Can a 1970s Cape Cod hotel with a slick makeover balance Instagram-ready style with substance? - The Boston Globe (2024)

The aim is for potential guests to see the hotel as chic and stylish on social media and thus be enticed to book a room. It’s 2024, and I understand the Instagramification™ business model, but it’s a precarious path lined with contrived gimmicks. Sometimes a hotel can become so fixated on garnering social media attention that other aspects, such as clean bathrooms, are overlooked.

This was my fear as I got into the car and drove across an extensive parking lot at the Freebird Motor Lodge to my room. I opened the door, prepared for the worst. Instead, after a very close inspection, I unabashedly loved the room. The subtle 1970s design smartly took advantage of the 300-square-foot space. It wasn’t simply an old hotel room with a slap-dash coat of paint and a boldly papered feature wall. It was completely renovated. My room, for which I paid $126 a night, was both natty and substantial. Or as substantial as you can get for $126 a night on the Cape.

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Can a 1970s Cape Cod hotel with a slick makeover balance Instagram-ready style with substance? - The Boston Globe (1)

I was interested in staying at the Freebird because it’s part of a growing trend of old-school motels experiencing a second life. Not only do these motels (my dad called them “motor courts”) appeal to older travelers, they also draw in younger tourists seeking out unique lodging options with retro appeal.

Before it became the Freebird — named in honor of the 1974 Lynyrd Skynyrd song — this was a motel called Hunters Green. Built in 1970, it has a whopping 74 rooms and is a classic motor inn. In its recent Hunters Green iteration, the rooms were decorated in a questionable Art Deco fashion. Technically, it wasn’t Art Deco. It was a clunky, higgledy-piggledy collection of furniture and accessories which sat atop some industrial-grade carpet. There was nothing wrong with it, but it had zero charm.

Last year, Hunters Green received a top-to-bottom makeover that extended beyond the rooms to molt into Freebird. The wow factor is most evident in the pool area. What was once a standard 1970s motor lodge pool surrounded by concrete is now a showpiece with a playful resort quality to it. Aside from the usual lounge chairs, there are three cabanas, which feature daybeds and curtains that can be drawn for privacy. Unfortunately, there’s a $60 fee to rent one in the morning, $75 for the evening, or $120 for a full day. Normally I would be indignant at the upcharge, but because there are only three cabanas, the fee is probably a necessary evil.

Can a 1970s Cape Cod hotel with a slick makeover balance Instagram-ready style with substance? - The Boston Globe (2)

I was here before the summer season launched into high gear, so I had no problem procuring a cabana. I sat in one to test the daybed and an employee quickly appeared to ask if I was interested in renting it. As I was deciding, he dropped the price from the afternoon fee of $75 to the morning rate of $60. I’m a sucker for a bargain, so I said yes.

Along with the pool, there’s an adjacent food truck (although it’s more of a large outdoor booth) called the Dirty Birdie that serves flatbread pizza and co*cktails with cheeky, song-inspired names like the Hot for Teacher (mezcal, passion fruit puree, agave nectar) or the Uncucumfortably Numb (tequila, prosecco, lime juice, and cucumber juice). There’s a large alfresco dining area with tables and chairs, plus a long bar counter with stools.

I learned that there are no co*cktails or flatbread pizzas on Wednesdays during the offseason, so I settled for a Diet co*ke and sank into the daybed to read Joan Didion’s “Play It as It Lays” (published in 1970). In keeping with the motel’s motto of “A boutique hotel for the rebel spirit,” there was a steady soundtrack of Creedence Clearwater Revival, Paul McCartney and Wings, Aerosmith, and, of course, Lynyrd Skynyrd playing at the pool.

Can a 1970s Cape Cod hotel with a slick makeover balance Instagram-ready style with substance? - The Boston Globe (3)

There’s a 1970s rock theme lightly sprinkled throughout the motel, but unlike the Verb in Boston, which is all rock, all the time, the influence at Freebird is less heavy-handed. If you didn’t connect the Lynyrd Skynyrd dots you’d probably just think, “Oh, this is a cool Cape Cod hotel named after a bird.”

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My room, which fell into the category of “basic king,” impressed me because the king bed was comfortable, there were electrical outlets and built-in USB ports everywhere I needed them (I’m a stickler for outlets and USB ports), and there was plenty of storage. The room had a refrigerator, coffee maker, and even a hand-held steamer. The bathroom was tight, but I imagine in 1970 they didn’t anticipate future guests would be craving a spa-like oasis in which to take an aprés beach shower.

I do have a few concerns about the Freebird, particularly what it would be like to stay here during the height of summer when all 74 room are booked. Or even if 40 rooms are booked. I’ve stayed in renovated motor inns where conversations happening outside can easily be heard in my room. Also, the pool is large, but a substantial number of guests would make relaxation challenging.

What it has going in its favor is the renovation and the price. For $126 (I later saw the same kind of room advertised for $103 on the same night), I was satisfied. The price rises with demand. I priced it for July 4, and it was $236 with taxes and fees for the night, which still seems reasonable. As always, the hotel did not know a travel writer was on the premises.

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It makes me hopeful that we’ll see more old motels find a new life, and hopefully take flight the way that Freebird has spread its stylish wings.

Freebird Motor Lodge, 553 MA-28, West Yarmouth, 508-775-5400. www.freebirdmotorlodge.com

Christopher Muther can be reached at christopher.muther@globe.com. Follow him @Chris_Muther and Instagram @chris_muther.

Can a 1970s Cape Cod hotel with a slick makeover balance Instagram-ready style with substance? - The Boston Globe (2024)
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