On the Road Again: Ice Cream and Old-School Residence Inns
THURSDAY, MAY 27, 2021 -- You don't need a mad scientist with a souped-up DeLorean to travel back to a simpler time. Just grab your phone and punch in the coordinates for the Marriott Residence Inn Boston North Shore/Danvers.

If you are a fan of this particular extended-stay hotel brand--or just lean toward nostalgia on the road--you will not be disappointed when you arrive.

I was recently a guest at the Residence Inn Danvers property, on two separate occasions, and for a total of six nights. The first time through I was traveling solo. After a very long and especially unpleasant day, I checked in at around 10pm. So tired and distracted was I that I barely noticed this was the old-style, old-school Residence Inn. You know, the original kind with the two-story buildings, the external room entrances--and not an elevator in sight.

All I did notice as the clerk was checking my Marriott Bonvoy status that night was something so bizarre and unexpected that I'm still puzzling over it weeks later: In the freezer next to the front desk stood a lone pint of Ben & Jerry's pistachio ice cream.

Pistachio may be my favorite ice cream flavor, but precious few others would make the same claim. A survey of 20,000 Americans in 2020 found that only 3% considered pistachio to be their favorite ice cream flavor. Hell, even the "other" category came in at 8%.

Why this Residence Inn didn't carry chocolate, the nation's most popular ice cream flavor, or vanilla, an honorable runner-up, I couldn't tell you. What I can tell you is that emptying that entire pint in front of the television was the perfect ending to an otherwise dreadful day.

A few days later I returned to the same Residence Inn, this time in broad daylight and accompanied by my wife. I was very much more alert when checking in this time, which is probably what made the rush of nostalgia that came over me so acute.

It started when the desk clerk asked which suite I preferred, a queen with a fireplace or a king without one.

"Which would you take?" I asked, a firm believer that probing of the local talent is usually rewarded.

"Well, if you want to use the fireplace you'll need to buy those from us," the woman said, pointing to a small stack of Duraflame firelogs. "But in this weather it might not be that useful."

The weather was, in fact, lovely, in the mid-60s. But I almost couldn't believe my ears. This was a real fireplace she was offering, not one of the fake electric or gas versions we've all become accustomed to in modern-day hotels.

Heck, I came thisclose to going with the Duraflame room just for the nostalgia of it all.

Carrying our bags up to a second-floor room I noticed another Residence Inn throwback. Only two rooms could be accessed from our second-floor landing--and each had its own private staircase. This despite the fact that the landing was shared. In other words, Marriott could have eliminated half the staircases when designing these older properties, quite a significant savings I would imagine.

In-room-wise, the 425-square-footer was old-school Residence Inn all the way. Kitchen equipment included a full-size refrigerator, a four-burner stovetop, a 36-inch oven, a gigantic microwave and a regulation-size dishwasher. There was even a dining-room table. Oh, and the room had three--count 'em, three--good-size closets.

As you surely experienced before the pandemic grounded us all, modern Residence Inns are quite different affairs. The so-called Gen 9 design skimps on what used to make Residence Inns Residence Inns. They have smaller dishwashers and refrigerators, two-burner stoves and no dining-room tables. The new Residence Inns opt for a multi-use surface instead. Space once given over to full kitchens and proper dining tables has been shifted to bathrooms with large, walk-in showers.

And like virtually every other security-minded chain, Marriott has also eliminated the original motel-style outdoor entry doors in favor of Residence Inn structures with hotel-style interior corridors. And, of course, there are elevators.

I ran into the hotel manager on the morning we were checking out. He told me that this was one of the original Residence Inn properties. It's been open since 1989, about two years after Marriott acquired the brand and started to develop it.

"It probably won't be around that much longer," the man told me of the property. "I'm sure they'll build one of the new Residence Inns nearby, then this will be turned into an apartment complex. They won't even have to do much to this place because our rooms are already perfectly fine studio apartments. There's plenty of demand for this kind of housing around here."

I mentioned to the manager that I actually preferred the older-style property--and how much more convenient both my wife and I find the external room entry, especially when we travel by motorcycle. And contrary to most women, my wife actually believes outdoor-entry Residence Inns are safer than those with indoor corridors.

Then I handed him our room keys and said it was nice chatting with him. He wished me a safe trip and thanked me for my business. I turned to leave, but, when my eye caught the freezer case, I stopped and asked one last question.

"What's with the pistachio ice cream?" I said, noticing that the supply had been replenished. "I can't say that I've ever been to a hotel that carries it."

The manager seemed surprised.

"That's a good question," he said. "I guess the woman who stocks the freezer must like it. I've never had pistachio ice cream myself. Why do you ask?"

"No reason," I said. "But I'd keep that woman on if I were you."