Wisconsin’s kooky Don Q Inn offers 20 ‘Fantasy Suites’

DODGEVILLE, WIS. — A friend had some advice as my wife and I headed to Wisconsin to visit the Don Q Inn.

“It’s a sex hotel,” she said. “Lean into it.”

Well.

Yes, it is that. With 20 “Fantasy Suites,” the Don Q has your kinks covered. Whether you prefer to spoon on the moon, woo in an igloo or rave in a cave, the Don asks no questions. Check out the Mid-Evil Room, featuring shackles on the bed, or sleep in a hot-air balloon gondola in the “Up, Up and Away!” room.

This eclectic, eccentric hostelry in the state’s southwest Driftless region is about a four-hour drive from the Twin Cities — and on a completely different planet.

It was built nearly 50 years ago by Don Quinn, a man with no fear of following his muse. The Don Q was put together from salvage — parts and pieces of old barns, banks and factories. The whirlpool tubs in many of the rooms began life as 300-gallon cheese vats.

The lobby is dominated by a giant steam-engine fireplace surrounded by barber chairs — that’s right, barber chairs. In a corner is a grand piano flanked by a dentist’s chair, and next to that is a giant cribbage board.

The decor is rough-hewn, with lots of wood, stone and concrete. The smell of the place is similarly unrefined, with a strong note of rental-car air freshener.

Checking in on a midweek night, we didn’t spot any lovebirds lingering in the lobby. Most of the other guests appeared to be construction workers on long-term assignments in the area, as evidenced by the many pickups in the parking lot and the dudes wandering around in brightly colored safety gear. (In addition to its fantasy and themed offerings, the Don has several dozen standard hotel rooms.)

Our room was at the end of a dimly lit basement hallway paneled in rough, dark wood. Passing Arabian Nights, Paradise Cove and the Shotgun Suite, we could only wonder what might be happening on the other side of the doors.

It was kind of kooky and definitely spooky: “It feels like a scary movie could be made here,” my wife said.

We had chosen the Northern Lights suite, featuring a concrete igloo with a 10-sided, mirrored bed inside. Draped atop the igloo was an apparently real polar bear hide, its snarling mouth wide open to guard the igloo’s entrance.

The walls were painted in scenes of blue seas and white icebergs. The requisite cheese-vat hot tub — big enough for a dozen people — was finished in blue tile and also surrounded by mirrors. The room was clean but the furnishings were tired. A sign warned of fines for writing on the walls.

There must be something about the Driftless Area that spawns iconoclasts. Just up the road in Spring Green is the House on the Rock, a bizarre museum of kitsch perhaps best described as Salvador Dali on LSD. Like the Don, it’s the creation of a single eccentric individual, Alex Jordan, whose life is shrouded in mystery but whose massive collection of outrageous and fanciful artifacts lives on.

Also in Spring Green is Taliesin, the home and studio of Frank Lloyd Wright, a native son of the area whose ideas revolutionized architecture. Taliesin offers a variety of tours of the home and grounds, ranging from one to four hours.

There also are a number of state parks nearby, offering hiking among the bluffs and forests that make the Driftless one of the most beautiful areas in the Midwest. The hamlet of Spring Green features several charming shops and restaurants.

In Dodgeville, locals recommend dining at Bob’s Bitchin’ BBQ and the Red Room Bar & Restaurant. Get there early, though — many of the town’s restaurants close at 8 p.m. For breakfast, Jimmy’s Diner puts out a mean omelet.

Back at the Don Q, we wandered through the Boeing C-97 Stratofreighter, a Cold War military relic that’s parked on the front lawn. Why? Don Q asks, Why not? It’s supposedly autographed by Farrah Fawcett, who filmed car commercials alongside it in the 1970s, but we couldn’t spot her signature on the weathered skin of the aircraft.

In the morning, we paid our bill — $170 for a night in the igloo — skipped the bad coffee in the lobby and headed home.

Was our stay the stuff of fantasies? Let’s just say we’ve never experienced anything quite like it.

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