The founders are trying to retain the community feeling they established in Brooklyn at properties in the Catskills and East Nashville — and another set to open in Denver this winter.
The founders of Urban Cowboy opened their first boutique hotel in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in 2014 without a real plan. Little did they know they were starting a minor hotel empire.
“I kind of just designed my dream house, and I didn’t know what I was going to do with it,” said Lyon Porter, co-founder.
Porter, a former professional-hockey-player-turned-real-estate-broker partnered with his now wife and co-founder Jersey Banks to convert the freestanding townhouse, built in the 1880s, into Urban Cowboy, a five-room boutique hotel. They say it was only the second boutique hotel in Brooklyn at the time, other than the Wythe Hotel, which opened in 2012.
“When we first opened, I didn’t have a way to take payments,” said Banks. “I didn’t have a credit card processor at first.”
Things began simply. Banks, for example, would respond to email inquiries instead of relying on direct booking systems, and hand each guest a welcome cocktail on arrival.
Almost a decade on, the founders are trying to retain that homey community while they expand and, of course, use all the tech tools. They have two more Urban Cowboy locations — one in the Catskills and another in East Nashville — with a fourth set to open in Denver this winter.
Their Williamsburg location has since been turned into offices for their tandem business Cowboy Creative — a design studio and hotel management company. They also own the Instagramable Dive Motel & Swim Club in Nashville.
Banks and Porter ventured to Nashville six months after opening in Williamsburg. After an hour of chatting with locals at a dive bar, they were tipped off about an old B&B set in an eight-room Victorian Queen Anne mansion. They knocked on the door, met the owner, and she agreed to sell.
The two hadn’t been to Nashville before, but soon the city became a second home.
“We’ve done two projects there now, and we’ve gotten a lot more tattoos,” said Banks.
When creating the Public House bar, they wanted to create a local fixture on the scene, not just a place for hotel guests.
“I watched the first season of Cheers, and I tried to make my dream bar,” Porter said.
Reflecting on what they also wanted in Nashville at the time — a hotel with a pool — Porter and Banks opened the 23-room Dive Motel, partnering with TDK Holdings, in the summer of 2019.
The retro motor inn hosts frequent events — the Black Keys just DJ’d “Dive Fest,” a kickoff to summer — and has “party switches” in every room that turn on a disco ball. Guests can choose from one of the hotel’s four radio channels: Sex, Drugs, Rock ‘n Roll, and Sleep.
While Nashville was admittedly fun, the couple also wanted a more relaxed, back-to-nature retreat. They found it with their 28-room Catskills Urban Cowboy property (partnering with Dovetail + Co; see Skift’s profile), which opened in the spring of 2020. Its launch also happened to coincide with the pandemic.
“It didn’t seem like it at the time, but in hindsight, it was a great moment to open an ‘escape from New York’ resort,” said Porter.
The hotel thrived. It currently offers everything from ax throwing to mushroom foraging experiences. And like with the others, Banks and Porter have found their groove in building communal environments for “magical moments.”
“We are very much the odd couple,” said Porter. “Jersey’s the one with the tool belt, the hammer, soldering copper, and I’m over in the corner obsessing about wallpaper and colors and antiques; I’ve dragged Jersey around the country antiquing, all the way from Round Top, Texas, to Ohio.”
New Projects, Similar Vibes
Next up for the Urban Cowboy team is another adaptive reuse boutique hotel in Denver. The hotel is a 16-room Victorian Queen Anne mansion. They partnered with the historic real estate fund GBX Group. A carriage house has a decidedly Denver frontier feel.
“There are art tile fireplaces, hand-carved swans in the staircases, wooden coffered ceilings,” Porter said.
The couple’s focus now is finishing up the Denver hotel. Is carriage house bar will open in late summer or fall. But they’re also scouting their next location.
“I would like to go to the beach,” said Banks. “But you know, … it’s all about if the deal makes sense.”
Porter is also open to hosting a creative community at a beach.
“So, if there’s anyone out there that wants a Salty Cowboy, I’ll put that out there in the universe,” Porter said.
While guests have connected with Urban Cowboy’s rustic hipster design and casual approach to hospitality, finding their way hasn’t always been easy. Despite having knack for attracting communities, the work can feel solitary.
“I am definitely in a space that’s lacking both women and black women, overall, and so it’s a little bit lonely,” said Banks.
Photo credit: One of the guestrooms at the Urban Cowboy Catskills. Source: Urban Cowboy.