The newly opened and restored 17-room Dubbel Dutch boutique hotel in downtown Milwaukee, formerly the Charles A. Koeffler, Jr. House, was developed to have a homey feel but with hotel amenities, where guests can rent single rooms or the entire house.
MILWAUKEE—An historic double mansion, built in 1898 for two families, at 817 and 819 N. Marshall St. in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was almost torn down in 1985. Today, it’s the three-story, 17-room Dubbel Dutch hotel.
Anne Koller, who runs the property’s partnerships and events and is one of two house managers and hotel’s only employees, said the Historic Preservation Commission saved the English Renaissance Revival style building from the wrecking ball nearly 40 years ago. It was formerly the Charles A. Koeffler, Jr. House. At that time, the city thought it made more sense to tear down old buildings opposed to restoring them, she said.
Since its original use of housing two families in two attached residences, it has sat underutilized, she said. Developer Juli Kaufmann of Fix Development, general contractor Andy Braatz of Braatz Building and architect Patrick Jones of Ramsey Jones Architects, began restoring the vacant building in early 2020, Koller said.
The team kept the building’s original wood floors, fireplaces, secret doors and outside buttresses but added a modern flare inside, she said. It also features two staircases.
On 20 July, Dubbel Dutch opened to guests.
Koller said the hotel’s staff and owners do not come from a hotel background, though she said they saw that as an advantage to creating a space that’s more like a home rather than a traditional hotel.
She said the team met with the head of development and sales at Visit Milwaukee for advice on pricing the rooms during weekdays versus weekends as well as during special events.
Home-sharing influence, operating in a pandemic
Koller said the developers originally envisioned this property as an Airbnb, and that thinking has led some of the decisions behind how the hotel is being operated now.
“There’s no front desk. You check in through your phone. It’s contactless and cashless. We do have people on-site—you can call us and text us with things you need—but we really wanted to create an experience for the independent traveler,” she said.
She said Dubbel Dutch is set up to be a differentiator in the market. The hotel can be booked direct or through three other channels including Expedia, Booking.com and Airbnb.
“We have rooms available on Airbnb. At some point, we’re looking also to have a separate listing on Airbnb that would be for half-house and full-house inquiries … (right now) it’s just per room through our channel manager,” she said.
Since the property opened in late July, it has had guests every weekend. Since those guests are one of the first to stay in those rooms, it’s a draw for people who are looking for cleanliness and safety.
Koller said the property strictly followed Milwaukee’s local protocols, which at first mandated a 25% occupancy for hotels and restaurants. Hotels have since been permitted to allow 50% occupancy, she said
Its layout also lends itself well to the current pandemic environment, she said. Room turnover is by request only, and each room has its own heating and cooling system, which allows for air to circulate within the room instead of from room to room. And aside from the hotel’s restaurant, which is not yet open, and a small sitting area, it does not have other public spaces.
“A historical hotel will have ‘Do Not Disturb’ signs. Here at the Dubbel Dutch, we have the opposite. We have a room turnover by request; we will not disturb you as your default. We also have signs that tell (guests) the date the last person stayed in your room and the date it was cleaned. We’re leaving 24 hours of uninterrupted entry into the room once it is sanitized,” she said.
“We’ve been able to maintain a really high level of safety and have that Airbnb feel with hotel amenities. You can’t usually get a 17-room Airbnb anywhere, really.”
Koller said she doesn’t expect Dubbel Dutch to ever be an event space. The primary focus is lodging guests, she said, but will host smaller pop-up events eventually.
According to Visit Milwaukee, she said Wisconsin’s occupancy level is running at about 35% compared to about 66% in 2019 and Milwaukee is at about 31%. Visit Milwaukee expects rates won’t return to 2019 levels until 2023, she said.
“The more people can go to these hotels and do staycations, the more they can help the industry,” she said.
Milwaukee’s independent hotel scene
When the hotel first opened to guests, she said too many people were looking to book and Dubbel Dutch needed to move guests to other boutique hotels in the area. Dubbel Dutch reached out to hotels such as County Clare Irish Inn & Pub; The Knickerbocker on the Lake; Saint Kate – The Arts Hotel; The Pfister and Hotel Metro.
“They’ve all been so lovely. We’re all working within (a low) occupancy percentage … It’s kind of like this cauldron of hotels that are nearby, and I don’t feel it’s a competition just because (each) one has its own service,” she said, adding that not many are operating like the Dubbel Dutch.
“Even nationally, there isn’t a place where I could get a 17-room house for my family or for a wedding party or for a holiday. That’s what we really want to do,” she said. “Yes, it’s cool to have guests and strangers renting rooms one a piece, but could we have two nights of one family here … that’s what I’m passionate about.”
She said the whole hotel would have been rented out for the Democratic National Convention for six days, but that booking was canceled.
“They would have basically been our first full house,” she said.