Boutique hotel owner Angela Harrington has brought back the independent essence of the original 1970s Highlander Inn and Supper Club in Iowa City with the newly opened Bohemian Hotel after a $5-million renovation.
IOWA CITY, Iowa—Known for its rich history as a gathering hotspot for locals and big names in the 1970s, The Bohemian Hotel, formerly the Clarion Highlander Hotel, has been reimagined into a chic-meets-shag independent hotel.
Owner Angela Harrington said this is the first time the property has been under independent ownership since its original owner and has been through seven flags. The hotel first opened as the Highlander Inn and Supper Club in 1967 and most recently was under Choice Hotels & Resorts’ Clarion brand.
“It’s just a property that feels like it’s an independent, quirky place,” she said.
Harrington said she went into contract to obtain ownership for the property on 4 July, 2019, closed on it in December and on 3 July, 2020 she opened The Bohemian Hotel following a $5-million renovation.
“We had half of it open during renovations, then when the pandemic hit and the bottom dropped out, we just decided … let’s take the time and get everything up and not have guests in the middle of renovation,” she said.
Despite some supply chain issues during the renovation due to COVID-19, she said “we just made it work.”
Harrington also owns the Hotel Grinnell in nearby Grinnell, Iowa.
At the Bohemian, she said she wants guests to wake up and feel like they are somewhere special as they’re surrounded by retro record players and rich jewel-toned décor.
What’s new on-property
As a hotel developer, Harrington said all kinds of projects come across her desk, but this one intrigued her because of the property’s history, pool and large industrial-sized windows.
Everyone knew of the Highlander, she said, as it garnered lots of weddings, celebrities and families who packed into their station wagons to dine at the Supper Club and spend the night. She said she wanted to bring back some of that original spirit and create the ideal spot for intergenerational families as well as other travelers.
She said Iowa City is an artsy city, but also lends itself to sports, medicine and college business.
“I really wanted to celebrate where it is in the world, and it’s really got that free-spirited vibe,” she said.
Through the renovation, the property’s pool now features a large garage door that opens it up to the outside courtyard with a fire pit, croquet, bocce ball and more. The pool also features a new pool bar that was removed in a mid-1980s renovation. It’s ballroom, which she said seats 450 people, now includes the hotel’s original Supper Club chandeliers.
She also did a complete cosmetic flip to the guestrooms, which are 300 square feet each, and about half of them face the property’s courtyard.
Harrington said there aren’t many boutique hotels in Iowa City.
“It’s dominated by flags,” she said. “It was really important to me. When the entire accommodation spectrum is dominated by chains, it feels like a competitive advantage to be really independent and different.”
Harrington hopes the Bohemian will benefit from local and drive-to travel in the short term. She’s seen a fair amount from Chicago, Omaha and Denver.
“I hope, and I think, that small family get togethers will be the thing to come back first and also college business,” she said. “We’re getting some medical also … but other than medical, I don’t see one lick of business travel.”
Events business is also taking a hit at her property, she said.
“I have a ton of weddings on the book already but they’re all moving back … we were set to have an August wedding,” she said. “If you’re a solid operator, 90 days with a disaster, you can see your way through; six months, it gets a little dicey.”
She stressed the importance of working with a solid lender during times like now to help make decisions early on and quickly.
“We had a six-month plan two weeks into the pandemic, and now we’re working (on a) 12-month plan,” she said.