The quest for a sublime equidistant getaway is quite real in American life, and surprisingly common. Those whose lives are half in Boston and half in New York City, for example, find it an ongoing dilemma…unless you know where to look. Sinatra’s Rat Pack and the Kennedys knew. Long before them, 19th century railway workers and riverboat pilots knew the spot too, with its sound mooring, fresh food and sociable air.
As it turns out, that ideal midway is 105 miles from Boston and 101 miles from NYC, where the Connecticut River meets the Long Island Sound at Saybrook Point.
There’s been an inn on the site since the 1870s, when William H. Pease opened The Pease House there. That operated until the 1950s, when it was replaced by the Terra Mar, which catered to “Mad Men” era jet-setters. In 1980, after the Terra Mar was shuttered for illegal gambling, the Tagliatela family purchased it. With a more ambitious vision than all previous occupants, their Saybrook Point Inn is part hotel complex, part eco-marvel, and a fully pleasing coastal accommodation.
After buying the Terra Mar, the Tagliatelas briefly called it “the Saybrook Hilton” for a laugh. But there was nothing farcical about their plan. The new main building, designed by Yale architect David H. Wight, was completed in 1989. It is firmly in the coastal New England style, contrasting the Terra Mar’s mid-century modernist look.
“We’re in a very historic part of New England, and we wanted to retain that sense,” says Stephen Tagliatela, managing partner, who is a third generation innkeeper. The family’s deep roots in construction helped them to build a better hotel, literally from the ground up. The main hotel is energy efficient and more soundproof than many. The former appeals to hoteliers; the latter is highly prized by guests.
As a guest, you’ve got options. The Tagliatelas have built a hospitality compound on Saybrook Point, and it keeps growing. The newest addition is the historic Three Stories guesthouse. It’s a large Italianate shoreline home dating from 1892 that’s been meticulously renovated with understated modern amenities. The eight rooms are efficiently splendid, the bathrooms pristine, and each has its own personality. A beautifully restored main staircase banister and rooftop cupola reveals the hotelier’s affection for the place. “This house has good bones,” Tagliatela says.
Painstaking contemplation also went into gardens, balconies and especially common areas. The shared living room and kitchen are relaxed, beautifully appointed and well stocked for guests. The billiard room downstairs (which doubles as meeting space) is a man’s lair if ever there was one. The masculine room is bedecked with memorable art celebrating notable events, from the founding of the original Yale University to the Rat Pack ascendant.
Next door to Three Stories, work is nearing completion on another vintage New England home that will feature six guest rooms and one suite. Expected to open in the fall, this property – christened “Tall Tales” –promises to be a union of the ornate and structural. It harks from the Second Empire period architecturally, replete with mansard roof and other baroque touches. If this one turns out the way Three Stories did, guests can bank on a boutique hotel vibe not widely available on the shoreline.
“We want to provide a unique experience,” Tagliatela says of the new projects. “Not everyone wants to stay in a hotel. In the two new properties, no two rooms are alike. They offer more peace and quiet.” He takes that idea to heart. In fact, he abjured planting grass so that guests would never be disturbed by a lawnmower.
“We’re building a family of guesthouses,” says Tagliatela. “Even our lighthouse is a guest suite with a living room, dining area, bedroom and deck.” It’s actually a magnificent lodging with a Ralph Lauren feel to the décor, right on the water. “We’ve created a sense of place,” he says. “We belong here. It’s comfortable.”
There is also the standalone South Cove Cottage, which is as charming as a small, fully furnished New England summer rental gets.
In the main building, with views of the Long Island Sound to the east, rooms are more to the liking of adamant hotel aficionados. The added elegance of wood-burning fireplaces in some suites seals the deal for many – as long as they don’t expect grandeur from the unassuming lobby area.
A few years ago, Boston-based architect Peter Niemitz reengineered the SPI’s restaurant, Fresh Salt, to appeal to a younger clientele. To update the bar area, Niemitz emphasized natural light and building materials like wood, slate and quartz. Adornments including a reef aquarium and model tall ships (built by Steve’s dad), add splashes of color and character to the room.
Restaurant access to and from the patio (with welcoming fire pit), the observation deck and outdoor saltwater pool opens the space even more. Niemitz devised three levels of acoustic difference as one moves from the bar area into the far reaches of the dining room – a welcome respite from culinary din. Views of the marina and Long Island Sound beyond enhance gustation here. On chilly days, the fireplace brings it damn close to perfect.
Chef Leslie Tripp, a Connecticut native, understands coastal cuisine down to its shell. His “farm-to-chef” focus leverages another Tagliatela family forte – food logistics. After Tagliatela’s maternal granddad passed through Ellis Island in the early 20th century and arrived in New Haven, he operated a humble pushcart in that city. He went on to own the first supermarket in New Haven, Pegnataro’s Super Food. The legacy it left is a strong relationship with area growers, who raise items like heirloom tomatoes from SPI’s own seeds for their exclusive consumption. Many other herbs and vegetables served at Fresh Salt are sourced hyper-locally, too. This mindset extends to the consistent high quality of meats (Omaha angus steaks only), and other epicurean delights. Among these, dishes including the sugar snap pea soup, sweet pea risotto, and the Fresh Salt Cioppino with Tomato Saffron Sauce, Capellini, and Crusty Ciabatta are exceptional. They serve a nice breakfast, too.
True to his oeuvre, chef Tripp’s northern Italian Mediterranean menu features local crabs and oysters, yellowfin tuna from nearby waters off Montauk Point, delectable salmon, and sustainable seafood items like hard-to-find swordfish chops – mostly the fruit of productive fishing grounds within 100 miles of Saybrook Point.
Its name a modification of the Latin word sano meaning “health,” the SPI’s Sanno spa has 11 simple treatment rooms – a rare ratio for only 82 guestrooms. It’s arranged around a pleasant seating area where pre-massage libations and snacks are served. There are no surprises on the spa menu (would you really want there to be?), and Sanno employs its own line of food-based spa products, called Eminence. There’s also a medical grade spa product line call Skin-Ceuticals for mature skin. Their 60-minute Swedish is adequate, their mani-pedis are popular, and they say the 80-minute Ocean Memory treatment may reverse the aging process.
Thoroughly kneaded, you can wander out French doors leading to artfully arranged gardens that lay right outside the spa. All flowers are perennials, chosen by local landscaping firm The English Lady to attract a kaleidoscope of butterflies. Birdhouses and feeders dot the trees, drawing feathered friends who act as a natural mosquito control mechanism. That kind of thinking permeates the place, actually.
Keep it Green
The Saybrook Point Inn & Spa is a case study in the greening of American hotels. Rated as a platinum level Green Leader by TripAdvisor for its use of energy-efficient light bulbs, recycled housekeeping products, low chemical gardening and other nods to Mother Earth, the SPI goes even further. In the bowels of the main building you’ll find a laundry that reclaims wastewater, a serious heat recycling system, a reverse osmosis tank for water purification, and a salination device that treats the property’s two well-maintained saltwater pools (one indoor, one out).
It’s an impressive investment for an operation of this size. That’s because Tagliatela thinks of SPI as “a steward of the local ecosystem,” which has inspired many of the property’s sustainable initiatives. And new ones are being added all the time.
The final detail of the Saybrook Point Inn that gives it more coastal flair than anything is its award-winning 116-slip marina. Tagliatela says, “There’s not too many places where you can pull up by boat, have an amazing meal, cocktails, swim in a saltwater pool, and play the state’s number one rated mini golf.” And he’s right. He’s also fond of saying, “We’re a AAA Four-Diamond property, but we’re not stuffy.”
Even with its assiduous environmental slant and attention to the littlest hospitality details, few would accuse the Saybrook Point Inn of being stuffy. Crowded on two sides (as it kind of is) by the towering pretentiousness of Boston and Manhattan, the SPI really does have a sense of place. It’s comfortable. It belongs.
Image Credits: Saybrook Point Inn