10 hotels with crazy cool backstories

Cookie cutter hotels are cool and all, but have you ever crashed in a former convent built by Catholic nuns?

Similarly, anyone can get hammered at a regular old hotel bar, but only guests at the Armory can get sloshed at a World War II-era speakeasy in the soundproof room where Montana’s military band once practiced.

From former jails to banks, post offices and even hospitals for indigent females, the US is home to no shortage of hotels worthy of History Channel features.

Here are a few properties where if the walls could talk, they’d probably never shut up.  

Armory inn

Not many hotels can brag about having a rifle range in their basement.

But the Kimpton Armory Hotel, Bozeman, Montana, can.

Exterior of the Armory.
Rates at the Armory start at $279 per night.
The Kimpton Armory

Back in 1941 it was home to the Montana National Guard, and its arsenal — including tanks that required the building to have concrete walls and reinforced floors.

These days, however, guests at the Armory can head downstairs for drinks in Tune Up, a speakeasy named for the soundproof room where the military band used to tune their instruments (while their colleagues were at target practice). Today, it’s Bozeman’s chicest hotel.

Indigent interlopers

Exterior of HI NYC.
Rates at the HI start at $30 per night.
ostelling International

Before it became the largest hostel in the US, the HI New York City Hostel was widow central.

The imposing red brick building at 891 Amsterdam Ave., completed in 1883, was originally a charity hospital for the Association for the Relief of Respectable Aged Indigent Females.

Today, instead of little old ladies knocking at death’s door, you’re more apt to run into Gen Zers fighting over who gets the bottom bunk.

Women’s room

Exterior of the Hotel Figueroa.
Rates at the Hotel Figueroa start at $209 per night.
Tanveer Badal Photography/Hotel Figueroa

Funded by women, founded by women and opened solely for their use, the former YWCA hotel in Los Angeles is now Hotel Figueroa.

Originally it was the only option for females traveling alone in Los Angeles as most hotels back in the 1920s required a male to check-in. Not surprisingly, the property boasted the country’s first female hotel director, too.

Rumor has it the coffin-shaped pool symbolizes the death of patriarchy.

Make it a habit

Interior of Celeste St. Paul Hotel.
Rates at Celeste St. Paul Hotel start at $110 per night.
Spacecrafting Photography/Celeste St. Paul Hotel

Picture nuns in habits and hardhats, because before the Sisters of St. Joseph Carondelet of St. Paul, Minnesota, could move into their convent — which would eventually turn into St. Agatha’s Conservatory of Music and Art before becoming a hotel — they had to build it.

In its heyday, it was home to nearly 100 nuns and more than 1,000 students. Today, the Beaux-Arts building houses Celeste of St. Paul Hotel + Bar, complete with stained-glass windows and a spacious chapel suite. Married couples only, please.

Train spotting

Old timey print of the Grand Central Station's exterior.
Rates at the Grand Central Station start at $219 per night.
Grand Central Station

Before cars became the main mode of transportation, Memphis’ bustling Grand Central Station saw more than 50 daily passenger train departures and arrivals. In 2019 the century-old building welcomed the 4-star Central Station Hotel with 123 well-appointed suites.

It’s still a working train station, serviced by Amtrak. However, you don’t have to be a ticket holder to enjoy a cocktail and one of the city’s finest vinyl record collections in its popular bar and lounge.

Ghost town

Exterior of the Crowne Plaza New Orleans.
Rates at the Crowne Plaza start at $151 per night.
IHG Hotels & Resorts

It’s hard to find a hotel that isn’t haunted in the graveyard metropolis of New Orleans, which boasts the country’s highest number of ghosts per capita.

With its reports of guests being accosted by “ominous energies, mysterious orbs and apparitions,” Crowne Plaza New Orleans French Quarter is no exception.

Built in 1852, it was a department store — including a Woolworth’s — until the 1990s.

Something to write home about

Exterior of the Hotel Monaco.
Rooms at the Kimpton Hotel Monaco start at $318.
IHG Hotels & Resorts

“We doubt there is a building in the world more chaste and architecturally perfect than the General Post Office,” wrote Harper’s New Monthly Magazine in 1859. Here, at Washington, DC’s opulent primary post office, worried wives would wait for correspondence from their husbands fighting in the Civil War.

The building is now home to the 4-star Kimpton Hotel Monaco and its elegant ballroom — formerly the postmaster’s personal library. 

Lock it up

Interior of the Vault Hotel.
Rates at the Vault hotel start at $250 per night.
The Vault Hotel

Today’s weary travelers can deposit themselves at the Vault Hotel in Houghton, Michigan — a former Wells Fargo that opened in 1887 as the Houghton National Bank.

This is where the Great Lakes shipping magnates and copper-mining millionaires stored their fortunes during the late 1800s.

Today, it’s the area’s only luxury hotel, where guests check in at painstakingly restored teller windows. Travelers can even stay in a suite containing the bank’s original vault. (Unfortunately, it’s empty.)  

The big house

Interior of the Liberty Hotel.
Rates at the Liberty Hotel start at $179 per night.
Liberty Hotel

A property tour of the former Charles Street Jail (now the bougie Liberty Hotel) ends with a glass of free champs at this landmark building in the heart of Beantown.

From 1853 to 1990, it housed some of the city’s most infamous offenders until they revolted and were moved to a prison with better living conditions.

Today, guests can gawk at the preserved cells and wrought-iron windows before enjoying a beverage in the well-manicured courtyard (once the inmates’ exercise yard).

Washington School House

Exterior of the Washington School House.
Rates at the Washington School House start at $750 per night.
Washington School House

Class may no longer be in session, but in Park City, Utah, the classy Washington School House hotel is where the cool kids stay.

Built in 1889, it’s one of the oldest surviving schoolhouses left in the US.

The property gets a B-minus for occupancy (there are only 12 rooms and suites). But the amenities get an A-plus. Think heated floors, ski valet, outdoor fire pit — complete with a torch left over from the 2002 Olympics — heated pool and even a private antique and art collection.