If you have been reading this blog for a while, you know that I like noncommercial lodgings such as monasteries and retreat houses. They are usually less costly than their commercial counterparts, in my experience are always spotlessly clean, and generally ate staffed by very friendly people.
One I checked out lately when I thought poor weather might force me to stay overnight in New York City is the Leo House (www.leohousenyc.com,) a hotel run by Catholics that welcomes people of any or no faith. :Leo House is situated on West 23rd Street in Manhattan, which I think used to be the garment district and perhaps still is. From the Website it looked very inviting, and the prices certainly are. A single with toilet and sink but shared shower starts at $105, a double with the same facilities is $125. Rooms with full bath run a little more. For an extra $9, you can enjoy a buffet breakfast. In pricey New York it almost sounds too good to be true, and I suspect it is fully booked most of the time.
A far smaller place at the other end of the country is the Lutheran Center Hospitality House (www.thelutherancenter.org) in Billings, Montana. This is intended for accommodation of family members of patients who are undergoing medical treatment in the area, but may accept other travellers if there is room. My cousin Pat has stayed there, I know. Rooms cost only $30 for a single, but a reference is required from a pastor or medical professional.
In this sparsely-settled area of the country, people from outlying farms and ranches may have to travel long distances for medical treatment.
Christianity is a long-established religion. If you want to experience one of the newest and fastest-growing religions, you have that opportunity at the Fort Harrison Hotel in Clearwater, Florida, which is operated by the Church or Scientology (www.scientology.org.) Unfortunately guest rooms are reserved for members of that church, but you can have a good meal at reasonable cost at the hotel's Garden Cafe. A buffet lunch costs $14, and a la carte items are also available. Alcohol is not served at this restaurant, though it is at a more expensive eating place in the hotel. Tipping is not common, and our waiter explained that if you leave a tip it goes toward buying uniforms for members of their religious order, the Sea Org.
I enjoyed the buffet lunch there recently, and found the food very tasty and the atmosphere very welcoming. Our young (and gorgeous) Italian waiter was very attentive, and we were surrounded by other people from foreign countries who are in Clearwater taking courses or otherwise furthering their spiritual lives.
After lunch we were taken on a tour of the refurbished 1920s hotel by another young Scientologist, and it was clear that a lot of money and work has gone into re-creating with modern amenities what was once one of the most elegant hotels on the West Coast of Florida. I remember having lunch there with my parents once when I was a kid.
Tours are free for groups, but must be arranged in advance. There is also free valet parking. A meal at this hotel is a good opportunity to gain some insight into this new and somewhat secretive religion. My impression following the visit was quite positive, seeing a lot of tidy, friendly mostly young people scurrying around with focus and purpose. The picture below is of the lobby of the Fort Harrison. restored to its original glory. Thanks to David Foote for his picture.