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B & B : Bed and breakfast American style: The high price of kitsch

February 23, 1986|JERRY HULSE | Times Travel Editor

Despite the popular myth that all B&Bs are a joy, well . . . hear this.

The fact of the matter is that a surprising number of B&Bs are little more than drafty old fixer-uppers where guests gather to share a plate piled high with warmed-over muffins, a communal bath and a few slugs of drugstore sherry.

This is particularly true of the dude who pawns off Sonny's old bedroom after it's been spruced up with a few garage sale souvenirs. Yes, the same slickeroo who tries to convince us that we are about to overdose on charm.


You call padding down the hall to the potty charm?

Or lying awake listening to the guy snore or make love in the room next door. That's charm?

Those who've traveled the B&B circuit must, by now, have become a trifle bored with all the banal conversation that goes on around the breakfast table. This along with another batch of croissants, sliced bananas, dry cereal, ad nauseum.

And all this for up to $100 a night. Sometimes more.

The proliferation of B&Bs in the United States was born with the idea picked up by Americans traveling the B&B byways of Europe where, indeed, the bed-and-breakfast ritual is considered a bargain.

The trouble is, anxious Americans who emulated their European cousins got greedy. Not in the beginning, mind you. Early on they kept their rates rather reasonable. And please, this is not an indictment of the entire B&B industry. There are exceptions. But more and more, travelers in the United States are complaining. They say they are being had by unscrupulous mom 'n' poppers out to make a fast buck with little more than a mortgage that needs mending.

Nineteen years ago Jane Way of Sutter Creek, Calif., opened the first B&B west of the Mississippi. Today in California alone she has more than 700 competitors. Some describe themselves as innkeepers, others say they operate B&Bs. A lot of these places are jokes. Some proprietors aren't certain whether they're operating a B&B, an inn or if they have something going that suggests the Greenbrier with kitsch and croissants.

The idea with a lot of B&B proprietors is that when the kids leave home, mommy and daddy will turn the bedroom over to strangers. Slip a comforter on a four-poster, drop a few posies into a vase, roll a piano into the living room and there you have it--a B&B. And the idea, but always, is charm. Charm as in cute.

Cute little cutouts, cute names, cute expressions (framed and hung on the walls). And of course, pillows stitched with other folksy expressions. In some cases all this turns out well.

Sometimes it's even appealing. But the average innkeeper doesn't seem to know when to stop. As a result, one isn't sure when one awakens whether one has been snoozing in a B&B or a knickknack shop.

Heaven knows I've spent my fair share of time in B&Bs, some appealing, others less than rewarding. There was the B&B in Mendocino, for example, with a shower that sprayed the entire bathroom--not just me. When I complained to the proprietress that there was no hot water, she gave me a look as if I were conspiring to jerk her boarding license.

And then there was this other charming little B&B where the seat on the commode clattered onto the floor. Wham, just like that. I wasn't concerned so much that it went scooting helter-skelter across the room. What bothered me was that I was aboard.

Being a private person, I find that a goodly number of B&Bs provide dismally little privacy. On the other hand, if you're bored you can always listen to the couple arguing in the next room.

I know of a peach of a B&B in Northern California with a peach of a bath with a claw-footed tub that rests on a pedestal surrounded by hanging plants. The only trouble, it's shared by other guests, which makes it difficult to soak with someone banging on the door.

The Exceptions

But there are the exceptions. In Ventura there comes to mind La Mer, a B&B with five rooms representing five European countries in a charming 1909 Cape Cod-style Victorian overlooking the ocean. La Mer, operated by German expatriate Gisela Baida and husband Mike, provides an abundance of privacy, what with each room featuring an outside entrance.

In compiling a list of the finer B&Bs, I would be remiss if I didn't make mention of Molly Lynch's inviting J. Patrick House in Cambria, Calif. First, you aren't obliged to share Molly's home. Instead, guest rooms are found out back in a country house with private baths, individual fireplaces, hooked rugs and rockers. What's more, Molly doesn't charge an arm and a leg for shelter in this woodsy, five-star hideaway.

Jane Way, who kicked off this business of B&Bs in California, says she is alarmed at the direction the industry is headed. Having traveled in England, where she paid a reasonable $15 a night for bed and breakfast, she fears America's innkeepers are driving guests back to hotels and motels with their prices. Her Sutter Creek Inn, in California's Mother Lode, is singled out as the prototype of the ideal B&B.

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