Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard
The Obamas took their final summer vacation as First Family where they preferred to summer from the start: Martha’s Vineyard. The Obamas like Hawaii too, and maybe that’s what the Vineyard sort of is—the Kauai of New England.
Like that fabled Pacific island, MV has many enchanted places. The Obamas have been known to enjoy Chilmark. For a slightly different vibe there is Edgartown on the other side of the island. This area has retained plenty of its old seafaring coastal charm. Edgartown is also planted thick with lodgings—some of them luxurious. It comes in many flavors here, and my current favorite is The Harbor View Hotel.
This historic property (read the book, The Hotel that Saved A Town) originally dates back to 1891, and has the multi-generation clientele of the finest destination hotels. The Harbor View exudes an understated elegance that many New Englanders prefer.
Great hotels are often said to have a “commanding view.” In the case of the Harbor View Hotel, one could literally command (if one wished) the entrance to Edgartown Harbor and Katama Bay, and Chappaquiddick too. The hotel looks directly upon towering Edgartown Harbor Light, out over a tranquil expanse of brambles and bluffs across the channel. On the languid verandah, Adirondack chairs offer the perfect view of MV—turquoise waters, white sand beaches, sea grass, and boats.
On a patch of lawn, guests play croquet.
It is the ideal spot for a hotel—or to paint a landscape—emanating the quintessence of coastal island living. Built in the colonial revival style, the main hotel is comfortable and chic, arranged around a large fireplace, with massive windows framing the scene outside. Most of the interior is a rhapsody in white—a constant reminder of its beachside locale.
Large ballrooms cater to parades of weddings, while the covered verandah is elbowed with private-feeling nooks. The huge outdoor pool and patio area are immaculate and beautifully landscaped. There’s a nice little fitness center, too.
My visit involved not the hotel itself, but the Captain’s Cottages located on a larger piece of property behind the main building. These are a collection of 1, 2 and 3 bedroom condos in the same architectural style as the main hotel. Flowering trees of major proportions rise up all around, while azaleas, rhododendrons and hydrangeas surround each 3-storey cottage with color and texture.
The rooms are exceptional, with gorgeous hardwood floors, central air and gas fireplaces blending with beach cottage accents. The convenient kitchenette with Keurig brewing system is handy for the snacking that’s inevitable while relaxing here, perhaps watching the big screen HDTVs in each room, ideally with a large glass of wine. Spacious bedrooms have cozy four-post beds and bay windows framing those trees. The bathrooms are simple and nice, dazzling tiled in white.
There is no nicer retreat after a day of beaching, boating or summer shopping. Those things happen frequently here, as The Harbor View is a two-minute walk to the sand, and a five-minute walk to the heart of Edgartown. There are many fantastic shops in Edgartown, and its restaurants are varied and superb.
But why go elsewhere when other’s guests are coming to your hotel to dine?
Henry’s is a small pub style eatery with a dark paneled appeal that for some reason calls to mind the old Oak Room at the Plaza Hotel in NYC (only much smaller). In a cozy banquet table we enjoyed signature dishes like the surprisingly good Pigs in a Blanket, an excellent Fritto Misto, a bracing Baby Kale salad with shaved apple and brown butter balsamic, and the magnificent Fish and Lobster Tacos.
It’s a small-plate paradise for dining, with a beach bar that doesn’t involve sand or Tiki torches. Always be grateful to find a spot like Henry’s.
Lighthouse Grill, also in the main hotel, offers a sensory feast long before the food arrives. The airy and tastefully appointed dining room features a panoramic view of Lighthouse Beach that is the most stunning on the Vineyard. The nautical décor and cheeriness of the room promise great dining experiences, and deliver them.
The hearty Sunday brunch here is delightful, with all that one expects: omelet station, savory breakfast meats, with tons of fresh fruit and baked goods. It would be hard to find a better brunch. We didn’t have dinner, but the reputation is first-rate.
While enjoying our brunch, a bird handler outside released a flock of white doves that wheeled overhead in the crisp morning air. It all felt somehow cinematic.
A hotel that cares about the littlest thing understands hospitality. Here’s an example: we ordered some room service, with the Harbor View’s astoundingly good chocolate chip cookies for dessert. The cookies they sent up, sadly, got burnt.
The kitchen realized the mistake, called to apologize, took the cookies off the bill, and had fresh new free cookies waiting for us. This is the kind of tiny but meaningful touch that demonstrates a genuine concern for guest experience. And it works.
The cookie incident wasn’t so much unexpected as it was pleasant and reassuring. The Harbor View Hotel may not have five Forbes stars, but that doesn’t prevent their smart managers and polite staff from providing a five-star experience.