This article was originally published in 2014. We are resharing it today as a Valentine's Day treat.
You've seen the commercials. You've heard the rumors. And you might have even wondered what it would be like to spend a night at the Sybaris Pool Suites.
Earlier this week, I did.
When my partner and I pulled up to the Sybaris, 10240 N. Cedarburg Rd. in Mequon, we were a bit surprised by the appearance. It was more plain looking from the outside than we expected. Also, it's attached to the former home of the Brew City Grill that closed in March and now just looks abandoned.
We walked into the Sybaris office, which has a variety of items for sale, including T-shirts, Kama Sutra brand oils and lotions, foreplay card games and bath fizz balls. (Yeah, three paragraphs in and I already said "balls"). There was also a large, framed photo of founder Ken Knudson, and a friendly woman standing behind the desk.
She gave us a map of the grounds and pointed out the location of our room – called the Majestic Suite. Also, she handed us more information about the room, including which channels were the "free adult entertainment." Finally, she asked us to sign a waiver saying we wouldn't have any guests in the room with us. (I suddenly wished I had a couple of blow-up dolls sitting in the backseat of my car that I could have pointed to and asked, "Do they count?")
We signed the waiver and drove to our room. From the outside, it appeared very boring – just a row of plain structures that seem to have windows (they don't; the "windows" are fake). The suite, however, was completely different. It was a lot of things, but "boring" was certainly not one of them.
Walking into the space from the sunny outdoors was a disorienting experience. The room was very dark with the exception of purple lights framing a mirror hanging over the king-sized, rose-petal-covered bed.
The air felt cold – the air conditioning was on but we were able to turn it off – and multiple speakers piped "Anyway You Want It" by Journey. (The music was set to B93.3 and we left it on for a while because the playlist was just too perfect for a Sybaris visit. "Oh, What A Night" by The Four Seasons and Whitney Houston's "Saving All My Love For You" came on later).
Because most of the walls are mirrors, our entry into the dim suite was even more confusing at first because the reflections created an "infinity room effect." The smell of chlorine and dampness was detectable.
We turned on a few more lights – there are so many lighting options – and started to wander around, noting the furniture and the amenities, also inspecting for cleanliness.
Aside from the bed (which had a pillow-top and was very comfortable), the suite featured a 22-foot pool, a reclining "back massager" chair adjustable by buttons on the arm, a gas fireplace visible from both the sleeping and swimming area, twin sinks, a bidet next to the toilet, a microwave, a mini-fridge and a few carpeted platforms and ledges.
A flat screen television was suspended from the ceiling. It is way too small for the space; however, it was positioned in a way that made the images reflect from many of the wall mirrors. Quite the visual when tuned to one of the adult entertainment channels.
In general, the room featured a lot of mauve carpeting, wood trim and fake flowers.
The pool area also had a steam room and a massive palm tree mural on the only wall that wasn't covered in mirrors. The swimming / steam room was a lot warmer and humid than the sleeping area – they are divided by a glass wall – and smelled a little dank.
Overall, the suite had the feel of a rec room basement meets the set of an '80s porn film meets a love cave. But that's not to say we didn't have fun, because we did. For us, it wasn't a romantic paradise, rather we found it funny and weird, and it really did make us feel like we were cut off from the world. This is always a good thing.
As advised, we brought our own music (The Cure worked well with the environment: "I kissed you in the water ..."), our own food (sushi, grapes, chips / salsa and banana bread, but no oysters) and our own drinks (the proverbial bottle of champagne – how can you not? – and a few beers).
We swam, we steamed, we soaked in the hot tub and we watched free porn (disappointing as usual, so much ink and so little hair). We took photos with the hundreds of rose petals scattered on the bed, creating our very own private "American Beauty" moments. We laughed a lot. A lot.
The rose petals are an extra amenity that guests order ahead of time. They are available "sprinkled" for $15 or in the shape of a heart for $30. Prior to a visit, Sybaris sends an email suggesting gift ideas including the petals, chocolate-covered strawberries or balloons to be placed in the room before check-in.
Almost everyone we told that we were going to the Sybaris wisecracked about the cleanliness or lack thereof. People warned me, jokingly (I think), that if I swam in the pool I'd contract syphilis or become pregnant by a leftover, rogue sperm. Others said I should scan the furniture with a black light or bring my own bleach.
Sorry to debunk the lore, but we found the rooms to be very clean. (We did have one scare, when we thought there was a piece of skin floating in the pool, but it was actually just a shriveled rose petal that we had transferred there ourselves). Deep vacuum lines marked the carpeting. The sheets, bedding and shower curtain were stark white without a spot or stain.
The pool, although possibly a touch over-chlorinated, was very clean, too. It could have been a little warmer, especially the water coming from the waterfall.
I have stayed in hotels that were way less clean, but the Sybaris gets a bad rap because its main purpose is to provide accommodations for copulation, therefore one can't avoid thinking about strangers having sex and what might get left behind. You can't help but to look at the mauve-carpeted platform surrounded by mirrors and wonder, "How many times has it been done there?"
The ghosts of orgasms are everywhere.
"Each Sybaris suite is impeccably maintained and the swimming pools are meticulously cared for by trained technicians," says Dan Fahrner, Sybaris' marketing director. "Diagnostic Systems test PH balance and sanitation levels, and advanced systems filter the entire pool four times each day. We also offer tours each and every day, so a guest can stop by and check us out before making a reservation."
Whether or not a couple has to be married to stay at Sybaris is always in question. Although Knudsen's intention for Sybaris was to create "a special place dedicated to the enhancement of romantic marriage," and the Web site copy is written for the wedded, Fahrner says the resort is inclusive of all couples, regardless of sexual preference.
"Sybaris is intended for two people. Guests, children and pets are not allowed," he says.
But just to be sure, I called Sybaris, gave them a fake name and asked to make a reservation for my partner and I. The receptionist asked my date of birth so she could send me birthday coupons, and then asked for my husband's birthday. I told her I was not bringing a husband, rather, a wife. Without missing a beat, she said, "No problem, when is her birthday?"
This acceptance may not, however, have always been the case. Information floats around the Internet, like this article, suggesting that at one time, Sybaris had an anti-gay policy.
In 1974, inspired by his and his wife's romantic bedroom, Knudson opened the first Sybaris in Downers Grove, Ill. His plan, according to the Web site, was to provide a "magical place where couples could shed the stress of daily life and reacquaint themselves with love. An oasis of privacy – no windows, no phones."
Today, there are five Sybaris locations: three in Illinois, one in Indianapolis and the other in Mequon.
The Mequon Sybaris features 34 units divided into six types of suites: Country Whirlpool, Classic Whirlpool, Deluxe Whirlpool, Paradise Swimming Pool, Majestic Swimming Pool and the Chalet Swimming Pool (which is the only suite with "the slide").
Prices range depending on which suite is reserved and whether it's during the week or weekend. During the week, prices run from $109 to $399; on the weekend from $179 to $549 per night. Sybaris also offers afternoon rentals ("nooners!") seven days a week from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. that cost between $69 to $199. Prices do not include taxes or the membership fee.
Because Sybaris is a private club, couples must have a membership to stay there. Membership prices are $30 for a basic or $110 for a VIP and paid annually. According to the website, Sybaris has more than 250,000 members.
Sybaris is named after an ancient Greek city in Southern Italy that was known for its wealth, luxury and devotion to sensuous pleasure. Stuffing pillows and mattresses with rose petals before couples had an intimate encounter is a classic Sybaritic custom and part of the reason why rose petals are available at Sybaris Pool Suites today.
Bottom line? Sybaris is outdated, a little creepy (windows would be nice) and pricey, but with the right frame of mind, it's cheesy-sleazy fun. Our favorite part of the adventure? Probably a cross between the illuminated framed picture of a sunrise with its own light switch and, of course, the non-stop nookie.
Hey, when in Rome, right?
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.