with pools and running water and stuff. His music-y friends come play in the garden regularly as well.
You probably won’t be visiting Abilene on a weekend break any time soon, but if you need a stopover in Texas, or want to learn how to make paper airplanes really well, this is the place to do it. Just make sure you don’t have any work to be doing there.