Each year, millions of people flock to the shores along the East Coast for a well-deserved vacation or weekend getaway. After a long, hard day of relaxing on the beach, there is that great feeling of heading home for a strong shower, and a solid night of sleep. Many will rent homes for a week, others will set up at bed and breakfasts or luxury hotels, and still others will stake out a room at a motel – largely no frill affairs that offer four cinderblock walls and a place to shake out the sand.
Motels are a concept not tilted towards the hip. But last year the Delaware-based Dogfish Head Brewery turned a motel in Lewes that had fallen on hard times into a destination for beer lovers, bringing the dated concept into the modern era.
The Dogfish Inn has all the charms of the throwback motel scene: physical keys with awkwardly-sized plastic key chains, sparse furnishings, plenty of hooks to hang towels, wet bathing suits, and beach bags, plus the tiny little bars of soap and bottles of shampoo. This not a low-budget offering, and doesn’t fit the stereotypical motel vibe.
The clean and bright rooms are done in minimalistic fashion, with subtle touches and original works of art. The inn feels like Dogfish.
Now 20 years old, the brewery has a rabid, passionate following thanks in large part to the recipes developed by founder Sam Calagione and his fellow brewers. Boundary pushing with not only hops but with obscure ingredients and exotic wood used for aging Dogfish beers are in demand. It’s become the 11th largest craft brewer in the country, producing more than 228,000 barrels of beer last year, all while exuding a brand of cool that can only come with authenticity.
Dogfish is like that cool kid in school that was friendly to everyone making you cool by association. It’s wearing Chuck Taylors for the right reasons, not fashion. Knowing the new bands before they go mainstream, and the genuine desire to learn the kind of fascinating obscure knowledge that makes for great party conversation.
The inn – maybe even more so than the small brewpub in nearby Rehoboth Beach and large production brewery in Milton – is the physical embodiment of that confidant cool vibe.
Of course, rehabbing motels from a former collection of hot-sheet discount rooms to a chic habitat is nothing new. Projects like the Jupiter in Portland, Oregon and Playland Motel in Rockaway Beach, NY already welcome the well-heeled set, and others are popping up around the country as well.
What separates the Dogfish Inn from these other entities is its connection to the brewery, so what will likely come as a surprise to first-time visitors is that it doesn’t have a bar. No on-premise liquor license means they don’t have beer to sell. However, there is a well-stocked shop two blocks away (along with a plethora of fantastic restaurants that serve booze) meaning you can pick up a beer of your choice – Dogfish or not – and bring it back to your room or tipple around the motel property’s campfire, complete with wooden benches and life preservers acting as seat cushions.
It’s not cheap (for a motel) and, with just 16 rooms, reservations can be hard to come by, especially since the brewery often uses it to house out-of-town guests. Rooms in mid-August, according to a search done before press-time, started at $259.00 for a double occupancy room with a queen or king-size bed.
While not designed to be anything more than a comfortable place to sleep and shower, people don’t often linger in motel rooms more than what’s necessary. However, the time spent in the inn rooms have a number of creature comforts that help justify the nightly rate. From original artwork on the walls (including paintings of the historic Lightship Overfalls hidden in each room) to the Tivoli radio on the nightstand and artisanal woven blankets on the bed, no detail was overlooked. For the beach, the inn offers a tote bag (with attached bottle opener) and retro chairs for the sand. There’s even a lending library, stocked by San Francisco-based bookstore City Lights. Bike rentals are available on-site.
The inn isn’t having trouble attracting guests. Devoted fans of the brewery will keep them booked for years to come. While the customers might come for the brewery or a chance to see Calagione himself holding court at the campfire, they’ll also find a comfortable place to recharge, drifting off to sleep to the soothing sound of boat horns wafting from the water.
If you go: The Dogfish Inn 105 Savannah Rd. Lewes, DE 19958. DogfishInn.com, 302-644-8292.
John Holl is the editor of All About Beer Magazine. Contact him via Twitter @John_Holl or JohnHoll@allaboutbeer.com