Inn Your Dreams

By Charles Runnette

Originally published on Advocate.com September 10 2008 11:00 PM ET

Right: The Inn at Kent Falls

At Ira
Goldspiel’s archetypal New England countryside
property -- The Inn at Kent Falls -- everything
is just so. Frette sheets cover the overstuffed
mattresses on the wrought iron beds, and Aveda products fill
the en suite bathrooms. On cold nights a fire roars in the
sitting room, and on summer days the outdoor pool is
perfectly heated. Like other gays and lesbians
who’ve escaped the fluorescent office life by buying
an inn, Ira has found that his handsome colonial
property is more than a job -- it’s his
300-year-old baby. And like any toddler, this one needs
unconditional love and around-the-clock attention.

"For this job,"
says Ira, "it’s good to be more than a little
anal-retentive.”

One recent summer
night Ira realized just how demanding his 18th-century
little darling can be. The guests from all six rooms
had checked out in the afternoon, and he had no
reservations lined up that night. Finally alone,
Ira convinced his boyfriend to go skinny-dipping in the
pool to enjoy a rare quiet moment under the stars,
surrounded by the inn’s lush grounds and
babbling creek. But, as Ira recalls, “you learn
early on when you take this job that you’re never
alone.” Sure enough, a couple without a
reservation, who had seen the inn’s recent rave
review in Travel + Leisure, showed up
unannounced and found them.

The Inn at Kent Falls x395 02 (publicity) | Advocate.comThe Inn at Kent Falls

What’s
notable about Ira’s story is not that a gay innkeeper
was caught splashing around naked in his pool --
that’s nothing new. It’s that gay
B&B owners are increasingly less dependent on gay and
lesbian clients. The inn Ira bought and renovated in
northwestern Connecticut is gay-friendly -- but hardly
pride flag-waving. The couple who caught Ira and his
boyfriend in their birthday suits was, like most of his
guests, straight.

Scott Coatsworth,
who started the online LGBT travel directory Purple
Roofs with his partner, Mark Guzman, has noticed a
growing trend of inns owned by gay and lesbian
people popping up in "nongay" areas. “The places
we listed used to be confined to gay meccas,”
he says. “But now you can find an LGBT-owned
property almost anywhere.” When he started the site
in 1998, Coatsworth figured they would struggle to
list 100 or so gay- or lesbian-owned B&Bs, inns,
and guesthouses. Now they have over 1,000 listings
from around the world -- some in fairly non-traditionally
gay locations like Utah, Alaska, and Peru. “As
the gay and lesbian community has shifted out of the
ever-more-expensive urban gay ghettos,” Coatsworth
says, “gay-owned businesses have
followed.”

Stevenswood Resort and Spa (from thier web site) | Advocate.com

Clinging to the
cliffs two hours north of San Francisco, the quaint town
of Mendocino -- with a population of just 800 -- is best
known for its TV appearances as the fictional Cabot
Cove, Maine, where Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury)
solved mysteries in her sensible shoes. It has no gay
bars and no lesbian coffeehouses. But a handsome
30-something gay couple own one of the better-known
local inns, Stevenswood Resort and Spa. Michael
Webster and Seth Kelman bought Stevenswood in 2004 and have
slowly transformed their pride and joy into a chic,
eco-friendly, 10-room property with an innovative spa
and notable restaurant deserving of its AAA
four-diamond status. But they don’t have many gay
guests.

“Gays
don’t generally go for cool misty mornings and foggy
afternoons,” jokes Kelman, who could pass
easily for Lance Bass’s older brother. But that
didn’t stop Kelman and Webster from snatching up this
place miles away from Fort Lauderdale, Provincetown,
and Palm Springs.

Having studied
the business for many years as hospitality management
consultants in Southern California, the couple started
their search for the perfect inn about 10 years ago.
They looked in New York, Vermont, France, Spain,
Italy, the Caribbean, and all over California, taking a
few key lessons into consideration: at least 10 rooms to
make a decent profit, room for improvements, and for
their personal satisfaction, located near a body of
water. But neither Webster nor Kelman considered the
gayness of the destinations as critical.

Of course, they
are quick to point out that they didn’t choose some
bigoted backwater to call home. “Being gay in
Mendocino is a nonissue,” says Webster.
“It’s a very, very liberal community with just
a handful of gays, but it couldn’t be less of a
thing here.” And that’s the way they
seem to like it: as the gay couple who own an inn that
appeals to both straights and gays in a town where gay
or straight is immaterial.

Todos Santos Inn (from their site) | Advocate.comAbove: Todos Santos Inn

John Stoltzfus
felt the same way when, out of the blue, with no prior
experience, he up and left Los Angeles and bought a charming
19th-century Mexican inn. He and his partner were
ready to escape their day-to-day lives and try
something dramatically different. So rather than doing
anything related to his previous experience running a
company that made dental hygiene products, he settled
on buying the Todos Santos Inn in the eponymous town
near the tip of the Baja peninsula. “It seemed like a
long shot,” says Stoltzfus, “but when we
came down and saw this charming town with its
artist-meets-surfer sensibility, we were convinced.”

Todos Santos Inn 02 (from their site) | Advocate.com

Right: The Todos Santos Inn

At first
Stoltzfus thought it would be a challenge to be a gay couple
in a small Mexican town but that turned out to be far
from true. They found urbanites to locals in sleepy,
colonial town a cinch. “The community accepted
us immediately,” says Stoltzfus, “and we were
pleasantly surprised that in the end we turned to out
to be one of several gay couples living in the
area.”

Five years after
making the plunge, Stoltzfus feels that being an
innkeeper is what he was meant to do. And despite being away
from the large gay community in Los Angeles, he has
never regretted the choice to open an inn that
draws a mostly straight clientele. As he puts it,
“Todos Santos Inn is open to all and run by a gay
man.” He points out that while gay men may have
some extra hospitality skills, anyone, gay or
straight, can be a great innkeeper. He adds, “When I
look around any given night at tables full of happy
guests, there's no greater feeling of
satisfaction.”

Casitas Laquita Inn 01 (publicity) | Advocate.comAbove: The Casitas Laquita Inn

Even inns in
traditional gay enclaves are attracting straight guests.
Across the border in über-gay Palm Springs, Calif.,
Joanna Funero and Denise Roberson run an adorable
hacienda-style inn called Casitas Laquita. The couple
have run their 15-room lesbian–friendly spot for
about nine years, and unlike the town's clothing-optional
places, they welcome both genders and straight
folks.

"Our clientele
tends to be lesbians, but we’ve had lesbians with
their guy friends, transgendered folks, married straight
folks," Robertson says. "We’re open to
anyone.” What do they all have in common? They
want to come back to this relaxed getaway draped in
bougainvillea. The atmosphere is not sexually
charged. And with kitchens in the units, the inn
caters to quieter folks who like to stay in at night.

Casitas Laquita Inn 02 (publicity) | Advocate.comAbove: The Casitas Laquita Inn

Roberson and
Funero say they still love the choice they made to
escape Los Angeles and run a little inn in the desert. They
admit, though, that the job can get tiring.
“We like people, so we enjoy it,” says
Roberson. “But it’s like having guests
in your house every day.”

Back in
Litchfield County, Conn., Ira Goldspiel has learned his
lesson from his skinny-dipping scenario. He’s
now pulling back a bit to give himself more personal
time. On those infrequent nights when he has no
guests, he unplugs the phones, turns out all the lights, and
shuts off the "Open" sign. With light solely from
candles, he and his boyfriend hunker down in the lakes
suite and soak in the extra-large claw-footed tub
before jumping into the king-size bed. After all, Ira
says, "even innkeepers need a romantic
getaway.”