On the northeast corner of Charles and Read streets in Mount Vernon sits the stately old Latrobe Building – an Italian-Renaissance design with a flat roof, ornate overhanging eaves and mythical figures carved into its white stone facade.
Over the last century, the Latrobe has lived many lives — from a residence for Baltimore’s well-heeled to a room-and-board for affluent bachelors to a flophouse reportedly occupied by prostitutes, drug users, and drug dealers. It most recently served as an office building for non-profit organizations.
Today, the nine-story structure is home to Ulysses, a new 116-room hotel which is the fourth for New York-based hotelier Ash. The building was purchased sight unseen at auction and completely gutted, before opening its doors to customers on September 21.
“Ash is really set on adapt and reuse properties,” said Jim Entrican, Ulysses’ general manager. “They want to take historic buildings and bring them back to life.”
Ulysses takes its name from a ship that brought Bavarian immigrants to Baltimore at the turn of the century, but doesn’t shy way from the seminal James Joyce novel or from the hero in the Odyssey, an ancient Greek poem of epic travel and adventure.
“Ulysses embraces Baltimore’s contradictions and eccentricities with a textured, idiosyncratic design layered with arcane references culled from Art Deco movie palaces, the oeuvre of Baltimore icon John Waters and so much more,” the company said in a press release.
The steps leading up to Ulysses’ entrance set expectations of what’s to come. But what you expect to see is not what you get. Dark walls, intricate mosaic flooring, brass railings with pink taffeta curtains on brass rods separate the lobby from the concierge area setting the stage, like a curtain call, for a hotel where the Maryland Renaissance Festival meet flamboyance in a confluence of opulence and gawdy.
“Ulysses seeks to be a magnet and a home base for Baltimore-curious out-of-towners, while also serving as the day and night headquarters for Baltimoreans seeking high culture with a dash of debauchery,” Ari S. Heckman, CEO of Ash, told Travel + Leisure.
The hotel’s décor is an homage to Baltimore filmmaker and provocateur John Waters, creating a place where his fictional characters such as Honey Whitlock and Raymond Marble might come to stay.
The 116 guestrooms at Ulysses, spread across eight floors, carry four color schemes: red, yellow, green and blue. Guest rooms are outfitted with four-poster beds with scalloped canopies and handmade quilts inspired by the 1840s Baltimore Album quilt. Lamps with hand-beaded lampshades sit on nightstands held up by carved flamingos, another homage to Waters and his 1970s film, Pink Flamingos. The rooms feature custom textiles, tapestry-like draperies and birds as a recurring theme.
The bathrooms are outfitted with intricate tiling, burl wood paneling, custom vanities with high-end Water Works fixtures, oddly shaped mirrors and proprietary bath toiletries. Toilets in all of the hotel’s bathrooms are black.
The suites also feature a striking clawfoot bathtub within the center of the room. In the Dasher Suite, for instance, the tub sits in the main living area of the suite surrounded by settees and chairs as if bathing is a spectator event.
The hotel’s Ash Bar and Bloom’s bar are design extensions of the hotel’s décor. Ash Bar, an open-all-day café featuring such menu items as zucchini fritti and potage parmentier with hazlenuts, fennel pollen and coriander, offers up the same design aesthetic with high-gloss burl paneling on the walls and ceiling. Across the lobby is Bloom’s bar with a mélange of dizzying shapes and curves, tufted banquette seating throughout and a mirrored ceiling and bar.
The palette, Ash’s chief creative officer Will Cooper told the New York Times, was inspired from high papal outfits or royal purple and crimson, juxtaposed with fully mirrored walls and ceilings and a mirrored bar. “It is a room of contradictions and meant to instill a bit of naughtiness and chaos,” Cooper told the publication.
Naughtiness, playfulness and chaos are appropriate descriptions of Ulysses – and that’s by design. Guest rooms start at $169 a night, with suites going for as much as $400 a night. Given that Ulysses was decorated with John Waters in mind, hotel representatives said they would “roll out the red carpet for him,” because they said they believe he would appreciate the hotel’s whimsy.
“This hotel was built as an ode to worldly obsessions and unhinged visions and the infinite paths they lull you down,” the hotel wrote in its guest directory. “Ulysses is a place for transportive gathering for filthy minds and sacred reverie – the high priest of the fever dream.”