Shelter: Urban Cowboy
Walk down Powers Street in East Williamsburg and it's impossible not to notice of the cozy, familial vibe of this sleepy Brooklyn road. Homes blend seamlessly into each other, one after the other, and neighbors exchange small talk on the sidewalks. But as you near the 111 mark, something changes. A towering spruce tree stands tall out front, and the skull of a bull marks the entrance to the Urban Cowboy B&B. It still feels like home here, but it’s clear the Cowboy is a different kind of place.
“The whole cowboy thing is about freedom,” says Lyon Porter, the B&B's founder. “I’m very interested in freedom, and how the idea of a cowboy and Americana has always equated to that.” In many ways, Porter has lived the life of a modern day cowboy himself. He grew up in Ohio but spent his summers in Wyoming, living in a teepee and learning how to live off the land. The five-room B&B is a reflection of this upbringing and Porter’s Native American roots. “In my backyard in Cleveland, my parents gave me a tiny wooden kids cabin,” he says. He only later made this connection to the Cowboy, but it stands out as a spark to him, something innate in the way he lived his life.
And the journey to create Urban Cowboy B&B, a home away from home for travelers, wasn’t all chance. Porter grew up on the road and left home at sixteen to play professional hockey. He bounced around from place to place, capping his list at fifteen cities in ten years. After visiting countless hotels, Porter knew he wanted to create his own home away from home, one where the first question a guest is asked is, “Would you like water or whiskey?”
The result is this Adirondacks-style property, fully equipped with a sauna, hot tub, and a cabin in the backyard, shining equally in hospitality as it does in design, with every inch carefully considered to create the ideal environment reminiscent of an upstate New York getaway tucked squarely in the city.
“I found a little bohemia down in Nicaragua, and I thought to myself – why couldn’t I do that in New York?”
Porter bought the Williamsburg property — which was originally built in 1880 — in 2013 with the idea of converting it into a single family home. He wanted to flip the house, or use it as a rental to garner spare income, but the lingering bed and breakfast concept continued to stick. After a chance trip to Maderas Village in Nicaragua, Porter went with his intuition to create a hotel. “I found a little bohemia down in Nicaragua, and I thought to myself – why couldn’t I do that in New York?” When Porter got back to Brooklyn, he moved forward with his original idea of opening a bed and breakfast. It took him five months to renovate the property and the B&B first opened its doors in May of 2014.
The entire experience is rustic in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way.
Porter now sees guests come back 18 times in a single year. “I actually live here,” Porter says, “so it’s not inauthentic when I say 'welcome home.' I am actually welcoming you to my home.” And if all homes are a personal reflection of the owner, then the Cowboy is the epitome of home. It feels as if you’re visiting your favorite uncle, the one who used to take you fishing and to the farmer’s market on weekends.
In the cabin alone, the nod to Americana is on full display. A Native American rug adorns the wall, a cast iron teapot and wooden utensils line the stove, signs with classic John Muir quotes decorate the wood-paneled walls, and a chandelier crafted of elk antlers shines a dim light throughout the eclectic haven. The entire experience is rustic in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way.
The townhouse harbors twelve-foot pine planked floors, exposed brick, and industrial garage doors, and the kitchen is stocked with Viking Professional appliances. A walk up the townhouse’s winding staircase leads to four bedrooms — a king, two queens, and a twin — each with its own charm, but all with wood-beamed ceilings, leaving enough space for the original brick to peak through. The twin and queen rooms share a bathroom with floor-to-ceiling, sparkling white tile. The king room, the largest and most private of the four, includes its own bathroom, equipped with a porthole window in the shower that peaks out onto the neighborhood below.
“People that have met here end up being friends and traveling together. They make a real connection here. And without them, this is just a building."
With the level of success and number of press accolades that Urban Cowboy has achieved, you'd think Porter had this all masterminded. “I’m operating purely on magic. I had no idea what I was doing. It just felt right,” he says. He trusted his intuition and followed his calling, garnering so much attention that a second property is already in the works, set to open this winter in Tennessee’s East Nashville neighborhood.
Success aside, Porter’s favorite result of the Cowboy is the people he’s met along the way. "Arrive as strangers, leave as friends," reads the Urban Cowboy Instagram. Porter has created a playground for creatives to meet and collaborate. “People that have met here end up being friends and traveling together. They make a real connection here. And without them, this is just a building,” Porter says.
As only a true cowboy does, Porter plans to continue a life of rambling. His his latest journey was a road trip from Brooklyn to Nashville, equipped with a ‘72 Argosy Airstream named Sunny in tow. “Travel shakes my frame of reference to the core. The universals are challenged, and a lot of the things I think matter are put to the test. It’s the best education I can receive,” he says.
With freedom being Porter’s paramount pillar in creating the Urban Cowboy B&B in Brooklyn, he hopes to continue to craft a world with open forums where creatives can play. “If these hubs of creativity can exist in the world and I can be a part of facilitating that, then that’s the dream realized.” [H]