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All calm on the waterfront in Salem

waterfronthotel
Beige bolstered the boutique look in Room 232 at Salem Waterfront Hotel & Suites, and the indoor heated pool is perfect for looking out - and looking in. (David Lyon for The Boston Globe)
Email|Print| Text size + By Patricia Harris and David Lyon
Globe Correspondents / March 9, 2008

SALEM - It was simply coincidence that we picked Feb. 14 for an overnight stay at the Salem Waterfront Hotel & Suites, but it seemed churlish not to take advantage of the "Romantic Salem" package. After all, it promised roses and chocolates in our room, along with free breakfast. Those who like their romance over-the-top may scoff at this modest gesture, but we give the hotel credit for making the package available through September, rather than limiting it to a few days in February when romance rules.

In keeping with Valentine's Day, the lead story in the Style & Arts section of the Globe had urged readers to "Love the One You're With." But rather than rehashing relationship advice, the piece urged homeowners to lavish a little love on their rooms to give them a new lease on life. As it turns out, the Salem Waterfront Hotel & Suites, which opened in October 2004, might be a case study in how to achieve the soothing, sophisticated look that homeowners seem to crave - or at least those who channel HGTV.

Our king room, No. 232, was on the corner nearest the docks, with a view of adjacent Pickering Wharf Marina. The overall color scheme was, well, beige. But it wasn't boring. A textured wall covering and tweedy wall-to-wall carpeting gave the room warmth and set off the dark woods of the headboard, night tables, large desk, and big armoire that holds the TV. Brown welting delineated the curves on the beige reading chair. Modern lamps and a chrome and glass side table took the decor up a notch, as did the handsome striped drapes and the brown window-pane check coverlet on the bed.

We were glad that the decorator had avoided pillow overload. (What do you do with all the fancy pillows heaped on the bed when it's time to turn in?) A small navy blue pillow, embroidered with the hotel's name and jaunty sailboat logo provided just enough color. The whole property achieves a breezy, nautical feel by displaying photographs of yachts under canvas in the guest rooms and public areas. Two dramatic color images of boats heeling over the waves floated above our bed, while a black-and-white close-up of sloop-rigged sails hung over the desk.

A small vase of red roses provided a bright pop of color and reminded us of the simplest decorating trick: Add fresh flowers. The sailboat-shaped chocolates were cute, but we wondered at the logic of providing three chocolates in a romance package for two. Maybe it's supposed to encourage . . . sharing?

Nonetheless, we didn't have to worry about going hungry. The hotel, which has three floors of guest rooms and two floors of condominiums, has no formal restaurant, but does have a pub. The Regatta maintains the comfortable ease of the guest rooms and augments a basic bar menu of appetizers and sandwiches with a few solid entree choices.

While hardly destination dining for a "big night out," friendly staff and a low-key vibe make it a good place to simply hang out. When we settled into a tall table with bar stools, a couple was drinking martinis at the bar and sharing a brimming basket of onion rings. Another couple sipped white wine while they shared a platter of scallops wrapped in bacon.

We ordered a burger off the sandwich menu and a plate of fried shrimp from the entrees - both competently prepared from quality ingredients. We even shared a chocolate lava cake, garnished with whipped cream and a strawberry.

We took the same table in the morning, when light flooding through a wall of glass created an upbeat mood for breakfast. As we ate plates of blueberry pancakes and eggs and bacon, we listened as a regular told the sympathetic waitress his tale of a renovation project gone awry.

"I blew a cork," he said, when his contractor canceled a meeting. So much for the fun of home improvement. It would be nice, we thought, to live in a new place - like this one - that doesn't need fixing up.

As we were checking out, we noticed a sign indicating that renovations were almost complete.

"Oh, we're redoing the lobby," the desk clerk said, pointing to the new cloud mural in the cove of the recessed ceiling.

"We're adding a gas-burning fireplace and a built-in coffee bar," he continued. "Oh, and we're getting all new furniture and a mini-business center for guests."

Already we are eyeing our foyer.

Patricia Harris and David Lyon, freelance writers based in Cambridge, can be reached at harris.lyon@verizon.net.

If You Go

Salem Waterfront Hotel & Suites
225 Derby St., Salem 978-740-8788 salemwaterfronthotel.com

What we liked most: The comfortable, sophisticated style.

What we liked least: Windows on two sides of the indoor, street-level swimming pool mean no privacy.

What surprised us: It took an hour to drive to Salem in clear weather on a weekday afternoon.

You know you're at Salem Waterfront Hotel when... you can walk to the city's leading attractions.

Rates: Double rooms range from midweek winter rates as low as $119 to weekend midsummer rates up to $199. Rates Oct. 16-31 $289-$309. Our king-size room on the "Romantic Salem" package was $199 with chocolates, roses, and breakfast; other rooms available from $179. Free parking. The Regatta is open Monday-Friday 7 a.m.-10:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.-midnight, Saturday-Sunday 7-10 and 11:30 a.m.-midnight. (Food service ends 10-10:30 p.m.) Sandwiches and entrees $7-$18.

Directions: Salem is 23 miles, or 45 minutes to an hour from Boston. Follow Route 1 north over Tobin Bridge. In 12.6 miles, turn onto Route 128 north. Take exit 25A to merge onto Route 114. Stay on Route 114 until it becomes Norman Street in downtown Salem. Make a slight left onto Derby Street. On commuter rail, take the Newburyport/Rockport train from North Station to Salem. Walk east on Bridge Street to Washington Street and turn right. Walk five blocks and turn left on New Derby Street. Continue across Route 1A (Hawthorne Boulevard on the left, Congress Street on the right). Train is $5.25, travel time with walking about 50 minutes.

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