The community is as lively as the décor at Portland’s first hostel.
Photographs by Erin Little
Stepping through Black Elephant Hostel’s bright-purple door, you feel a bit like Dorothy opening the portal between Kansas and Oz. On one side is the building’s largely black-and-gray exterior, emblazoned with a sea-themed mural by Portland’s Pat Corrigan, and on the other is owner Heather Loeber’s “Technicolor” world featuring botanical, zigzag, and striped wallpaper, red vinyl flooring, and mango wood daybeds topped with vibrant cushions.
And that’s just the lobby/communal kitchen. Each of the 12 guest rooms (half shared, half private) has eye-popping wallpaper on its ceiling — for example, a dizzying butterfly pattern in the female-only “Hey Ladies” dorm room, named after one of Loeber’s favorite Beastie Boys songs, and a stylized nature motif in the private “Kristofferson” room, named after the character in Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox.
Loeber started planning Portland’s first hostel — one of only five in Maine — after staying in similar accommodations in the U.S. and Europe, where communal lodging is popular among young, budget-conscious travelers. “I found that, even as an adult, hostels are very social,” says the 47-year-old, whose hair often matches her blue lobby cushions. “You can meet new friends from all over the world.” She also liked the idea of offering moderately priced lodging (her dorm room beds start at $35/night) in an area where hotels can run close to $500/night. So she purchased an 1890s apartment building on Hampshire Street and hired Portland design/build firm Barrett Made to execute her colorful vision.
Open since June, the resulting space is “conceived with great care and artistic flair” and filled with “super-friendly guests,” summed up one reviewer. “The conversations we had there, we’d never have at a traditional hotel.”