A cryptic clue has been on the Modern Hotel & Bar’s street sign since early January:
“Ask us about the Watercooler Apartments.”
If you do ask, the answer is that Modern owner Elizabeth Tullis is innovating with the apartment project that opened last summer at 14th and Idaho Streets. Tullis has entered into six leases at the 37-unit Watercooler Apartments, two blocks from the Modern, to fulfill a long-held desire to add an extended-stay option to her portfolio.
Tullis is the same person who in 2007 took a 1961 former Travelodge and transformed it into the boutique hotel Modern.
Tullis leased four apartments at the Watercooler where guests can stay up to 31 days. The apartments are an extension of the Modern: guests check in at the Modern and the apartments come with the same amenities as the Modern. The extended-stay units became available Dec. 1 and go for $250 to $375 a night.
The apartments are a mix of studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom. The Watercolor has separate entrances for pods of eight units. All four Modern units are on the second floor in one pod. Like the residential units, the apartments come with stove, refrigerators, washer and dryer.
Tullis’ sister-in-law, interior designer Kerry Tullis, used the same mid-century modern elements at the Watercooler as she employed at the Modern, including the Nelson Bubble Lamps and Cherner chairs.
Tullis didn’t stop with four Watercooler apartments. LocalConstruct, the Los Angeles developers and owners of the Watercooler, had pondered a coffee shop of some sort since the design phase for the 900-square-foot commercial space they designed into the street-level corner.
With the apartment leases signed, Tullis sprung the idea of a tapas eatery on LocalConstruct co-founders Casey Lynch and Mike Brown. She also rented the adjoining live/work unit, which doubles as storage for the eatery with Tullis’ office now in the upper loft. The notion fell right in line with their sensibilities for mixed-use development with a twist.
“That is really the core to whatever we are doing in an urban environment,” said Lynch, CEO at LocalConstruct. “(The Modern) adds an extra nuance of having different sets of people using the project. We think having as many housing options as possible is going to further activate the city.”
Tullis shies away from calling her eatery a restaurant, café or bistro. “Eatery” is her name for what she is calling Txikiteo, pronounced chick-e-tayo, a Basque word meaning pub crawl, Tullis said.
“I spent a lot of time in the Basque country,” said Tullis, herself Basque. “They have small little eateries that are open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. It’s fast-casual all the time.”
Txikiteo will also be a 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. establishment revolving around coffee, tapas and wine. Tullis is bringing in David King, former chef at the Modern, Café Vicino and Richard’s, to oversee the breakfast and lunch service. The evening boss will be Dan Ansotegui, who established the Basque Market and Bar Gernika.
Offerings through the day will include coffee, smoothies, soups, salads, sandwiches and charcuterie – meat boards – along with “curated wine and beer,” Tullis said.
“It will be sit-and-stay or grab-and-go,” she said. “For the last three-four years, I’ve been looking for a small food and beverage place.”
And Tullis has wanted an extended-stay element ever since she opened the Modern. Now both have fallen into place within two blocks of the Modern.
“People come and say ‘Can we stay a week or longer?’” Tullis said, adding that longer stays are not feasible at the Modern. “People say, ‘We’re moving here. Do you have anything extended stay?’ They told us what they wanted.”
In Europe, it’s common to have combined apartment hotels, where residents and visitors alike sleep in the same building.
“It’s exciting (what the Modern is doing) because it’s a really pioneering idea,” Lynch said. “We’re just starting to see it in big cities (in America).”
Strangers who knew each other
Tullis and the Lynch/Brown duo didn’t even know each other until late spring last year. But they had been well aware of each other for years – even without meeting until mid-2017.
Brown and Lynch frequently stayed at the Modern while renovating the Owyhee and even got to know most of the Modern staff – except owner /general manager Tullis.
Tullis saw Brown speak at the 2017 State of Downtown Boise event in May. She had been driving by the Watercooler construction site since work started in June 2016. She stopped by the Watercooler and introduced herself to Brown and, on the spot, presented her extended-stay idea. Brown bit immediately.
“Maybe five minutes later I had all the information (on who to contact for lease arrangements),” she said.
The eatery and live/work at the Watercooler idea came a little while later.
Tullis tested her extended-stay space in December with regulars at the Modern who typically stay three or more days and offered them Watercooler units for the same price as at the Modern.
“’Hey, these new rooms are open. Would you tell us what you think?’” Tullis offered. “They love it. We are taking people coming to the Modern for three days or more. They are now staying longer.”
Tullis has in mind more hotel partnerships if the Watercooler works out. The Fowler, also built by LocalConstruct, is on her radar.
“In the future, I’d like to,” she said.