Spicer Mansion, Mystic Connecticut
The Napoleonic Wars, the whaling boom, discovery of gold in California—brute force shaped maritime life in the early 1800s. In that briny cauldron, 14-year-old cabin boy Elihu Spicer may have looked like an extra from Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. Just a lad from Noank, Connecticut, he raced up and down rigging and did the grunt work of sailing ships.
He also absorbed every aspect of seafaring. Rank would soon follow.
In the crucible of the American Civil War, Spicer—now a sailing master—partnered with his friend, Mystic native Charles Mallory. They formed the influential C.H. Mallory & Co. shipping firm. And like the storybook figure that he kind of was, the cabin boy from Connecticut became a shipping magnate.
Mystic had been good to him, and Spicer was grateful. Long before establishing the Mystic & Noank Library in the 1890s (it’s still lovely and vibrant today), he built a stately home on a hill above the water. Spicer’s had the refinement of the grandest coastal retreats back then. Now, it does again.
Purchased by the Gates family to preserve its splendor, Spicer Mansion has been transformed. Like many great houses of 19th century New England, the building had been disregarded for years. The owners hired innovative architect, Rusty Sergeant, to restore the landmark. It got a lot of love.
The Gates’ then partnered with the OHM Collection, ingenious minds behind Ocean House, Weekapaug Inn and Watch Hill Inn, from nearby Rhode Island. This elevated Spicer to the sublime standards of a Relais & Châteaux hotel.
The hotel is an exotic new option in Mystic, whose lodgings often cater to families rather than young(er) more affluent types traveling without children. That dynamic is changing now, with Mystic itself seeing renewed interest as a getaway for stylish couples and vacationing friends.
Painstaking work that turned the house into a luxury accommodation is clear. It begins as you drive up and see the masterpiece of Palladian architecture. Inside, you’re struck by a harmony of chic and antique. Original ceilings and parquet floors have their luster again; the interior design is swank but not ostentatious.
Past the narrow foyer, the main floor separates into three large parlors, one nicer than the next, and each with a gentle color scheme. The blue salon has a coastal high-tea atmosphere. The rose salon is warmer, with a cherub afloat on the dome ceiling. It’s a must for brunch. In the gold salon, side-by-side chaise lounge form a semi-private pod for two to recline iPad skimming, or sharing a cognac and a secret laugh. Perhaps because Spicer Mansion was built as a place to entertain important people, public spaces have plenty of spots to laze about.
The fourth “salon” at Spicer Mansion is actually on the roof: the cool, commanding belvedere. Up there, one can imagine Capt. Spicer watching ships through his spyglass. They’ve still got one.
We were offered a sparkling beverage during check in, and told that the two gleaming new BMWs outside were ours to borrow as guests. Instead of a drive, we headed to a Captain’s Suite, up the grand staircase with striking balustrades.
The Captain’s Suite is attractive, with bedroom and living room at opposite ends of a corridor. The huge white marble and tile bathroom is heavenly. In the top-floor suites, some low-slung windows are actually at knee height, offering uncommon views of towering trees outside. The curved ceilings lend a nautical aspect, as do the topical books and art that decorate all Spicer guest rooms.
Jennifer Backman is getting serious respect in the culinary world right now, and she’s earned it. Backman made her bones in some of the region’s finest restaurants, and stood out as a gifted sous chef. Her skill and energy soon made her Executive Chef at the lauded Weekapaug Inn in Watch Hill, RI.
When Spicer Mansion joined that family of hotels, Backman brought her experience and creativity to bear with delightful results.
The Pacific Northwest native is fluent in “farm to table” and “sea to table” trends. She certainly boasts the area’s finest and freshest ingredients; she has access to the remarkable foraging resources of sister hotel, Ocean House. And rather than interpreting trends, she’s beginning to set them.
On a recent evening, Backman served up a succulent canary melon with grilled peach as amuse, followed by an umami gumbo of hyper-local Stonington red shrimp, striped bass and sausage. Then came house-made pesto tortellini, paired with a full-bodied Cakebread Cellars chardonnay. Backman’s wildly popular New York Pork with Chinese long beans, ginger and sesame was as nuanced as pork will ever be. The Blueberry Crisp with coconut was inspired.
At first, Spicer Mansion reserved its fine dining for guests only. As word of Backman’s new kitchen has spread, however, it’s become the hottest new haute cuisine spot within miles. The restaurant is now accepting limited reservations.
If you’d rather dine out, by all means do. One of Spicer’s most bespoke offerings is its gourmet picnic lunch—as appealing as a scene from “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.” If you want to be helicoptered to Block Island for your cinematic al fresco moment, the concierge will arrange that as well. Two words: “worth it.”
Spicer Mansion is a sophisticated new hotel with an old soul. The man in charge of preserving it is innkeeper, Louis Shapazian. After learning his craft with exemplary brands including Four Seasons, Shapazian’s route also took him to Ocean House, that local incubator of hotel excellence. His expertise brought him to Spicer. He loves the town of Mystic, and sees great new possibilities for it.
“Mystic is a breakout market that hasn’t been much tapped into by the upper ends of the luxury hotel spectrum,” he says. “Spicer Mansion, with the level of service and cuisine that we offer, appeals to the most discerning traveller.”