Nashville’s High-Kitsch Hideaway Is Full of Retro Charm

The Dive, a new poolside hotel from Lyon Porter and Jersey Banks, transforms an old motor lodge into a wood-paneled party auberge.
The Dive Motel Nashville

Courtesy Ben Fitchett

Nestled amid the pawn shops, drab motels, and discount grocers on Dickerson Pike in Nashville, a new venue offers kitsch-loving carousers an unusual place to lay their heads. The latest offering from Lyon Porter and Jersey Banks, the power duo behind popular hospitality spaces like Urban Cowboy in East Nashville and Williamsburg, Brooklyn, The Dive Bar, Motel, and Swim Club opened in August as a readymade, multifaceted haunt filled with vintage odds and ends and design elements fabricated by local Music City makers.

Occupying a structure that was formerly the Key Hotel Motor Inn, a 1950s roadside motor lodge with dropped ceilings, simple rooms, and bulletproof reception windows, The Dive offers a range of activities for both travelers and locals within its fenced lot: There’s a 60-foot heated pool, a hot tub, an outdoor smoking and lounge area, curtained “VIP” cabanas, a dive bar and restaurant, an outdoor music stage, a food truck, and shed-turned-gift-shop (filled with curios curated by Banks). Interiors at The Dive run eclectic and un-precious, riffing on some of the 20th century’s most-loved lowbrow highlights— think 50s kitsch, 60s mod, and 70s disco.

Courtesy Ben Fitchett

The original sign for the Key Hotel remains onsite, though its design has been updated by Nashville hand-painted sign specialists I Saw the Sign to display the motel’s new name and features. But aside from the sign and the footprint of the guest rooms, a few bathroom tiles, and the original hotel reception desk (including that bulletproof window), everything in The Dive has been removed or remade.

The low-lit bar and restaurant, once the living quarters for the original motor lodge’s owners, doubles as the motel reception area. The renovated space features new design elements selected for their reference to other eras: a checkered-tile floor, wood-paneled walls studded with framed pictures of dead rock stars, a throwback orange faux-fireplace, a DJ/hostess booth with functioning television tucked inside, and midcentury-style diner seating. Vintage flying eagle Tiffany lamps hang over the disco-rustic bar, a custom black walnut piece that has been kitted out with lights and gold-flecked acrylic by local fabricators Good Wood. Behind the bar is a large, horizontal mirror featuring a nude woman stretched on her side—gifted to The Dive from Hank Williams Jr.’s tour bus.

Courtesy Ben Fitchett

The designers gutted each of the motel’s 23 rooms to the studs, and opened ceilings to give the box-like dwellings a necessary upgrade. Restyled with elements like sunny, hand-painted supergraphics , vintage wallpapers, vibrant original (and in some cases, painstakingly matched) tilework, and hand-picked antiques, each room has a unique, named aesthetic, from “The Captain’s Room” (which is navy blue, wood-paneled, and filled with vintage nautical objects) to the special “Cabin Rooms” (which feature plaid shower curtains and curved, wood-paneled walls that resemble a log-cabin interior). Every room also has a “party switch,” an alternative light toggle that turns on galactic lighting and music from one of the four available stations: Drugs, Sex, Rock and Roll, or Sleep. Above each bed is a disco ball, handmade by the legendary (and possibly last-standing) mirrorball-maker Yolanda Baker.

More than anything, The Dive showcases Banks’ and Lyons’ shared passion for vintage charms and knack for a pleasantly idiosyncratic kind of Feng Shui. Banks admits that this particular project is less about being “precious” and more about celebrating the best flavors of bygone decades. “We pick everything. We’ve been to Round Top three times this year, filled up several U-Hauls and driven across the country…We go to every flea market. My basement is full, but this is a labor of love,” she says. “We want this place to be fun.”

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Categories: Hospitality Interiors