Spend any time at all in Stonington, Connecticut, and it dawns on you: there’s an esoteric energy here so real you can almost touch it. Thousands of years before European explorers did any “discovering”, Native Americans knew this as a special place of contentment.
Tucked away between Mystic, CT and Westerly, R.I., downtown Stonington Borough is antique coastal New England with artisanal swagger. The proximate region has seen a renaissance in fine dining and lodging in recent years. Along those lines, this pristine fishing village—where small is chic and quiet is cool—cultivates its own mystique.
For such a fashionable place, intimate Stonington Borough exudes history. Stately homes from the Colonial era adorn tree-lined avenues. Water Street has the shingle-style architecture and close-built stance of old whaling centers like Newport and Nantucket—but not the crowds. It’s fitting that there should also be a cozy inn by the sea, with friendly proprietors and staff.
Bill Griffin’s family has operated very successful car dealerships since the 1950’s. Bill chose a different path and spent his 20’s working around and building boats. A chance opportunity led him to the world of working for a major NYC real estate developer, where he learned something about construction (and how to make deals). He went off on his own in 1986, and one of those deals led him into the hotel business—The Whalers Inn, Mystic—in 1991. That turned out well. After 10 years as a hotelier, Griffin had new aspirations. No surprise about the spot he chose. “If Disney recreates a coastal New England town,” he says, “it really ought to be Stonington. Anyone who’s truly interested in sense of place falls in love with it.”
Taken by the look of the town, Griffin hired Old Lyme, CT-based Nina Cuccio Peck Architecture and Interiors to draft his vision. As it came together, Griffin and his builder added countless custom touches. The resulting 18-room Inn at Stonington is still hailed 15 years later as an understated masterpiece. Rooms and suites are sunny and restful. Almost all have gas fireplaces. Soothing “seaside” and “village side” views are enhanced by classic New England décor. Balcony rooms are spectacular. Common areas have a big cheerful character. The Harbor View Room on the top floor is an inspiring space for meetings or just to sit, looking out over Fishers Island Sound. The downstairs parlor has a huge wall of windows, comfy sofas and fireplace. In the adjoining nook they serve a continental breakfast, with superb local baked goods and Mystic Coffee Roasters’ java. In the evenings, it’s good wine and tasty cheese for their eclectic guests.
At one of these gatherings you’ll get to meet general manager Susan Irvine. Her expertise in resort life comes from the high-end golf world, which is to say, she understands luxury as it relates to lifestyle. Irvine’s personal warmth glows brightly when she talks about her work.
“We’re providing a unique travel experience, not just a bed. Don’t get me wrong: some of our Inn guests love to sleep in,” she says, laughing, “but there is so much more to do. You can rent a kayak or paddle board next door at the sailing foundation, take our bikes for a ride to duBois Beach past the Old Lighthouse, or tour the town. Vineyards and breweries are a short drive, or bicycle ride away. We have so much to offer.”
That’s an understatement. The Inn at Stonington has an impressive slate of guest programming. They’re also located right next door to New England Science & Sailing (NESS), which offers guests private sailing and kayaking lessons. The hotel concierge can arrange any number of boat charters and various tours that leave from the immediate area.
Dining and Spa
The Inn at Stonington does not have a restaurant on premises, but that’s a mere technicality. Not 200 feet out one door is Breakwater, the bustling waterfront eatery that enjoys the nicest sunsets in town. On a recent night, their Pan Seared Atlantic Cod with root vegetable croquet, mushroom salad and grapefruit caper sauce was paired with a strong Hopscape wheat ale for a hearty, delicious meal. Delicate coffee Crème Brule capped the delightful experience.
And because the town is so compact, all of Stonington’s finest restaurants are within a five-minute walk from the Inn. Strolling to a different restaurant every night has created countless epicurean weekends here, with the Inn serving as home away from home.
“May others be at home in it.”
Among Stonington’s most famous residents was Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, James Ingram Merrill. Son of the founder of the Merrill Lynch brokerage, he was profoundly influential in mid-20th century literature. In his book aptly named “Water Street” after his Stonington address (known today as James Merrill House—you can tour it), the poet reflected on his eccentric life. There’s a reverent tone in parts, especially the poem “A Tendency” in which Merrill writes:
“And then, not asking why they come,
Invite the visitors to sit.
If I am host at last
It is of little more than my own past.
May others be at home in it.”
Sitting around the Inn’s at Stonington’s fire pit with a glass of wine at sunset, that verse resonates. You’re just down the block from where Merrill wrote it—the shortest of walks. It captures the welcoming nature of this place, and the happy spirit that makes it so unique.