Bozeman’s Coolest Basecamp

The LARK, named for Montana’s state bird, the Western meadowlark, is Bozeman’s trendy new place to stay. In the heart of downtown, at 122 W. Main Street, the fully renovated two-story building was originally an Imperial 400 Motel (a Mid-century motor lodge chain). After sitting derelict for four years, it is now, thanks to architects and co-owners Brian Caldwell and Erik Nelson of ThinkTank Design Group Inc., a cool boutique hotel.

Photography by Lynn Donaldson

Photography by Lynn Donaldson

The LARK has a hipster vibe and a minimalist Modern aesthetic with a Montana twist. Drawing inspiration from far and wide, including from their business partner, architect Richard Fernau of Berkeley, the Jupiter in Portland, the Ace Hotel chain, and Hotel San Jose in Austin, the ThinkTank team obsessed over every aspect of the project. The result is a cohesive design coalesced into comfortable lodging.

Check into The LARK as I did one recent evening and you will receive a blank Field Journal the size of a passport containing the Wi-Fi code and front desk phone number. The journal symbolizes the hotel’s philosophy, as everything about the LARK is designed to simultaneously host you in and help you get out. Cue the Clash song, “Should I Stay or Should I Go?”

Lark Collage 2

The LARK thus epitomizes the ethos of the Bozeman, a town full of adventure enthusiasts who work to play, and mostly outside. The motel’s clientele is of the same ilk: culturally informed, yet outside the mainstream; seeking local hotspots, yet eager to get off the beaten path. The hotel’s mission is to inform your exploration and act as your basecamp.

Sit in a turquoise reproduction Ames chair around the large wood table in the lobby’s map room and browse the collection of USGS maps. Knowledgeable staff will guide you as you plan where to ski, bike, hike, and drink locally brewed beer. Or glean ideas from from the wickedly cool infographic on your guestroom wall.

These artful diagrams, each created by a different local artist, depict Montana facts, like annual snow pack, the wingspans of native birds, and my favorite, destinations within walking, biking, driving, and as-the-lark-flies distance from the motel. I’m originally from Jackson, WY, so I chuckled to see Jackson depicted by the electrical outlet.

Lark Collage 3

Caldwell and Nelson did all the hotel’s interior design with the Modernist idea that utilitarian elements should be efficient yet decorative. ”Have fun with what you have to have,” Caldwell says. Everything possible was created, built, or manufactured locally, so the LARK required a community of artists, craftsmen, and builders. Pat Hoffman, a ceramic artist and high school art teacher was the artistic director. He also created my favorite lobby artwork, an assemblage of slip cast, wood fired orbs attached by magnets to a wall-mounted steel plate.

Much of The LARK’s furniture is made from requisite Montana materials like iron, log and leather, but used in unexpected ways. For example, in the lobby, massive cowhide triangles etched with lightning bolts of lead adorn one wall. A wood coffee table, designed by Caldwell, has an abstracted tree ring graphic embedded in white rosin. Around it are leather couches that actually encourage you to fraternize with your fellow travelers.

Lark Collage 4

If it’s a nice day, then the lobby’s glass garage door wall will be open to the cement patio. Sit by the outdoor fireplace while you visit with your newfound friends and sip locally roasted and LARK brewed Little Red Wagon coffee, or whiskey distilled across the street at Bozeman Spirits.

Lark Collage 5

The patio is where the carport once was and its transformation embodies the design challenge inherent in making a motor lodge pedestrian friendly. Increasing guest privacy was the other goal. The ThinkTank team accomplished this by widening the balcony, effectively drawing attention away from guestroom windows, and by cutting the existing roof back then floating angular roof planes above it, thus letting air and light circulate. Exterior fin walls separate rooms into pairs, and landscaping now divides parking from the building.

The Last Best Plates - The Lark

While it is private and friendly, the LARK is not your home away from home. Amenities like a mini-fridge, microwave, coffeemaker, and house phone are absent. You won’t miss them. Nor may you miss having an on-site cafe and bar. There are plenty of joints across the street. Plus, at the edge of the lot is Victory Taco, a food truck in a shining 1947 Spartan Manor trailer.

Of course, the LARK is so comfy you may want to stay in (get the tacos to-go), as the beds are wickedly comfortable and fitted with white, fluffy duvets, accented by red-stripped wool Dutch Navy blankets. The built-in desk is perfect for your laptop and includes LARK emblazoned leather desk mat and pencils, and a custom-built organizer. Bathrooms are chic and sunlit with monster subway tile, walk-in showers, and MALIN+GOETZ products.

Lark Collage 6

At the LARK, you’ll be happy as you stay and informed and rested when you go. The LARK water bottle is yours, a reminder to return, on a lark.

122 West Main Street
Bozeman, Montana 59715

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