I still cringe at the memory of the effusive Iowa City B&B owners who welcomed my husband and me to their home like we were their long lost kids returning home after our first year of college. They wanted to talk and talk and talk. We wanted to leave. Not that I mind a little B&B banter – we always appreciate suggestions on where to eat, what to see, how to get from here to there. But striking that balance between smothering your guests or ignoring them can be a challenge for B&B proprietors. I think the owners of a Minneapolis B&B that we stayed at earlier this month got it right. (Although, full disclosure, friends we recommended this place to years ago found them too aloof.)
I last visited Evelo’s B&B about 15 years ago and was pleased to see it’s still around (less pleased to see that the price of a room has doubled – from $45 to $95). It’s in a good location, on a quiet residential street in the Lowry Hill area, near the Walker Art Center, Lake of the Isles, and Uptown (although that neighborhood has lost its scruffy arty charm since we last visited.) From the street, the three-story, turn-of-the-20th-century B&B is unexceptional looking – and there’s no sign indicating it offers lodging.
But step inside and you’re in an impeccably preserved Victorian parlor with the original heavy dark oak woodwork, period furnishings, stained-glass domed lamps everywhere, and carefully arranged collections of American pottery. It’s more classy, than fusty, fussy, or frilly – the work of sophisticated collectors with a very good eye. The dining room walls were stenciled by hand with a Tiffany pattern of tall cypress trees modeled on the interior of Istanbul’s Topkapi Palace (which I visited in, um, 1982.) We only know this because we asked the proprietor, who gladly (but only briefly) filled us in. She appeared to have a speak-when-spoken-to policy that some might consider aloof but we appreciated. We saw her a little when we arrived and a little at breakfast before we left. Otherwise we were on our own, which is how we like it!
I almost forgot to mention the rooms – all three of them. They’re on the upper floors, more casually furnished than the main floor – with shabby chic bedspreads and distressed furniture – not a teddy bear in sight. More like staying in a cheerful room in grandma’s attic, complete with creaky wooden floors and a narrow staircase. You do have to share the one bathroom – which can be awkward, especially in the morning when you may encounter strangers also tiptoeing toward the shower. Co-existing with other guests at a B&B reminds me a bit of Kabuki-style choreography – listening for sounds outside your room, those telltale footsteps in the hall or water running in the bathroom; peaking out the door to see if the bathroom door is ajar; making a break for it and closing the bathroom door softly but firmly; and feeling relieved – until you remember you have to exit the way you arrived.