We had a chance to try The Graduate Hotel in Iowa City, Iowa and it was a welcome homecoming right on campus.
Located in the heart of downtown, Graduate Iowa City has as much of a campus feel as possible without the dorm room food. Next to the Pedestrian Mall (Ped Mall), this pet-friendly modern rewind is easy to get to, and even easier once you’ve arrived. Free bike rentals are available for guests who can make quick work of visiting just about anything around town whether it’s across the bridge to Kinnick Stadium for a football game or Carver Hawkeye Arena for dominant wrestling matches.
Address: 28 S Linn St, Iowa City, IA 52240 USA
Phone: +1 319-337-4058
Graduate Iowa City has a classic style that borders on wilderness lodge and mid-century modern chic. Extensive wood paneling sometimes exchanged for wallpaper throughout the hotel give a clever impression of design and nostalgia, particularly welcoming for alumni returning to campus. It’s themed around the rich literary history of the University of Iowa’s Writer’s Workshop, the first Creative Writing degree offered in the United States, and the UNESCO City of Literature. (Note: This writer’s wife graduated from the University of Iowa with a perfect 4.0 with a BA in Creative Writing.) You’ll have plenty of time to dust off that old draft in the cafe, coffee bar, or lobby with included wi-fi.
U of I tigerhawk logos are littered throughout the hotel on quilts, and depicted behind frames. Books are everywhere, but the paper is faced out, rather than the spine of the books, because the cover shouldn’t matter. The writing on the walls of the lobby is from Tim Taranto, the first winner of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.
What makes Graduate Hotels so incredibly stunning is its ability to combine design elements with integrated, clever touches around a theme. Gene Wilder, the actor, graduated from Iowa, and as such, many of the design elements incorporate his work as Willy Wonka in Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. The wallpaper in the hallways features pigs, cows, corn, and berry crunch cereal. This combines the agricultural output from the state as well as incorporating Quaker Oats’s famed cereal, headquartered in nearby Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The design is a play on Wilder’s famed film in which guests to Wonka’s chocolate factory are encouraged to taste the wallpaper, “the snozberries taste like snozberries.”
We cannot confirm if the cows really taste like cows.
The fitness center is located on the second floor and is accessible from the outside and the hotel interior. We had a short stay and I didn’t even have time to snap a photo but you can find photos here from Graduate Iowa City.
Named after the famed actor, Gene Wilder, the hotel’s restaurant carries on the design elements and theming. It offers a mix of indoor and outdoor space, perfect for the college environment. Of note, the restaurant staff and management were excellent. We ordered take-out because it was fairly late upon our arrival and I had left silverware. Before I realized it, there was a knock on the door with a pair of roll-up silverware. The one critique I’d have for Wilder and Poindexter for that matter is that they do not have a function to order over the phone. However, we were offered both to-go food containers or traditional restaurant plates. We opted for to-go.
Applying a modern take on traditional midwestern (Iowan) cuisine, the menu updates the classics like the fried pork sandwich. The pork is brined overnight, and rather than a massive overflowing pork sandwich with a standard bun, this take is a double-decker approach. Still massive, (two of us shared it), the sandwich was perfection and, frankly, reasonably priced at $16.
Lucy had a kid’s cheeseburger, and while I loathe the inflation pricing shift that puts a kid’s menu item at $10, her burger was essentially a full-sized smash burger with a very generous portion of fries. It was hardly a child’s portion so it seemed fair.
Poindexter (Coffee Bar)
We started our departure morning off with some coffee before continuing our drive. Lucy and I had a Cinnamon Toast coffee while Carly was an adult and ordered an iced Americano. Keeping up with both the mid-century modern design aesthetic and reflecting on the collaborative writing environment, long shared tables and private booths allowed for writers to continue their work. Poindexter is lined with used pencils in a striking and smart approach to the decor.
Lucy scored a Wonka bar in Poindexter and you’ll never guess what was inside… a golden ticket worth 20% from Poindexter or Wilder.
The room was a standard size double queen with a window overlooking the pedestrian street below. The bed was incredibly comfortable, so much so, in fact, that we recommended to one of our luxury agents that she stay there and she said the only hotel bed more comfortable in the world was the Conrad Bangkok.
Twin silhouettes behind the beds feature one Gene Wilder (as Willy Wonka) facing the other, an Oompa Loompa. A wrestling diagram (the University of Iowa is one of the most successful programs, owning 24 national championships including 1975-1986 (except 1977), and 1991-2000 (except 1994.) Birds on the bathroom walls are black and gold, the full-length mirror in the shape of an “I”, and a painting of White Sox players coming out of cornfields from the Iowa-based film, Field of Dreams, of course, over a writing desk.
We found a sparkling apple cider from a local apple orchard that was the best we’d ever had. The writing desk was the perfect approach to the desk and while there was a classic feel, modern plugs and outlets were available and well hidden in the design.
Of note, almost every detail is considered. The wallpaper in the room featured baseball stitches, again calling back to Field of Dreams and the hotel key card featured a famed Iowa basketball player.
The bathroom kept the motif going with an elaborately tiled floor and birds with accent black and gold (yellow) birds on the walls. Graduate uses fixed toiletries by Malin + Goetz.
Complimentary bikes are made available for guests and this is a great way to get around the city, especially on game day.
Self-parking is in a covered parking garage for $15/night for guests.
Most nights, a standard two-queen bedroom runs for $110-130 however, home football game weekends can push prices to more than $700 with a two-night minimum (Oct 6-8th, 2023.) We were told by staff that the hotel does sell out for gameday packages, so guests considering the property should book early. The hotel does not charge a destination/resort fee which is welcome.
For our stay, the value of the Graduate Iowa City was exceptional. We highly recommend it and have already planned a return visit to Iowa City, Iowa for the fall.
What do you think?