OLD LYME, Conn. -- This small coastal town looms large in the world of art, and the Old Lyme Inn does its part to highlight and perpetuate that legacy. In the restaurants and common rooms, walls are hung with fine art, on loan from the nearby Cooley Gallery. Many paintings depict the area that inspired Childe Hassam and other American Impressionists to live and work here at the turn of the last century.
Locals say there has been an Old Lyme Inn in town since the early 1870s, though not always at the present location. Today's inn is on the site of the former Champlain family farm. The main building, a rambling, New England-style farmhouse dating from the 1850s, has seven guest bedrooms. A north wing with eight rooms was added about 15 years ago, according to innkeeper Keith Green. A lush, deep front yard has inviting benches and lawn chairs. The inn is right off the highway, yet conveniently near Old Lyme's historic district and the must-see Florence Griswold Museum.
My sister and I stayed in the north wing, in a room with two four-poster twin beds, a spacious sitting area with a couch, two chairs, a coffee table, and good reading light. A booklet about the inn and the area includes suggestions for walking and cycling tours, as well as "the innkeepers' favorite drive" through Old Lyme, the hamlets of Hamburg and Hadlyme, across the Connecticut River by ferry to Chester, and on to the village of Essex.
Though our tall windows looked onto the inn's front yard and the main street, we heard no traffic noise. Heavy, room-darkening curtains muffled sound and protected us from the early morning sun.
Storage space was adequate, with a dresser and closet (though the allotment of four hangers seemed parsimonious); a 13-inch television set sat atop the bureau. The bathroom featured a deep tub, wide vanity, magnifying mirror, good lighting, fan, and hair dryer. The room was marred, though, by some serious water damage on the ceiling above the tub, and scratched paint on the bottom of the door, as though a pet had been unhappily confined to that room.
The only flaw that affected our comfort was the lack of a thermostat in the room. On a mild November night, we were warm, and we slept with the windows open a crack, not an ideal safety situation in a ground-floor room.
Where the Old Lyme Inn really shines is in its restaurants and common rooms. Green and his wife, Candy, who bought the establishment in 2001, made upgrading the restaurants their first priority.
The Library Bar is cozy in dark wood, with a fireplace, built-in bookcases, overstuffed furniture, and board games set out for play. Though it looks as though it's been there for years, Keith Green designed and built it himself.
The Grill Room is the casual restaurant for lunch and dinner. Though we arrived as the kitchen was closing on a Friday night, the inn's general manager let us order anyway. We settled on a Caesar salad and a wonderful warm spinach salad with lardons, pears, Roquefort, and candied walnuts drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette, recommended by our waiter. The Grill Room is also the setting for an adequate, if uninspired, continental breakfast of juice, coffee, muffins, toast, and cereal.
The star attraction is the Winslow Dining Room, which serves dinner Fridays and Saturdays, accompanied by live piano music. It's rather formal, with stiffly starched napkins and tablecloths and a candle and fresh flowers on every table. Men are encouraged, but not required, to wear a jacket. The fare is continental with a New England focus and a separate menu for steaks. The night we visited, the room was packed, though the inn was not. The restaurant has quite a following.
Our excellent meal began with an "amuse-bouche," or thank-you-for-coming taster from the chef: pumpkin mashed potato with bits of scallop, salmon, crab, and shrimp piled into a scallop shell and drizzled with a seafood sauce. A "frito misto" appetizer of tiny fried fish was distinguished by the inclusion of fried lemon slices and garlic aioli instead of the traditional marinara sauce, but overall it was heavy.
I enjoyed poussin with lentils and sweet glazed baby pumpkins. My sister gave a thumbs-up to the crabmeat-stuffed sole with chanterelles, asparagus, and a crayfish cream sauce. For dessert we shared a delicious tiramisu.
The young waitstaff was professional -- accommodating and well informed about the menu.
Ellen Albanese can be reached at email@example.com.