I've probably driven up and down Memorial Drive in Newport a million times, and have long heard of the upscale Chanler at Cliff Walk, but never put two and two together and realized the Chanler was so close to Cliff Walk. OK, so it's smack dab on Cliff Walk, but my reason for not knowing that is a big one: It is completely hidden behind a giant hedge, affording it remarkable privacy and quiet despite being steps away from one of Newport's busiest streets. Set back on a cobblestoned drive, it is a magnificent building, loaded with charm, elegance and a pretty neat history: Built in 1865 as a summer home for New York Congressman John Winthrop Chanler and his wife, Margaret Astor Ward, it was the first mansion built on Cliff Walk and hosted the likes of President Theodore Roosevelt and poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It was later a museum and then a girls' school before becoming a hotel in the 1940s.
We had the occasion to stay there one night and got the Empire Room; each of the 14 mansion rooms in the main building are decorated and named for an historical period based on the furniture design and architecture of that time, themed from Gothic to English Tudor to Greek Revival. One of the many beauties of this place is no two rooms are alike. And throughout, some of the furnishings from the Chanler Museum are sprinkled throughout. There are also three separate garden villas and three ocean villas.
Our Empire Room in the mansion was gorgeous, on a corner facing Easton's Beach and Cliff Walk. The room had a sizable living room with a two-person Jacuzzi on the far wall, which doesn't exactly befit the historical period on which the room is based, but was a very relaxing respite after a long stroll on Cliff Walk. Here, for an extra cost, a butler will come in while you're at dinner, run the bath and leave rose petals strewn about, and lighted candles surrounding the tub set in a mirrored alcove. A more romantic setting we could not imagine.
The fireplace mantel is of antique slate, taken from a mansion in Michigan and painted to look like granite. Empire decor, inn officials said, often used a faux treatment of materials to look like granite or marble. Several antique tiles with figures on them in ochre and lime green are embedded into the mantel, making it more unique and interesting. The room itself is unique; being on the corner, the ceiling height varies from corner to center, from around six feet to more than eight, with a stained-glass skylight in the ceiling. The room's feel is decidedly Victorian but with modern touches such as a triple-head shower in the gold-hued granite bathroom, and iHome docking station.
The main culinary draw is the Spiced Pear, a restaurant with incredible ocean views, some of the best in Newport, and cuisine to match. Give the Spiced Pear martini a shot, with Absolut pear vodka, Amaretto DiSaronno, pear nectar, cinnamon and lemon juice. We also had local chilled oysters, wild burgundy escargot, Narragansett Bay striped bass and the menu's highest priced item, the exquisite butter-poached Maine lobster for $42, worth every melt-in-mouth cent. Before and/or after a meal like that, a long jaunt down nearby Cliff Walk is almost a necessity. Or you could wait until the next day, because breakfast here is insane, too; check out the salmon and goat cheese omelet.
We retired to the bar of hand-rubbed mahogany for a nightcap before heading back to the room where that rose-petal strewn tub awaited, and got more proof of how renowned the Chanler is: The following weekend, it would be closed to the public, privately booked for the wedding of the creator of the Facebook logo. And yes, Mark Zuckerberg was scheduled to attend.
Newport used to go to sleep in the off season, but no more. At the Chanler, a fall two-night special ($425 per night) includes full breakfast, a bottle of Spiced Pear sparkling wine, two tickets to a Newport mansion of your choice, and one, three-course meal for two in the Spiced Pear. Wait until winter and you can get the two-night "A Chanler Christmas," ($375 per weekday night, $430 per weekend night), available Nov. 28-Dec. 29 which gets you the same as the fall special, minus the bottle of wine; instead you get a minted Chanler Christmas ornament. All prices include room taxes, food taxes and dinner gratuity. And if you want to check out other parts of the city, you can get a free ride any place in Newport, up until 11 p.m., first come, first served. Check it out at www.thechanler.com
All that behind a hedge? I have to start paying attention where I'm going.