Meanwhile Back at 'The Gris' ... Another Look at The Venerable & Vibrant Griswold Inn of Essex, Connecticut
Two years ago this month, I found myself wandering down to the quaint village of Essex located near the mouth of the Connecticut River where it meets the Long Island Sound in search of both history and what was rumored to be some kick-ass clam chowder at not just any old inn but “The Oldest Continuously Operating Inn in America." Turned out that visit to The Griswold Inn netted me not only an extremely good bowl of clam chowder, but I came home having learned some extremely cool history, too!
As so often happens when I wander someplace that turns out to be quite awesome, I found myself hoping to return to The Gris - as it's lovingly called by those who've had the pleasure of spending some time there. Fast forward a little over a year to when my good friend from England, The Doodologist, was here visiting last November and I finally had a chance to get back down to Essex and return to The Gris when she and I wandered down that way to meet up with a few friends from my job at the Tap Room of The Griswold Inn for their very popular "Sea Shanteys" on Monday nights.
Every Monday - come rain, shine, or even snow - the "Sea Shanteys Tonight" flag goes up over the entrance to the inn and from 8:00 to 11:00 pm "The Jovial Crew" that is made up of both performers and patrons, takes part in the ages-old seafaring tradition of singing sea chanteys while consuming vast quantities of alcohol! It definitely makes for a lively group of folks - especially if you happen to go on the first Monday after Halloween and people show up in costume! I shot the video below with my iPhone and I'll be the first to admit that the quality is not very good at all but at least it gives you a little bit of a feel for Sea Shantey Night at The Gris - something that is best experienced in person while quaffing a cold mug of Revolutionary Ale!
Having had the chance to visit The Griswold Inn twice, I found myself wanting to return yet again as I felt like I had barely touched the tip of the iceberg or peeled back any of the layers that make The Gris such an interesting place so I was quite delighted when I had the chance to return again this past April. This third trip would be even better than the first two as it would include an overnight stay and the chance to do lots of exploring while looking around the inn as a bonafide guest minus any of the sneaking around that I did a little of on my first visit when I took a quick turn up the stairs just to take a peek at the second floor of the main building.
Accompanying me on my third trip to The Gris was my friend Patti, intrepid reporter for the New Haven Register and occasional distracted sidekick! We arrived in Essex on a rather chilly, somewhat overcast Saturday afternoon in late April and made our way to the lobby where we were checked in by the very friendly and courteous staff who warmly welcomed us and then gave us directions and a key (a real honst-to-goodness key and not a keycard!) to our accommodations which were located across the street in Griswold Square.
One of the most prominent features of Griswold Square is the Griswold Inn Store which opened in 2010 in an 1800s Federal-style house that is an architect-lover's dream. The store - which Patti and I visited before leaving on Sunday and which I totally neglected to take photos of inside because I was too busy looking at and buying some of the terrific "goods and curiousities" the store carries - is chock-full of all sorts of things that you're going to want to take home with you - trust me on that one! Add on the friendly and helpful staff and it's the ideal place to do some early Christmas shopping or find something special and unique any time of the year!
Anyhow, before I get too far ahead of myself, back to Saturday! The building where we would be spendng the night is located across Griswold Square from the inn's Family Cottage (pictured to the right above) which would be an awesome place to stay if you were wanted to spend some time in Essex with family and friends and share a free-standing building that not only includes a really cool wooden model of the Oliver Cromwell on its side but also features a wood-burning fireplace, game table, and wet bar among its amenities.
Our room was through the rounded archway in the photo above and up two short flights of stairs to the entrance of Room #38 which wasn't just a room but a Superior Suite - sweet! Upon entering the door, we found ourselves in a lovely sitting room with wide-planked wooden floors, period furniture, a few antique photos on the wall, and a bay window complete with a cushioned window seat. As someone who has always loved the romantic notion of a window seat, I was quite enchanted with this one and it's view of Griswold Square below. During the busy summer months I bet it's a great place to sit and do some people-watching as they visit the shops below!
From the sitting area where I would be spending the night on what turned out to be a very comfortable sofa sleeper, there was a hallway that led to a very roomy bathroom complete with a claw-footed tub as well as a separate shower along with a pedestal sink that had the coolest faucet and taps ever! The basket of amenities on the shelf over the sink would provide us with everything we needed and there were lots of soft, fluffy towels in the room that was very bright and airy.
At the end of the hallway was the room that would be Patti's for the night with its king-size bed, wing-backed chair, gas fireplace, and windows on both sides which made the room very bright and open. I would suspect that during warmer months, guests can get quite a nice cross-breeze by opening them so the room would never get stuffy.
When we checked in at the reception desk, we had been given a folder containing all sorts of information including maps of the local area so after checking out our room and settling in a bit, Patti and I decided to check things out in Essex a bit so set out for a walk around town. It's a very easy stroll from the Griswold Inn to the Connecticut River Museum which sits at the Foot of Main and Essex itself is a terrific walking village with all sorts of architecture to look at as well as numerous shops along Main Street. It truly is the enchanting town that I wrote about on my visit in June of 2011.
Even though there was a lingering chill in the air and Old Man Winter had yet to let loose his grip on New England completely, there were some beautiful blooms for us to enjoy as we strolled around the area of The Gris which included the Annex and, again, was something that I totally forgot to take a photo of from the outside even though I took a lot of the interior!
If you look almost all the way to the left in the photo above, you can see a small white house in between the main building of the Griswold Inn and the brick building - that's the Annex which provides lodging upstairs for guests along with community rooms downstairs that can be used by all guests of the inn regardless of which building your accommodations are in.
The Annex features several seating areas including the one below where Patti was sitting while trying to figure out the new Smart Phone her husband Ralph had recently gotten for her as well as a window-filled dining room with a very large dining table and chairs and another living room area that contained the only TV that guests would find at the Griswold Inn for if you were expecting to find one in your room, you'd be very diappointed as there are none. Personally I think it adds to the whole "colonial" feel of the inn and I don't go stay at places to watch TV so I heartily approve! Granted, I know not everyone feels that way so it's probably something to keep in mind if you can't possibly miss the evening news or another favorite program though you could certainly watch on your laptop if you brought it as I do believe the inn does have WiFi though to be honest, I'm not even sure I checked that while I was there as I intentionally left my computer at home on this trip.
In the Annex there are bookshelves filled with books that you can choose from, a few board games that provide a relaxing way to spend the time, and two wood-burning fireplaces that were burning cheerily due to the dropping temperatures of the evening.
Speaking of the evening, it was at that point that Patti and I took off for nearby Old Saybrook in the hopes of catching a few nice sunset shots as well as a photo or two of the lighthouses that can be found near Fenwick. We returned to The Gris after dark and were greeted by the sounds of singing emanating from the Tap Room as John Banker and Friends were belting out tunes and getting the rest of the room to join in. Like "Sea Shanteys Night", "Sing-Along Saturdays" are quite popular at the Griswold Inn and it certainly sounded like everyone was having a wonderful time.
While everyone else was happily singing, I figured it would be the perfect time to take some photos of the various dining areas located within the inn and was surprised to find that there are quite a few as previouly I'd only been in the Tap Room. They aren't kidding on their website when they say that their "historic dining rooms exude character, charm, and tradition" as they most certainly do that and then some. I really felt like I had taken a few steps back in time as I walked through the rooms that felt more "tavern" than they did "restaurant" and I found myself wishing that the walls could talk as I'm sure they would have had some great stories to tell!
Speaking of the walls, if you look closely you'll notice that in some rooms almost every square inch is covered by framed prints which is not an effort to cover up any possible ancient cracks or crevasses but because the Griswold Inn possesses a museum-quality collection of nautical prints, paintings and ephemera and the displays spread throughout the historic dining rooms, the Tap Room, and onto walls throughout the inn. A good number of the prints and paintings are of various steamships - some that plied the waters of the Connecticut River over the years and others that traversed bigger bodies of water. Additionally there are framed schedules, tickets, itineraries, and other paraphenalia from the great age of steam sailing.
The Gris has such an amazing collection of art that they even offer free Art Tours & Talks which are led by Geoffrey Paul, one of the inn's owners, and resident expert on all of those prints, paintings, posters, rosters, tickets, brochures, etc. The tours last approximately 90 minutes and though they are free, reservations are required as the capacity is limited. Tour participants meet in the Wine Bar and are invited to do so as early as 30 minutes before the start of the tour as they'll find a cash bar available along with a complimentary snack so that you can be fortifed and relaxed before the tour steps off. A schedule of the tours is available on the website under their Events Calendar; reservations can be made by calling 860-767-1776.
And there you have it - reason number four for me to go back to the oldest continuously operating inn in America someday! Not that one really needs to make up reasons to visit the Griswold Inn and the Tap Room that has been voted one of the best in Connecticut over and over again. Even if you aren't much of a drinker - like myself - the entertainment in the Tap Room is always lively, always free, and always popular as you can see from the below photos of the folks enjoying "Sing-Along Saturday" on the night that Patti and I were there.
Walking back to our room on Griswold Square, the sounds of merriment followed us across the street and up the stairs as when night falls on Essex it becomes very quiet throughout the town along the banks of the Connecticut River. Essex is definitely one of those places to go if you're seeking peace and quiet and beauty and a very restful sleep as I have to admit to sleeping quite well before waking to a beautifully clear and crisp Sunday morning. The photo below is a view of the Connecticut River from the bathroom windows - not bad for an iPhone shot!
Guests of the Griswold Inn are treated to a complimentary continental breakfast of muffins, cereals, fresh fruit, bagels, yogurt, tea, coffee, and other yummy goodies which is served in a small dining area at the front of the inn that not only boasts some of their interesting art collection but had a ceiling fan that I found to be quite fascinating having never seen one like it before.
With its rich red walls and windows looking out on Main Street, I think it was my favorite of the inn's dining rooms though after peaking through the glass doors into the Wine Bar (which contained another very cool ceiling fan), I could see where that room could rapidly become a favorite also! According to Patti's very own newspaper, the New Haven Register, "The exquisite Wine Bar is a contender for a top spot among Connecticut's best restaurants" - which it sure looked like from our side of the glass doors! Weekly the Wine Bar hosts "Wine, Women, & Wednesdays" at which time women are treated to half-price wines by the glass though patrons may find it difficult trying to decide which of their 50+ wines to choose from!
After looking at some of the prints and other interesting tidbits on the walls, Patti and I made our way from the breakfast room through the rest of the historic dining rooms which were being set up for another of the Griswold Inns most popular events - the Sunday morning Hunt Breakfast which is a sumptuous offering featuring a wide array of breakfast and lunch entrées with made-to-order Belgian waffle and omelet stations, breakfast breads, freshly prepared salads, and assorted desserts all of which is served between 11:00 am and 1:00 pm. Started by the British when they occupied The Griswold Inn during the War of 1812, the weekly tradition has continued on and become quite the favorite weekend event for many. Something that the British didn't have but that The Gris offers for its guests' listening pleasure while consuming all of that good food, is the addition of Dixieland Jazz by Freight Train Five beginning at noon. It all sounds like an absolutely fabulous way to spend a Sunday morning - just be sure to bring your appetite!
Not content to simply display vast amounts of artwork on its walls, the Griswold Inn also has several curio cabinets where you'll find all sorts of goodies like old eyeglasses, buttons and even the "Drinkometer" below, while in the Tap Room there's an honest-to-goodness, works-like-a-charm, old-fashion popcorn cart! If you think it looks good, you should have been there to take in the smell of fresh popped corn that was wafting from it! Had I not just finished a very tasty breakfast, I might have found myself sneaking a few kernels but I managed to keep my hands out of the cart and simply enjoyed the smell instead. No easy feat at all!
Speaking of the Tap Room, as it was empty before the Hunt Breakfast crowds came in, I thought it might be a good time to get some photos as it doesn't stay empty for long as it's probably the most popular room in the whole inn! Quite a unique part of the Griswold Inn, the Tap Room got its start as a 1735 schoolhouse before it was rolled down Main Street by a team of oxen in 1801 and attached to the main building. Since then its become one of the most popular spots along the Connecticut River and has been called "the most handsome barroom in America" as well as "the best-looking drinking room in America."
With its year-round Christmas tree whose decorations change depending on what holiday may be close (in these photos it was decorated for Mother's Day) perched atop a pot-belly stove that was once part of the 1876 Goodspeed Opera House located upriver in East Haddam, its steamboat print decorated walls, unique ceiling, and impressive bar you've got to admit that the Tap Room is definitely unique and looks like a place where many a mug of beer or glass of spirits has been quaffed while people heartily enjoy themselves. There is just no way that you can stand in the room and not feel like you've landed someplace historic in a really cool, hey-I-could-really-get-into-this-kind-of-history sort of way!
Before the crowds for the Hunt Breakfast started to wander in, Patti and I figured it was time to put the cameras away, turn in our room key, and make our way across the street to the Griswold Inn Store before heading out of Essex. I rather hated to leave the bucolic little town where people smiled and acknowledged me with a happy "good morning!" when they passed by on the sidewalk and where it felt like I had stepped back into a much more relaxed and happy time of life but as they say, "all good things must come to an end" though thankfully that doesn't mean I can't go back again!
If you've yet to experience the hospitality of the Griswold Inn for the first time, do yourself a favor and make your way to the small village of Essex which has been called "The Best Small Town in America" and be sure to stop in at "The Oldest Continuously Operating Inn in America" where you can find sea shanteys on Mondays, sing-alongs on Saturdays, delicious food at all times, a pint or two of Revolutionary Ale in a bar with personality-plus along with entertainment seven nights a week, and a great night's sleep in comfortable and unique accommodations.
I know I tend to be a bit perjudiced when I find a place that I really like but I think I can safely say that I speak for many when I say that the Griswold Inn is one of Connecticut's brightest gems and if you're looking to find true New England hospitality and the best that the Nutmeg State has to offer, you really don't have to look any further. I know I said it in my first post two years ago but it bears repeating as it's very true - "The Gris" is Great! Pay a visit yourself and see if you don't find yoursef saying that very same thing but I should warn you that you that once you stop in the first time, The Gris will be calling you back again and again, too!
For additional photos of The Griswold Inn and The Town of Essex, be sure to check out my SmugMug Galleries!