I have slept in a Wigwam, toured a house shaped like a shoe, and purchased souvenirs inside of a Big Duck. But I didn’t realize that I could sleep inside an igloo without leaving the contiguous United States until I stumbled across the Don Q Inn’s website, promising that an overnight stay in one of its suites would “transport [you] to the world of your dreams.”
When the Don Q Inn opened in 1974, it had 30 standard rooms in addition to seven themed suites, inspired by the eclectic décor of its famously bizarre neighbor, The House on the Rock. An additional 13 “Fantasuites” were added in 1989, offering guests a truly over-the-top experience.
You can still book one of the original rooms—Arabian Nights, Maggie’s Place, Mid-Evil, Paradise Cove, Shotgun, The Float, and The Blue Room—outfitted with 300-gallon copper cheese vats or heart-shaped hydro-therapy tubs and mirrored showers. But the newer Fantasuites—including a prehistoric cave, a jungle safari, and the igloo—are the real treat.
Heart-shaped tubs and mirrored ceilings
The Don Q Inn has been a backdrop for couples in every step of their relationship—from proposals to weddings, honeymoons, and anniversaries. Sometimes a guest will reserve a specific room but request that its theme be kept secret from their partner during check-in. Others have stayed in every one of the different Fantasuites, and the Inn delights in accommodating return guests.
Shashin Patel is the current owner and manager of the Don Q Inn. “A lot of customers enjoy their stay so much that they come back every year,” he says.
In fact, most of the original suites seem to have been created specifically for couples—children are welcome in the standard rooms but not allowed in the themed suites. Heart-shaped beds, end tables, and mirrors are common, along with mirrored ceilings and—if you’re really kinky—furry bed shackles. A room with a bed suspended from the ceiling with chains was taken out of commission only after guests staying in nearby rooms complained about the noise.
The Cupid’s Corner room encourages couples to get cozy in a heart-shaped velvet bed, and glass block showers leave little to the imagination. The Mid-Evil room is not for shy couples—two suits of armor stand guard near the bed, which is covered with a leopard-print bedspread, barely concealing the four shackles attached to the wooden headboard with heavy duty chains. There is a phone nearby, in case you forget your safe word.
The Don Q Inn also has indoor and outdoor pools, Wi-Fi, a wood-burning fireplace, and free continental breakfast—but even if you’re not a guest, you can still stop in to see the themed rooms during a public tour, offered every Saturday and Sunday at 3 p.m.
We were able to get a tour on a Friday evening just by asking the front desk clerk, because—luckily for us—there was just one other guest that night. The dark, wood-paneled hotel corridors are lined with hand-painted signs that only hint at the exotic worlds contained behind them.
According to the delightfully antiquated website, “each [room] is a unique experience, an adventure, a romantic retreat designed to completely immerse you in the getaway of your choice.” Each suite has its own in-room spa, “one or more color televisions,” and custom décor.
Underground tunnels and airplanes
Don Q himself was born Donald J. Quinn on September 1, 1924 in South Dakota. He served as a fighter pilot in World War II, and worked as a commercial pilot for several years. In 1974, Quinn opened a hotel on Route 23 in Dodgeville, Wisconsin, located seven miles south of The House on the Rock and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin.
The hotel is built with a patchwork of materials Quinn sourced locally—a steeple from the Dodgeville Methodist Church, doors from a bank, pillars from another church, a fireplace made from a locomotive engine, ceiling rafters from an army hospital, and barber chairs from a state penitentiary. Quinn ditched the U from his surname and christened his hotel the Don Q Inn.
Quinn wasn’t satisfied with just a hotel—he also built a 300-foot underground tunnel that connected the Don Q Inn with a neighboring restaurant and bar. Housed in the historic Pengilly family barn, Barn 23 Restaurant and Bar—formerly Sam and Maddie’s—was destroyed in a fire in February, 2017 and the structure was declared a total loss.
In 1978, Quinn—who also owned the Dodgeville Municipal Airport—purchased a 1952 Boeing C-97 Stratofreighter. The massive plane, with four engines and a wingspan of 141 feet, had been flown in the Korean War and starred in a car commercial alongside Farrah Fawcett. As if that wasn’t enough of a spectacle, the plane was flown into town by pilots Tom Thomas and Dick Schmidt, and flight engineer Harold Waligorski—Tom, Dick, and Harry.
Quinn had plans to turn the Stratofreighter into a coffee shop and add smaller planes to the property as additional guest rooms. Neither plan materialized, and in 1979, Quinn sold the hotel to Roger Dehring of Minnesota. Less than ten years later, Quinn died after a long illness.
Dehring, and his parent company Royale Hospitality Group Inc., expanded on Quinn’s original themed-suite idea, and added the Fantasuites. Using the Don Q Inn as his model, Dehring eventually opened several other themed motels in the Midwest—but the Don Q Inn is the only one that remains open.
The two-story deluxe rooms are the most popular: Both space-themed Tranquility Base rooms are recreations of the Gemini Space Capsule (yes, there are two space-themed rooms) and Up, Up and Away! features a bed suspended in the gondola of a hot air balloon.
Book a stay in The Cave and you’ll get “modern luxury in a prehistoric setting.” Spray-concrete walls undulate around the whirlpool tub and ten-sided bed—if the stalactites don’t make you feel like you’re sleeping inside a real cave, the lack of cell reception (specific to this room) certainly will.
Perhaps a bit too on-theme was the temperature of our Northern Lights room, which never rose above “arctic” despite the extra heater and abundance of blankets. Was I cold because I was sleeping in a lightly-insulated basement room in Wisconsin in December—or was it a trick of the mind, amplified by the penguin murals and concrete igloo topped with a somewhat menacing polar bear skin-rug?
Like most offbeat, slightly outdated attractions, reviews of the Don Q Inn range from “smells really weird” to “this place is totally awesome,” but the most accurate description might fall somewhere in between: It’s a perfect combination of weird and awesome with which no modern hotel stay can possibly compete.