TRAVERSE CITY — Nick Starr walked into Room 128 at the Grand Traverse Motel on a sunny, late August afternoon and stepped into his parent’s basement.
There was a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartridge in the Nintendo Entertainment System playing on a console television, a stack of classic vinyl records next to a turntable and a plush chair that was as comfortable to sit in as the print was lavish.
It was as if the Fenton man had shed 30 years passing over the threshold.
Minus the cold Pabst Blue Ribbon in a hidden refrigerator above a recently constructed fireplace, of course.
Starr and his girlfriend, Maggie Meadows, were one of the August guests in Pabst Blue Ribbon-themed rooms at the Grand Traverse Motel. For five pop-topping weeks, three rooms on the ground floor of the motel were transformed into a red-, white- and blue-colored haven. As the often witty sign outside 1010 E. Front St. proudly proclaims, welcome to “Pabst: The Place.”
Starr and Meadows stayed in the Rec Room Tuesday and Wednesday. Starr said he booked a short work-getaway in Traverse City when Pabst Blue Ribbon announced the promotion on Instagram earlier this year.
“Wow. It was awesome,” Starr said of his first impression walking into the room. “The pictures we saw when we booked online didn’t do it justice. We both love stuff with that retro vibe, so it suits our taste to a T.”
Especially since the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles video game was playing on the NES. Starr didn’t waste any time sitting in a chair whose pattern reminded him of one his parents had in his basement. For those looking to go back a bit further in the early days of home video games, there was an Atari 2600 with joystick at the ready.
“I had that Nintendo system,” the 39-year-old said. “The Atari kind of predates me, but the original Nintendo was something I had as a kid. So that was awesome.”
“That’s the feeling we were trying to create,” said DNA Seattle brand director Nicole Schmidt, which signed Pabst Blue Ribbon as a client earlier this year.
Next door to The Rec Room is The Dive Bar in Room 129. The Arcade is in Room 130.
Each of the rooms were designed and decorated by Seattle-based Hotopp Associates as a promotion for Pabst Blue Ribbon, which traces its roots back to 1844. DNA Seattle developed the idea with PBR.
“We wanted to create something real authentic to the brand,” Schmidt said of the design. “What would PBR look like if was a real place.”
“It’s been a great experience, but it’s definitely a lot of work for everyone here,” said Christine Allie, who has owned the 18-room Grand Traverse Motel since 2018. “But people have enjoyed it and gotten behind it.”
And as with any promotion though, there is an end date. Allie said the three rooms were booked from Aug. 1 through Labor Day on Sept. 5. After that time rooms 128-130 will return to their previous states.
“It was a good run,” Allie said. “We had a (fun) couple of months doing this.”
Into the spotlight
“Pabst: The Place” also garnered a lot of attention. Allie said company executives came to Traverse City to stay. DNA Seattle also brought in social media influencers and a professional wrestler, Matt Cardona.
“They’ve had different influencers staying in the room,” she said. “And there’s also fan bookings.
“It’s been a wide assortment.”
There’s also been plenty of people like Starr who used the promotion for a much-needed getaway. Allie said some people enjoyed just looking at the rooms online and in-person when there weren’t guests booked.
Schmidt said DNA Seattle and Pabst Blue Ribbon initially focused on 15 different markets for the debut promotion. Pabst Blue Ribbon Marketing Director Rachel Keeton, who is from Michigan and has visited Traverse City, suggested the Cherry Capital.
The independently-owned Grand Traverse Motel made it from the initial 15 markets to one of the finalists to the selection. Room transformation began in mid-July with Hotopp bringing the concept to life, Schmidt said.
“Traverse City is really close to some of our key markets,” said Schmidt, who also made a trip to town. “But it’s also a summer destination and a great place for motel guests to explore.”
The Pabst Blue Ribbon rooms also made it into Jimmy Fallon’s monologue on “The Tonight Show” on Aug. 18, complete with a picture of The Dive Bar.
“Well, get this,” Fallon said during the episode. “I heard that Pabst Blue Ribbon is partnering with a motel in Michigan to create PBR-themed rooms. That’s right, a beer-themed motel room or as it’s also known, a motel room.”
The three rooms rent for $184.40 a night as a nod to Pabst’s beginnings in 1844. There is a two-night minimum and maximum.
The online promotion of “Pabst: The Place” says “availability is limited” but “nostalgia guaranteed.” Allie said each room has certain required elements.
“They make a list of things that help make the experience,” she said.
“It’s all about the details,” Schmidt said.
Starr said the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles video game reminded him of a poster of Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello and Raphael that said, “Say No to Drugs, Say Yes to Pizza.”
Starr and Meadows, who both work in the music industry in the Flint area, also enjoyed listening to albums from The Doors, The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Michael McDonald and Steppenwolf.
All guests must be at least 21 years old, provide a valid photo ID in person and sign a form.
That’s because each room comes with six ice cold Pabst Blue Ribbon beers with another two in the room. Each day the beer is replenished.
Each of the rooms has a wide variety of elements tying into the theme.
The Dive Bar has exactly that along the back wall, with some familiar bottles of liquor replaced with Pabst-appropriate labels. There’s also a working jukebox that dispenses a cold beer from inside it when the user presses PBR simultaneously on the jukebox.
There’s also a working pay phone with numbers scribbled on the walls. One that suggests calling Tracy for a good time takes the caller to a message from a guy referring them to Sleeping Bear Dunes or the Old Mission Lighthouse for a good time. Calling 867-5309/Jenny plays the song of the same name.
“This has been a favorite, especially for the older crowd,” Allie said. “It looks like a dive bar, for sure.”
There’s even markers in the bathroom.
“They want every guest to write on the wall; to leave their mark on the wall,” Allie said.
The Arcade Room is exactly that, with the PBR on ice inside a custom-made claw machine. The user may need a cheat code to crack open a cold one, but it can be done.
There’s a stand-up ‘PBRcade’ machine with a variety of games, a PBR shot game above the bed, gaming seats and even a ticket dispenser in the bathroom in place of the toilet paper dispenser.
Each of the three beds is filled with Pabst Blue Ribbon memorabilia. For those that could ever forget the experience of staying in a Pabst Blue Ribbon-decorated room, they’ll have something to remember their trip to TC.
“Most of it gets taken except for the robe,” Allie said, noting the plush garment may be difficult to smush in a suitcase for air travelers. “Everything on the bed is fair game.”
“Literally the whole bed is covered in it,” said Starr, figuring he would leave with a T-shirt or something small. “We couldn’t believe all the swag.”
The whole experience
Online at www.gtmotel.com/pbr/ simply states what the promotion at the motel was trying to accomplish: “Pabst is a special place in your heart and mind. A place that’s indifferent to the passing of time, where the beer is cold and friendship is forever.”
Pabst has a long family history of ownership and so does Grand Traverse Motel. The motel was was built in the 1950s as a one-story structure and added a second story in the 1970s, according to its website.
Allie purchased the motel in 2018, which marked the third ownership group for the facility. Allie said she put some extensive renovations into the property.
“We put a lot of money into it,” she said. “We had a full-time person go room-to-room and just redo everything from scratch.”
Allie credits a small, but loyal staff with helping to transform the motel. There’s manager Brian Ritter, Aron Green in maintenance and Penny Julin in housekeeping.
“Our staff is awesome,” Allie said. “They’re a great, caring staff. They’re not just there. They want to take care of stuff and fix problems. Everyone works as a team and cares about the place.”
The staff was critical to “Pabst: The Place,” she said. Especially since constructing the three special rooms was an interruption of duties as well as maintaining them during the promotion.
“If the staff is behind it, it works,” Allie said. “They were consulted in advance and they all got behind it.”
Pabst Blue Ribbon bought the three motel rooms for the promotion, including construction in mid-July and the tear-down in September. Allie said Grand Traverse Motel didn’t lose any money serving as the host for PBR.
She said the motel is usually 100% booked during August. Allie reported to DNA Seattle there were just four open rooms for the entire month in August 2021.
Allie said she “will miss it” when the rooms will be transformed back, but added a return to normalcy will also be embraced by her and the staff.
She said Hotopp Associates might feel differently.
“It’s crazy how much time and effort went into it,” Allie said. “Their design and install team did all of this. For them I think it’s probably heartbreaking.
“Their whole job is to make sandcastles and watch them wash away.”