Nostalgia, Hipsters and a Life-Altering Trip to Nicaragua: Meet Lyon Porter, Founder of Urban Cowboy

Wed, 23 October 2019
lyon-porter-urban-cowboyPhoto: Ben Fitchett

Lyon Porter, of Urban Cowboy fame, spills his hospitality secrets and gives us a preview of his latest venture, The Dive Motel.

Turning the concept of bed and breakfast on its head, Lyon Porter – founder of Urban Cowboy – has managed to hipsterise the once humble holidaymaker’s habitat into the antithesis of your grandma’s B&B.

With oodles of charm (and a guestbook full of Instagrammers), Lyon has a collection of hideaways that are variants of boutique hotels – design-led, quirky and each with their own distinctive character. Inspired to create Urban Cowboy while on a surfing trip to Maderas Village in Nicaragua, Porter launched Urban Cowboy in Brooklyn in 2014, with an outpost opening in Nashville, Tennessee soon after. His latest project, The Dive Motel in Nashville is a kitsch, Americana dream come true.

Meet Urban Cowboy founder, Lyon Porter

Where are you from and how has that shaped or inspired you?

I’m from Ohio, but left home at 16 to play pro hockey. For the next 10 years I lived in 15 different cities and most of the time was spent on the road in hotels and motels. I also lived in a motel when not on the road for a period of that time, so that shaped me pretty significantly.

Why the name, Urban Cowboy?

Cowboys have always been associated with a romanticised nostalgia centering around freedom. When I built the first Cowboy in Brooklyn, freedom was at the core of what I was searching for in my life at that time.

Tell us about your transition from minor-league hockey player in Ohio to real estate broker in New York

When I first moved to Brooklyn I crashed in a tiny 3ft nook above my friend’s bedroom. I had one suit, went on 20 interviews and no one would hire me. So I got into residential brokerage because they would hire anyone (they’re commission only). I did six deals in my first month, was “rookie of the year” for the company and, fast forward 13 years, I’m still one of the top residential brokers in NYC with over $3billion in closed sales. It’s been a wild ride!

How has your background in sports and real estate aided your work as a hotelier?

It takes a team to execute a hospitality experience. The cleaners are just as important as the bartenders, as are the front desk. We have an amazing team of people and we couldn’t do anything we do without them. Hockey prepared me for this well.

You were inspired to create Urban Cowboy while on a surfing trip; what catalysed the idea?

It’s funny, someone asked me the typical “what do you do?” question and I looked at them and just blurted out: “I’m opening a bed and breakfast in Brooklyn!” I have no idea where that came from, but then they replied: “that’s awesome!” I thought to myself, yeah that is awesome. Crazy how it happened, just magic.

Describe the Urban Cowboy aesthetic…

It’s your favourite leather jacket; ages well the more you wear it. It’s rustic luxury.

How has Williamsburg changed since you opened in 2014?

It’s a different world, but thankfully the pocket where Urban Cowboy is still feels like home. The Northside is almost unrecognisable.

What was the reasoning behind setting up your second venture in Nashville?

Magic. We flew there, landed, drove by a defunct B&B and knocked on the door. In the first hour of landing we had an off-market property secured with an agreed upon price. I looked at my partner (Jersey Banks) and said: “Well we found the next Cowboy, better see if we like Nashville!” And that was that.

How do your hotels embody the spirit of the cowboy?

They are about freedom, a place to let your hair down, get off the trail, take a bath and rest your weary bones. We welcome all into our homes and hope to create inspiring hospitality experiences through design and community.

How do your Brooklyn and Nashville properties differ?

They are entirely different, one is a B&B, the other is a boutique hotel with two public bars. One is an 1880s townhouse, the other is an 1890s Victorian Mansion.

Three things we absolutely have to do when we’re in Nashville…

HonkyTonk Tuesdays at the American Legion. Taco and margaritas at Mas Tacos Por Favor for lunch. Take a dip at The Dive Motel’s Pool to escape the heat.

Tell us about your latest venture, The Dive Motel…

It’s been so fun designing The Dive Motel. There is a dive bar and lounge in the front where you check in, 23 individually designed rooms (all with our custom “party switch” and disco balls) and a 60ft pool and hot tub with a massive “No Diving” sign.

We were so shocked that Nashville didn’t have a pool scene (it gets terribly hot in the summer) so we decided to build one. We also had so much fun creating a new brand that was a motel, not a hotel. The core ethos of The Dive is “have fun”.

What do you think makes a good hotel?

One that takes you out of your element and leaves you inspired, in one form or another.

What state would you like to bring Urban Cowboy to next?

We are already in the process of opening another Cowboy. This one will be a lodge in the Catskills, set on 68 acres on the side of a mountain with two rivers running through it. It’s about 10 minutes to the Phoenicia Diner.

What are you reading at the moment?

The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells, it’s all about the consequences of global warming.

Which are your most frequented travel destinations?

Italy. I’m actually sailing through the Aeolian Islands in two weeks with a group of amazing friends and I am always so excited to go back.

What would you do to improve airports?

I have a bar-and-restaurant concept I would like to open in them. If anyone reading wants in shoot me a line.

And finally, what’s in your SUITCASE?

Right now you’re catching me after a huge pick in upstate New York for the Catskills Cowboy, and my bag is overflowing with bolos and small found objects. I also discovered this amazing navajo rug for a saloon I’m designing on the side of a mountain in Napa (for a private client) and that is literally splitting my suitcase as I write this on a train heading back to Brooklyn.

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