fb-pixel Skip to main content

Midtown Hotel a time machine

The view from the Midtown Hotel.Joan Farragher

Step into the hotel’s modest lobby and, for a moment, it’s as if you’ve slipped through one of those wormholes, a mysterious short-cut back through time.

Suddenly, it’s 1965 again. Mayor Collins is urging Governor Volpe to provide more cash to the city. Boston business leaders are assembling a bid for the 1975 World’s Fair. Bill Russell, that eagle with a beard, reigns supreme roaming the Garden’s parquet floor.

Check in to your room, adjust the television set’s rabbit ears, and there’s Chet Huntley on the news.

When the Midtown Motor Inn opened in 1961, John Collins and John Volpe were on hand at the ribbon-cutting ceremonies, hailing the $2.5 million, glazed white-brick structure along Huntington Avenue as Boston’s newest and most modern motor hotel.


When I checked out of the place on Tuesday morning, I had to do a double-take to assure myself that I had successfully navigated my way back to modern-day Boston. The bill for the room totaled $80.10.

Construction cranes have blossomed again on the Boston skyline. Soon, across the way from the Midtown, a 700-foot tower will begin to rise. Boston’s tallest skyscraper in 40 years will be home to luxury condos with fireplaces and 11-foot ceilings.

The new neighbors will look down upon the Midtown Hotel.

“Everybody criticizes it because they think it’s retro,’’ said owner Ron Druker, whose family has been in the hotel business since 1915 and whose father helped Volpe and Collins open the place. “It is retro. And that’s the point.’’

Yes, the Midtown Hotel, as it’s now called, is retro all right. And I’d like to be placed on its e-mail list.

The rooms are large and clean. My flat-screen TV was brand new, and the refrigerator kept the beer perfectly cold. The place — its facade still white and glazed — could be mistaken for a small college dorm, or the neighborhood office of the Registry of Motor Vehicles. No bar. No restaurant. Who cares?


“It’s sort of like ‘Back to the Future’ here,’’ said Eamon Murphy, in from Ireland to see fellow countryman Conor McGregor’s UFC victory last weekend over Germany’s Dennis Siver at the TD Garden. “But it did the job we needed to be done. Clean. Safe. And the guys at the desk were good blokes.’’

One of those blokes at the desk is Kevin O’Leary, a Midtown bell captain for 32 years, who has welcomed New England families and international travelers to his lobby across the street from the mother church of the First Church of Christ, Scientist.

“If I were a young guy, I’d stay here, get a good rate, and take the difference to wine and dine my girl,’’ O’Leary said. “All you want is a nice, safe, comfortable place and that’s what you get here.’’

The $80 rate climbs into the high $100s when the weather’s better and the Red Sox are in town. With occupancy routinely over 80 percent, the 159-room place is profitable.

Hotels throughout the city are spending millions to spiff themselves up and to cash in.

But I wouldn’t spend $600 on a hotel room if the price included a private brunch with Tom and Gisele and a one-on-one tutorial in media relations from Bill Belichick.

As the city remakes itself in glass and chrome, there’s something comfortable to be found in the white brick of the Midtown.


“I couldn’t ask for more,’’ said Adrian McElhatton, another Ultimate Fighting Championship fan from Ireland, who smiled at his $125-a-night room rate. “I got a bed and a shower and this place just jumped out at me because of its affordability.’’

The weekend crowd gave way to business clientele on Tuesday morning, and a golden sun shone spectacularly on the stunning architecture of the mother church across Huntington Avenue.

As I checked out, it was easy to imagine Willy Loman dashing through the lobby, his shoes polished, his smile dazzling.

Thomas Farragher is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at thomas.farragher@globe.com.