Saturday morning, let’s say around 8:30, is prime time at Chatham Bars Inn. That’s when you get a cup of coffee from the lobby, nestle into a white deck chair out on the veranda that overlooks Pleasant Bay, and erase all memory of anything on your to-do list. Today’s task is to take it all in.
Guests are clustered on nearby benches, some of them reading the Cape Cod Times, others discussing their plans for the day. Young women in sunglasses zoom in with their smartphones to snap a picture. They want the moment to last forever, and you can see why.
The view is why you’re here, and it’s a scene right out of those watercolor paintings they sell on sidewalks: Little boats drift by in the distance and figures on a beach move in slow motion on the sandy horizon that’s about a two-minute walk away, down some stairs and past shrubs and budding flowers that have heard spring’s call to attention.
Chances are, you could probably describe the same morning ambience at Chatham Bars Inn 50 years or even a century ago. Monday marks the 100th anniversary of the historic four-star hotel, which has come to symbolize the Old Cape Cod as immortalized in that Patti Page tune. “Winding roads that seem to beckon you / Miles of green beneath the skies of blue”? Yep, that’s this place.
What a relief, then, to report that on a recent visit Chatham Bars Inn was humming at peak performance, a grand dame of upscale lodging that doesn’t take for granted all the hard work that goes into that distinction.
In early May, on a sun-dappled weekend with the arrival of summer seeming imminent, my fella and I took a leisurely drive to Chatham and stayed for a night, mostly because our budget wouldn’t allow for more. Current rates start at $329 and climb the ladder, especially if you want an ocean view.
The splurge was worth it. From the moment one of the doormen greets you, Chatham Bars Inn makes a stunning first impression, as if you’re stepping back in time. A long hallway lined with oversize photos leads to the reception area, and if you squint you can imagine Tom and Daisy from “The Great Gatsby” or maybe Don Draper checking in for the weekend. The mood is of simple sophistication — all dark wood, turn-of-the-century furnishings, hazy sunshine streaming into the lobby. Refined but far from stodgy, the inn is an ode to its seaside surroundings, with fish sculptures and immaculate model ships encased in glass.
Over 25 acres, 217 rooms fan out in the main inn plus a series of 30 cottage buildings scattered across the property, all in classic Cape style: wood shingles, white trim, meticulously manicured patches of green. Eighty rooms are suites, and 40 rooms are in the main inn. We stayed in the Seabreeze Cottage, which got plenty of light and whose bedside radio was tuned in to a classical station when we arrived.
As with any resort, you don’t really need to leave the grounds. A nine-hole golf course, a gift shop, tennis courts, and a fitness center all await. A spa sits at the end of a road with its own entrance. I indulged in a pedicure dubbed the “Sea Captain’s pedicure,” so as not to scare away any manly men. Here’s a tip: For any nail treatments, ask for Cory. She’s sweet, full of knowledge about the Cape (where she grew up), and excellent at her job. There’s also a co-ed lounge area where you can unwind in your bathrobe with a magazine and cup of tea or head out to the wave-shaped pool and hot tub, both of which are open now but weren’t when we visited.
Down by the inn’s quarter-mile of private beach, directly in front of the property, there’s another pool, this one larger and with the smell of the ocean filling your nose. Framed by lounge chairs, it also has a blue, mushroom-shaped water fountain that’s probably an awful lot of fun for a family.
You can have three meals here too. Stars is the inn’s white-cloth dining establishment, a formal steakhouse devoted to seafood and hearty slabs of meat that a server will cut for you tableside and then ask which of a handful of sauces you’d like. My 6-ounce tenderloin was exactly as ordered, medium rare, smothered in roasted garlic blue cheese butter. The swordfish entree, with our chosen side of harticot verts, was just as hearty. Stars also serves breakfast, and while the $30 buffet was beyond our budget, the frittata with tomato, basil, and mozzarella sufficed nicely.
The Sacred Cod is more casual, an intimate tavern with a dramatic vaulted ceiling and walls adorned with art illuminated by gallery-like lighting. It’s a regal setting for a lunch of lobster flatbread and a couple of cocktails (hey, you’re on vacation). You can also take your drinks and grub out to the veranda for an especially picturesque backdrop. (Poolside, the Beach House is a summer dining option, with clambakes served during the week.)
All this elegance is in line with the original vision for this place. Charles Ashley Hardy, a Boston stockbroker who had spent his childhood summers in Chatham, built the inn as a luxury destination aimed at affluent Bostonians. He opened its doors on June 9, 1914. According to Charlie Hardy III, the founder’s grandson who keeps a wealth of archival documents on the inn, an early brochure boasted of “plastered, soundproof accommodations with electric lights, steam heat, long-distance telephones, and private bathrooms featuring both fresh and saltwater baths.”
Since then, Chatham Bars Inn has had a total of five owners. Richard Cohen bought it in 2006. Cohen, who grew up in Brookline and is president of Capital Properties, a real estate development and management firm he founded in Boston, launched a multimillion-dollar renovation beginning that year that overhauled everything from the spa to the rooms.
Steve Sampson, its director of sales and marketing, notes that the inn’s relevance, both to Chatham and the Cape at large, cannot be overstated.
“I think it’s huge,” Sampson says. “When you look at hotels that are part of the community, you don’t get too many that are 100 years old like we are. This hotel has been the gathering point for many members of the Chatham community, and we notice we get generations of families who come here, staying in the same room they stayed in when they were kids. This place is a real point of pride.”