Lyon Porter is the unlikely proprietor of an unlikely establishment. In his former life as a pro hockey player, Lyon was a posterchild for wanderlust: lived in fifteen different cities, a teepee in Wyoming, and a remote cabin in the mountains.
These days, the adventurer lives in a quiet corner of Brooklyn and runs the aptly named Urban Cowboy, a rustic bed and breakfast infused with a sense of freedom and homeyness that’s rare to find in a city like New York. We caught up with him to talk about his western aesthetic, the neighborhood of Northeast Williamsburg, and the potential influence of Indiana Jones.
Hey Lyon. Let’s start by talking about your place-how did your idea for the Urban Cowboy come about?
It was on a surf trip down in Nicaragua of all places. Someone asked me what I was doing, and I kind of looked over and said, “I’m opening a bed and breakfast,” and that was it. Then I had to do it.
Had you been planning to open a bed and breakfast for a while?
Not at all. It kind of just came out. So, in the spring of 2014, I opened. And I guess the rest is history.
Respect. You have to follow those weird moments of inspiration-that’s been a recurrent theme at Convicts. So tell us about the location we’re in, and where aesthetic for Urban Cowboy cowboy came from?
So, strangely enough, we’re in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. In a cabin. I wanted to create an oasis in the city where I could live and host and share an atmosphere of conviviality and community. To have people come and be surprised, but also feel really comfortable. That’s what I was trying to do with this aesthetic—to bring a real sense of warmth and comfort, fire and leather. And wood. A lot of wood.
That’s not something you see to much in the city. But it begs the question-why build a cabin in the heart of Brooklyn?
I kind of said, “I don’t give a fuck about what anyone thinks. I’m going to build a cabin.” That was for myself. There is a sense of escapism, a sense of whimsy, of not being anywhere near New York-that I love about the cabin. My favorite place in the house is the cabin.
How would you describe the aesthetic that ties this place together?
I like to say that my style—design style anyway— is like your favorite leather jacket. The more you beat it up, the more you live in it, the better it feels and the better it looks. That’s why I use a lot of wood metal and leather: I like things that if you hit ‘em with a hammer, they look better afterwards.
Beyond the homey vibes, what’s the significance of this particular style to you? Why the western bent?
I’ve always had some weird connection to Native American art, being 1/16th Cherokee. Maybe I watched too much Indiana Jones growing up. While I was designing and developing this, I was very interested in freedom. The cowboy aesthetic kind of equated to me. It wasn’t in vogue to have a southwestern pattern when we first opened, but now it’s quite wild.
The cabin is certainly homey. Do you ever crash out here?
Yeah. Sometimes I spend nights in the cabin. My thought was, “If you can’t afford a place upstate and a place in Brooklyn, then why not build a cabin in Brooklyn?” So when I have to get away from it all, it’s fun to wake up here and take a bath in the tub and then be surprised when you wake up and feel like you got away from it all.
Do you think the guests are drawn to the place for the same reason?
A lot of people that gravitate towards this place actually are in hotels quite a bit. They live in hotels or they work and travel a lot, and they’re really tired of hotel living. I think what this offers them is a sense of coming home.
Tell us about the objects that you’ve decorated Urban Cowboy with, where did they come from? How do they relate to your vision for the cabin?
My favorite pieces are the ones that are personal and generational. I have my great grandfather’s cigarette case in the living room.
What about you, mate? Tell us a little bit of your story, what led you to that day in Nicaragua?
I’m from Cleveland, Ohio. Shaker Heights. My whole background is in hockey; I was a professional hockey player. That’s all I ever wanted to do. So I left home at sixteen and lived in fifteen different cities in ten years. Then I moved to New York because I loved New York and I wanted to be here more than anywhere else in the world.
Did that lifestyle influence your vision for Urban Cowboy?
I did live in a tepee in Wyoming for a period of time. I did live in a cabin in the mountains for a period of time, and I did live all over. So I think those experiences inform a little bit of what you see at Urban Cowboy.
Why did you choose this location for Urban Cowboy?
When I first moved here, I became a real estate broker, and did the space jockey thing-and still do-running around all day long seeing New York inside out. I saw a lot of different design and a lot of inspirational things through that process. I saw every single neighborhood in the entire city and all of that led me to buy a place in this area of Williamsburg, which is very neighborhoody, very low buildings, kind of off the beaten path, but only steps to all the craziness. I chose to be in this little enclave because I thought it was really special.
When did you decide on Urban Cowboy as the name? Was it inspired by the John Travolta flick?
The day I had to come up with a name. New York Magazine was going to run an article on us and had interviewed us and was like, “you need to come up with a name for your business if we’re going to feature you.” I was like, “It’s called The Urban Cowboy.” So I have no idea, it just kind of came out.