PROVIDENCE - It's called the "mile of history": an architecturally magnificent street, bordered by cobblestone sidewalks and lined with handsome houses dating to Colonial days. It ascends gently to a pretty hill that overlooks the Providence River and this capital city's modern downtown.
This is Benefit Street, one of the oldest in Providence. It boasts one of the country's highest concentrations of historic architecture. And it is also home to The Old Court Bed & Breakfast, which opened in 1986, making it among the longest-lived lodging spots in the city.
Built in 1853, the three-story brick property was a rectory for a nearby Episcopal church. By the early 1900s it had morphed into a rooming house and, later, student apartments. In 1985, it was bought and gutted by its current owner, Jon Rosenblatt, who turned it into a 10-guest-room inn.
In keeping with the building's Victorian decor - 12-foot ceilings, plaster moldings, ornate marble mantlepieces - Rosenblatt furnished the house with period antiques that give it the feel of an aging boutique hotel. There are lots of brass beds and chandeliers and, in one room, a large black antique stove. Adding to the sense of buttoned-up formality, the entry hallway and staircase are outfitted with red wine-colored carpet and garish black wallpaper patterned with giant flowers. Modern it's not, although all of the rooms have private baths, televisions, telephones, and wireless Internet access.
The Old Court's best attribute is its location within walking distance of most of Providence's chief attractions. Using the inn as home base, we roamed by foot all over the city. Other than driving to the Culinary Arts Museum at Johnson & Wales University a few miles away, we didn't move our car during our weekend stay.
The Benefit Street neighborhood itself, on Providence's East Side, is great for exploring. Its close proximity to Brown means the area is populated by university types who keep their homes in tip-top condition; I spent hours walking up and down East Side streets, ogling the beautiful, often architecturally funky houses.
One drawback to the Old Court's location is that - judging from the four times we were awakened in the wee hours by rowdy passersby - Benefit Street occasionally suffers from the spillover of a late-night party scene, and it also gets a fair amount of speedy traffic. If we were to return to the Old Court, we'd request a back room that overlooks downtown in hopes of reducing noise from the road and sidewalk below.
Our extra-large corner room, the Chippendale, has a sedate, masculine feel: ivory wallpaper, hardwood floor, queen bed, two end tables, desk, and minimal knickknacks. A sofa and arm chair are beginning to show their age and aren't particularly comfortable. Windows on two sides provide plenty of natural light. The white-tiled bathroom, with full tub, is modern and roomy.
Breakfast is a nice blend of buffet offerings and home-cooked food. On both days, the big, sunny dining room was stocked with whole and sliced fresh fruit, homemade breads, cereals, juice, coffee, and daily newspapers. On one morning, we also had veggie omelets with toast or English muffins, and on the other we had French toast topped with fresh berries. Two noteworthy absences: skim milk and decaffeinated coffee.
The dining room is the inn's only common area, which means guests don't spend much time mingling. This also is not one of those places run by a chatty innkeeping couple who may try to join you for breakfast. Rosenblatt, the owner, lives in New York, so the inn has an on-site manager and small staff who are cordial and efficient.
That makes the ideal Old Court guest one with these three attributes: You prefer your privacy, don't need much pampering, and want a room in one of Providence's most famous and well-situated neighborhoods.
Sacha Pfeiffer can be reached at email@example.com.