On a recent Monday night, The Graduate Uptown was packed with football fans cheering on the Dallas Cowboys. I squeezed my way through the crowd toward the back, where I was to meet Anthony, my companion for the evening. Suddenly, carrying a drink and a cigarette in one hand, he welcomed me with a hug that might have seemed platonic ... had his other hand not grabbed my ass. My left thumb instinctively grazed my bare left ring finger; the ring sat at home on the dresser.
We chatted and drank for a short time, all the while flirting furiously. It seemed kind of wrong to be kissing him in the middle of a sports bar, but I couldn't help myself. The attraction in a sober mindset was intense; mix a bit of liquor into the equation and I could barely contain myself.
"Let's go back to your place," I slurred, having just finished a shot of Patron.
"No, it's too far away. Let's go somewhere else," said Anthony.
"Where?" I asked, momentarily envisioning my high school days of fucking in the backseat of my car. It was not something I wanted to relive.
"A motel. I know just the place, too." He paid his bar tab, and we left.
We weaved through the streets of Uptown, desire and lust suffocating the air in the car, until we found South Tryon and followed it to our destination: the Ascot Inn.
According to manager Hinanshu Gandhi, the Ascot Inn, located at 1025 S. Tryon St., is the brainchild of Ashok Patel, the head of the Boone-based Oscar Investors Management Corporation.
The Inn sits in an older, two-story building with yellow and blue walls on the outskirts of all the development going on in Uptown. Nestled behind Uptown Cabaret on South Tryon and proudly touting a billboard that promises heart-shaped Jacuzzis and romantic-themed suites, it could be considered either the center city's ugly duckling or a kitschy throwback from Charlotte's bygone days.
Patel (who could not be reached for comment) and his father reportedly borrowed the idea of a motel featuring specialty-themed suites from similar establishments in London.
"Nobody really has specialty themes here. Maybe in Las Vegas, but not in the Southeast," says Gandhi, who has worked at the motel since 2002. "It was a totally new concept in this market. At that time, Charlotte was not that big, but they still did good business with this concept."
Gandhi says that the name Ascot is also originally from England. "It's the name of a famous derby race. Once a year, they have a big horse race, and even the king and queen used to come in the old days. That's what I heard, anyway."
On the Ascot's Web site, eight suites with specific themes are listed. Visitors can choose to stay in rooms such as the Valentine suite -- featuring a king-sized brass bed surrounded by mirrors and lighting effects -- for $119.99 (weekdays) and $139.99 (weekends). For the same price, you could also get the Roman suite, which houses a king-sized water-bed and is accented with roman columns. If you wanted to go a little cheaper, another option is the Hawaiian suite. For a $69.99 weekday rate and a $79.99 weekend rate, you could find yourself in a suite with Hawaiian décor and wall-to-wall mirrors.
"We [also] offer spa kits for Jacuzzi rooms, rose petals, chocolates, candles, champagne -- if that's what they, you know, couples, are looking for," Gandhi says. "But more people come for the regular rooms because they're cheaper."
In terms of amenities, the Ascot offers much of what any other standard motel would offer: refrigerator; microwave; coffee maker; ironing board and iron; wireless Internet; cable TV; and free local calls.
Gandhi says that hotels are much like restaurants in the sense that mom-and-pop stores have to work harder than franchised restaurants. "People go to a franchise because of the name," he says. "People go to individually owned restaurants for the service. People go to the Westin and pay maybe $199 for a night. Here at the Ascot Inn, maybe the room style is a little different, but we still give the basic amenities. The difference is that the Westin is a new building and you pay more for the name. Ascot Inn is an old building, not a franchise and is individually owned, and you pay less price for the same standards."
Gandhi's wife Jessica, who also works in the Ascot, says that location adds to the Inn's charm. "We are close to the Convention Center. We are located right in downtown, close by to the Panthers stadium, to the Bobcats Arena, Amos,' Tremont Hall, so we are in a prime location. Because of that, people want to reserve here for a reasonable and economical rate. It's the lowest rate in downtown compared to the other big hotels."