Warm evenings, pale mornings
Though technically a bed and breakfast — there are, of course, beds here, and usually a few boxes of pastries in the kitchen — Gram’s Place is no quilts-and-doily affair.
Tucked deep inside a neighborhood of worn bungalow-style houses in Tampa, Florida, Gram’s Place is only two miles from the sterile skyscrapers of downtown and the garish neon of Ybor City’s bars, but it feels about three solar systems from anywhere. Like a kid’s clubhouse crossed with a Motel 6, Gram’s Place is a model of sleepy hospitality and haphazard charm.
When guests take their first step through the squeaky wooden gate and set foot on the brick-lined courtyard, they have entered a world where Merle Haggard is on regular rotation, the bar is BYOB, and you’re welcome to bring your fiddle.
Mismatched lawn chairs and old flowerpots clutter the porches, an intricate boardwalk winds above the roof, and two cats, Quaalude (a new mother) and Juanita, roam the grounds. Neighbors occasionally stop by to mingle with guests in the main courtyard, visitors play songs from the 400-CD jukebox, and occasionally break into an all-night jam session. It’s a true slice of Cosmic Americana.
“This is basically an extension of what I liked to do as a kid — get people together, sit around and listen to music,” said Mark Holland, founder and owner of Gram’s Place. Gram Parsons and his music are a central theme at the inn, about an hour from Parsons’ hometown of Winter Haven, but non-Gramophiles should not feel alienated here. “There is something here for everybody,” Holland says. “Really, to enjoy it here, you just have to have an appreciation for any kind of music.”
The ten-year-old inn is an ever-evolving shrine to Holland’s — and his guests’ — musical tastes. Inside and out, the walls are layered with memorabilia — a Pasty Cline LP here, an Elvis poster there, a variety of early Rolling Stone covers. Some are items that Holland has collected over the years; others are gifts from visitors and friends.
Each of the eight rooms has a musical theme, including folk, country and blues. Units are decorated with pictures of artists and stocked with books and a mix tape, customized by Holland to match the scheme of the room. Each room also has a cooler for guests to tote to the bar.
The bed in the Adventure Room is mounted on a loft, and there is no bathroom or shower — they are outdoors (guests can use indoor facilities shared by the folk and country rooms). The official Gram Room is also known as the Gilded Palace Of Tin; not only does the tin-roofed room reference the Burritos album, but it also has a gold-painted door, in honor of the line from “Sin City”.
Gram’s Place also includes a youth hostel. Built to mimic the look of a train’s sleeper car, the beds are arranged bunk-style. It also includes “optional train sounds”, which guests select by pushing one of six buttons mounted on the hostel’s wall.
Each room also includes a 12-page menu of jukebox selections, divided by genre. Aside from the obvious Parsons and Emmylou Harris selections, the jukebox has sections devoted to jazz, classical and alternative country titles. It houses entire boxed sets, including those of the Beach Boys, the Byrds, The Band, the Everly Brothers, Merle Haggard and Ray Charles.
Not that Holland is trying to turn music-snob on any of his guests. Just the opposite — he seeks to expose visitors to new artists. “I take great pride in turning people on to other kinds of music,” he said. “I hope people can maybe learn something while they are here.” Further expanding this hang-out-and-chill environment, Holland encourages guests to bring instruments or borrow those belonging to the house.
Holland himself is a musician and has a recording studio in the basement (a very unusual room to find in Florida), which he has dubbed the Cosmic American Music Studio. He recorded a tribute to Parsons there, Still Safe At Home, released in June 2001. His band for that project, the Porch Pickers, included Neil Flanz, a pedal steel guitar player who toured with Parsons in 1973 and played on Gram’s last album.