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In Portland, a room with some 'tude

It's usually a healthy cycle. A maverick hotelier rises up and wins over followers because his places seem quirkier and more fun than Hilton, Hyatt, Holiday Inn and the other familiar big corporate brands, most of which depend heavily on business travelers.

Pretty soon, the maverick hotelier starts building a string of these boutique inns, each edgy in its own way. If he or she is lucky, the string grows into a little chain and begins to benefit from national branding, economies of scale and so on. Eventually, business travelers start showing up, and the brand begins to settle into the established lodging landscape.

And then, of course, another maverick hotelier shows up, and the cycle begins all over again. Consider Kimpton Hotels and Joie de Vivre Hotels.

Are the Ace Hotels part of this continuum? We'll see. In the 2013 photo above is the cheeky, quirky Ace Hotel in Portland. (Rooms also feature turntables and vintage vinyl.) When it opened in 2007, it was the second property for a brand that was born in Seattle in 1999.

The entrepreneurs behind the company included Alex Calderwood, who cut a dashing figure with his casual clothes, hard partying and mop of curly dark hair. (In his 20s, Calderwood built a chain of trendy Rudy's barbershops). Pretty soon, Ace was known for reviving old buildings in offbeat ways. The hotels even inspired a "Portlandia" episode — the one featuring a "Deuce Hotel" that offers typewriters with room keys.

But Calderwood died at age 47 in London in 2013, just as the Ace brand was accelerating into several new markets. Fast Company magazine said the cause of death was "a lethal combination of alcohol and cocaine." Brad Wilson is now president of Ace Hotel Group.

There are now Aces in downtown Los Angeles (opened 2014), Palm Springs, New York, Pittsburgh and London, with New Orleans scheduled to open in March. The company also runs the American Trade Hotel in Panama City. The Ace website says the hotels are "a collection of individuals — multiple and inclusive, held together by an affinity for the soulful."

You can always count on travel to teach you something  but what? Travel is the substitute teacher who didn't get the lesson plan, the adjunct lecturer who goes off on Bukowski, the grad assistant who trashes your poetry, then hands out red velvet cupcakes. If only you'd had a clue what was coming, right?

I'm building this gallery from new and old adventures in the West and the world beyond. The photos are all mine. As for the attempted wisdom, it's all dead serious, except for that which isn't. 

christopher.reynolds@latimes.com

Twitter: @mrcsreynolds

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