Site Inspection at The Highlander Hotel in Iowa City, Iowa
Food & Wine
In November 2023, my best friends and I decided to find a central location between our three hometowns and landed in Iowa City, Iowa. After looking for a place to stay that seemed unique and fun, I booked The Highlander Hotel. The quirky and historical hotel was everything I had hoped for and I would absolutely recommend it to my clients!
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Where to stay
The Highlander Hotel
A timeless retreat in the heart of Iowa, where modern comfort meets traditional charm.
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The Highlander hotel was the “it” hotel of Iowa City from 1970-1990. Several celebrities visited the hotel and were spotted at the famed Supper Club restaurant and bar located inside the hotel. Like a lot of great oldies, the hotel aged and the clientele dropped off. In 2019, it was purchased and the long process of renovating and updating began. The property is an affiliate of the Historic Hotels of America program which is the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation for recognizing and celebrating the finest Historic Hotels.
Upon arriving at the hotel in 2023 for our trip, I was a bit skeptical about the location because it looked to be in an industrial area and very few places to go within walking distance of the hotel. Luckily, the reason I picked this hotel was because everything we could possibly need was inside the hotel making it so we wouldn’t need to leave unless we wanted to get out and sightsee with a five minute drive to downtown Iowa City.
As you walk into the hotel, the lobby area is beautifully decorated with a lovely retro yet hip style. Immediately you can see special touches not to be found at a chain hotel and fun areas for friends and families to gather. Check in was easy and fast. The keys for the rooms were actually bracelets with the fun peace sign branding of the hotel.
One of the main attractions of this hotel is the pool and hot tub area. The pool is an indoor pool with huge garage door type windows, that can be opened when the weather is appropriate so it also has the feel of an outdoor pool. In the outdoor area there are fire pits, games, and seating for visitors to use.
There are several room types available at the hotel including inside rooms with direct (sliding glass door) out to the indoor pool, hot tub, and game area, balcony rooms overlooking the area, connecting rooms, and other standard rooms that would be quieter along the other side of the hallway not connected to the pool area. If you are looking for a quiet stay do not book a room off of the pool area. We loved our room overlooking the pool and wished we had brought more friends along with us because it felt like a fun college type dorm experience where all your friends would be surrounding you. We stayed in one of the two room balcony suites overlooking the pool and hot tub area. In essence, this is a double queen room connected to a king room that had a cute retro kitchenette, sitting area, and pretty fireplace facade. For our visit the fireplace was not functional, but the property had placed a log containing iridescent glass in the fireplace and we all would have sworn the fire was lit and the room had the cozy feeling of an actual smoldering fire without the smoke and ash.
The food and drinks were wonderful at their bar, restaurant, and arcade “The Supper Club”. The food is based on everyone’s favorite food trucks. They offer street tacos, pizza, burgers, buddha bowls, desserts, and milkshakes. The retro sunken bar offers tasty cocktails, mocktails, and a large selection of beers from local breweries. All of these items were also available from room service. This venue also offers all of your favorite arcade games from the 80’s and 90’s as well as several more recent favorite video games. While we were at The Supper Club live music was being performed and we enjoyed being able to stay at our hotel, have great food, and be entertained. The property also has a lobby bar that is perfect for watching sports with multiple televisions and comfortable seating areas. Something that felt a bit like a drawback to us, was that the service in the Supper Club restaurant was sporadic. We were there on a weekend where the hotel was not close to capacity and staffing for the hotel was low. We had longer waits to order and longer wait times to pay for our food and drinks. The employees were gracious and hardworking, but sparse.
A perk making this feel more like a high end luxury resort was the Snack Shack. This little snack area provides a window into the pool area for food and beverages, but also an inner room that has 24 hour free coffee, free fountain soda, and free cinnamon rolls. Chips and other items are available to purchase.
Need to Know
I would absolutely recommend the Highlander Hotel for families, groups, and anyone wanting a quick and fun getaway. If you are someone looking for pristine perfection and complete quiet, I think you should look elsewhere. Since this is a historical venue, there are little items still under repair. The property is absolutely geared towards having fun and making memories together with your friends and family.
This trip report is part of our ongoing series on travel to Iowa, USA. In need of further inspiration? Check out Amanda Denner’s guide, Be one with nature and then unwind in luxury in Southwest USA.
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