We often quote the witty and wise Samuel Langhorne Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain:
The secret to getting ahead is getting started.
Go to Heaven for the climate. Go to Hell for the company.
The most interesting information comes from children, for they tell all they know and then stop.
And yet, we’d never visited his house in Hartford. The highly-touted Mark Twain House & Museum is where the author and humorist lived with his family from 1874 to 1891, and where he worked on his most popular (some say greatest) books, including “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” National Geographic named it one of the Ten Best Historic Homes in the World.
Nearby is the Delamar West Hartford, a sleek contemporary boutique hotel, located near upscale Blue Back Square. A quick click on the Delamar website revealed that it has a full-service spa and is home to the buzzing Artisan Restaurant & Tavern. It didn’t take much to convince our book club girlfriends to head west for a short, overnight getaway.
The Mark Twain House is a beauty, a 25-room Victorian with elaborate woodwork and furnishings. You don’t need to be a Twain fan to appreciate the design, workmanship, and careful restoration of the home and adjoining museum, including numerous original items belonging to the author and his family.
It was Twain’s wife, Livy, who orchestrated the building and design of the home. Livy, who came from a relatively well-to-do family, brought the money to the marriage, and was said to have greatly influenced — and often edited — Twain’s work. “I take as much pride in her brains as I do in her beauty,” Twain once said of his wife. They had three daughters, Susy, Clara, and Jean.
We hopped on a guided tour, which began in the dimly-lit entrance hall, filled with ornate black, red, and silver mosaic-like stenciling, giving it a Middle Eastern flair. The silver and pink stenciled drawing room had original furnishings, like the tufted settees, the fancy glass chandelier, and a large mirror that was a wedding gift to Twain and Livy.
We saw the dining room with its rich walnut paneling and woodwork and Japanese motif stenciling; the library, where Twain read to his children; the sunlit conservatory, filled with plants (Twain’s daughters called this room the jungle), and the master bedroom, with an ornately carved mahogany bed with carved angels on the headposts.
“It’s said that Sam slept backward, facing the angels, because he wanted to see what he’d paid for,” our guide said.
The third-floor billiard room, with a large pool table, was one of our favorite spots in the house. Apparently, it was Twain’s, too. Here, he not only entertained guests, but worked on his most popular books at the small writing table in the corner.
“There was a lot of joy in this house,” our guide says. “Sam would consider the years they spent here as some of his happiest.”
Later, there was also heartache in his life; his daughter Susy died in 1896 at the age of 24; his beloved wife died in 1904, and his daughter Jean died in 1909 at the age of 29.
We ended at the museum, a modern building separate from the house, with exhibition galleries, a Ken Burns documentary, and The Nook Café. And a store, with an extensive array of Mark Twain gifts, including collections of his most famous quotes (which some of us purchased, of course).
We drove the short distance to the Delamar West Hartford, where we valeted the car, dropped off luggage, sipped a flute of complimentary champagne, and set out on foot to explore Blue Back Square, home to a cluster of shops and restaurants. We skipped the gigantic Crate and Barrel and Barnes & Noble, but popped into the Ooh La La boutique, with youngish, trendy women’s fashions; West Elm, with luscious linens, furniture, and cool houseware items; and Janie and Jack, with top-of-the-line, hand-sewn children’s clothing. At Vinted Wine Bar & Kitchen, with more than 80 wines by the glass, our small ladies group sampled several vintages, along with small plates of charred asparagus, tuna tartare, and truffle popcorn.
There were other things to see and do in the area. We considered visiting the Connecticut Science Center in Hartford or the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art. Instead, we headed back to the Delamar for spa appointments.
That evening, we dined at packed and humming Artisan, a sophisticated yet unpretentious eatery, with international country-chic décor. The high-ceilinged space is a mix of textures and colors: soft, aged woods, brass and pewter accents, and statement-making, hand-painted wall murals. A handcrafted Swedish tile fireplace sits in one corner and warms the room.
We dined on dishes like octopus served with a smoky aioli, lamb Bolognese, pappardelle with a braised chicken and short rib ragout, and New England cioppino, loaded with shrimp, mussels, clams, fish, and chorizo in a rich lobster velouté. And, of course, we ordered desserts all around.
Because, as Mark Twain once said, “Part of the secret of success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside.”
If you go:
The Delamar West Hartford (www.delamar.com/west-hartford/), which opened in fall 2017, has 114 ultra-comfy, sleek rooms, with neutral hues, lush linens, and marble baths. A collection of contemporary original art, including a bench made with some 2,500 shiny quarters, decorates the spacious open-plan lobby. Rates, starting at $239, include free valet parking, free WiFi, and a complimentary buffet breakfast.
The Mark Twain House & Museum (www.marktwainhouse.org) is open daily, except major holidays, 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; the last tour departs at 4:30 p.m. Admission is by guided tour only, adults $20, ages 6-16 $12, under 6 free.