Like the perfect cocktail, the Bee & Thistle Inn has created just the right mix of antique quaintness and modern hospitality in a historic, 1756-era framework in classic Old Lyme. The food and the atmosphere are sweet and dry; smooth and tangy.
“The majority of our lodging guests come from New York and Boston, and from overseas, especially in the Fall, but many of our lounge and dinner guests are local,” said Linnea Rufo, who, with her husband, David, have owned the Inn since 2006.
The Inn has 10 luxury guest rooms, all with private baths; seven fireplaces; cocktails and dining available in the cozy Chestnut Grille & Lounge; private parties held indoors or on the property’s five acres facing the Lieutenant River—all wrapped up in a structure that belies anything built in the 19th or 20th centuries.
“It is a gift to be a part of this historic property,” said Linnea. “We feel honored to be here and, in turn, to pass it on to others.”
One common misconception about the Inn is that its dining room and lounge are available to only those lucky enough to have booked a room for the evening or weekend. The Inn has lounge space and a bar for the enjoyment of local as well as faraway guests. They offer a “Bee Happy Hour” Wednesdays and Thursdays from 5–7 p.m. with reduced cocktail and beer prices, $5 wine and complimentary nosh. Mixologist and bartender Jack Larrow will not only prepare your favorite beverage, he may delight you with a spot of juggling and accordion music.
“Jack has brought a great dimension to our cocktails with fresh herbs,” said Linnea, who describes one of his signature drinks, Smoke & Mirrors, that features Purity vodka served ice cold in a glasses rinsed with Laphoraig single malt whiskey.
On a recent evening at the Inn, we sampled two specialty cocktails, including Ralphie’s Martini with Ketel One, lemon, a splash of Cointreau, and served with atypical cocktail onions ($11), and Henrietta’s Ghost, a champagne cocktail with Chambord, strawberries, lemon, and a sugar cube ($10). Both were unique, tasty, and refreshing.
Dining at the Inn is a memorable event featuring local, seasonal, and fresh flavors from Chef Kristofer Rowe. Linnea, a former chef who had her own restaurant, finds a kindred spirit in Kris. The two have worked together for seven years presenting innovative and fresh menus that
are “cleaner and lighter” than in years past.
We sampled several selections from the menu, including New England Clam Cakes with a cornichon tartar sauce ($11) and House-Cured Gravlax with a crispy potato cake and dill ($12) for starters. The clam cakes were full of tender clams, light and moist with a flavorful sauce. The gravlax was a delightful combination of silky smooth salmon with the crunchy cake, velvety sauce, and fresh dill.
Entrées included a Slow Roasted Duck Breast with baked mini sweet potato, dates, and baby leeks ($28) and Coriander Spiced Monkfish with grilled fennel, roasted asparagus, and citrus beurre blanc sauce ($25). Both entrees were outstanding. The duck was perfectly cooked to our preference (medium rare), lean, and tasty. The potato and leeks accented the dish without overwhelming it. The monkfish was fresh and tender with a light-as-a-feather buttery sauce and crispy asparagus. Dessert was Crème Brûlée—a satisfying combination of smooth custard and crunchy sweet topping. Every item we tasted, including homemade Curried Hummus with spiced tortillas, the warm focaccia bread and olive oil, to the Ashlawn Farm coffee, was superb.
Situated on direct waterfront overlooking the river, the Inn surpasses all expectations for a private, catered outdoor affair for 200 guests. Couples from all over say “I Do” at the Inn and experience the gardens, river view, and sunset, while dining and dancing under a large, white tent on the south lawn. Many wedding details such as the cake, décor, flowers, menu, and drinks are handled by Linnea and her staff of 25 fulland part-time employees. For more intimate gatherings, parties up to 65 guests can dine indoors. The Inn is a popular spot for rehearsal dinners, family reunions, corporate retreats, girls’ weekends, birthday and anniversary celebrations, bridal showers, and more.
Adding to the Inn’s charm is its collection of local art, which features one artist’s work displayed in each room as well as its 138-year old Japanese Chestnut tree located at the Inn’s entrance. The tree is a treasure, said Linnea, and rare. It is monitored twice a year by experts from Yale University.
The Inn is open now for dinner, Tuesday through Saturday. Special events (check their website for details) include Early Bee Dinners, Bee Happy Hour, Thursday Dinners for Two, Easter Sunday Menu, Summer Reading Series & Bestselling Author Luncheons, Bee Rejuvenated Spa Packages, French Lawn Bowling (Boules), and Afternoon Tea.
“One of the most satisfying elements of being here is working with our wonderful staff,” said Linnea. General Manager Tosh Perkins is the first face and smile you see as you walk in the door. “She is the perfect face to the Inn and remembers so many details, to the delight of our guests,” added Linnea. First impressions are important, she emphasized, who said as Innkeeper, it’s not just the good meal or the table you set, it’s the feeling your guests experience as they walk through the door. They should feel that “this is their home for the night” at the Bee & Thistle.
Bee & Thistle Inn
100 Lyme Street. Old Lyme, CT 06371 860-434-1667
Image Credits: Photo courtesy of The Bee & Thistle Inn