September October 2014

Chatham Bars Inn celebrates 100 years of luxury

Cape Cod Life  /  September/October 2014 / , ,

Writer: Nancy White

When the Chatham Bars Inn opened for business in June of 1914, the new resort was the picture of luxury. Situated high on a bluff overlooking Aunt Lydia’s Cove—and the Atlantic beyond—the inn offered farm-fresh ingredients in the dining room, and soundproofed plastered walls and running water in the guestrooms—luxuries of the time. The grounds also featured two pools—one freshwater, one saltwater—as well as tennis courts, a nine-hole golf course, and plenty more for patrons to do. Activities included fishing, sailing, hunting, and sunbathing, and affluent travelers from the Bay State and beyond flocked to the resort, which was easily accessible by automobile, train, and boat.

When the Chatham Bars Inn opened for business in June of 1914, the new resort was the picture of luxury

Today, a century after its grand opening, the Chatham Bars Inn still features many of the amenities it provided back in 1914, while delivering many more for today’s sophisticated visitor. Further, the stately and stunning resort on Chatham’s Shore Road has become a Cape Cod landmark beloved by its guests, many of whom return year after year to enjoy the inn’s grandeur and beauty.

“The Chatham Bars Inn has been, and still is, Chatham’s most significant hotel,” says Spencer Grey, a town resident and a past president of the Chatham Historical Society. “People always made a point of getting there because it was the place to be and had the facilities. It has always been a top-notch luxury hotel.”

When the Chatham Bars Inn opened for business in June of 1914, the new resort was the picture of luxury

Known to many today by its acronym, CBI, The Chatham Bars Inn was opened at an auspicious time for both Chatham and Cape Cod. With the advent of automobiles at the start of the 20th century, residents of Boston and New York looked to the sandy shores of the Cape as an escape. This group included the rich and famous, and throughout its history the inn has played host to movie stars, politicians, and even royalty. In 1944, for example, the inn served as the summer home of two future queens: Princess Juliana, who was crowned Queen of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1948, spent several weeks at the resort with her three daughters, the eldest of which—Beatrix—reigned as the Dutch queen from 1980 to 2013.

The inn was the brainchild of Charles Ashley Hardy, an investor and a mining engineer who grew up in Concord, Massachusetts. Hardy was no stranger to the Cape; three generations of his family had enjoyed the untouched beauty of Cape Cod, and as a young man he often visited the peninsula to engage in his favorite pastime: hunting. Together with a few associates, Hardy began buying up real estate plots in Chatham during the first decade of the 1900s. In 1912, he unveiled his plan for the hotel, which would be built on land that had previously served as a farm. Construction on the project got underway the following year, and on June 9, 1914, the Chatham Bars Inn opened for business—and hosted its first overnight guests.

Since that day, the Chatham Bars Inn has offered 100 years of luxurious lodging, dining, and vacationing experiences for guests and visitors, and despite years of war and recession, harsh winters, and changing times, the resort has always found a way to endure—and to flourish. “I don’t think people realize how precarious a venture the inn was in those early days,” says the founder’s grandson, Charles Ashley Hardy, III. A history professor from Philadelphia, Hardy says the Cape was just beginning to grow into a tourist destination during the early 1900s and investing in a resort of such scope was a risky endeavor.

What has kept guests coming back all these years? For some, a walk around the inn’s veranda at sunset provides explanation enough. Others credit the staff and their attention to superior customer service for establishing—and maintaining—the inn’s reputation as a stylish and memorable vacation spot.

For many guests, the Chatham Bars Inn has become part of their family’s traditions and memories. “We have guests that have been coming here since they were kids, and now they bring their kids,” says Steve Sampson, CBI’s director of sales and marketing. “The inn has deep significant meaning for a lot of people.”

When the Chatham Bars Inn opened for business in June of 1914, the new resort was the picture of luxury

Despite its longevity and renown, some of the inn’s history is just now coming to light. Sampson says interest surrounding the centennial has unearthed old photos of the resort as well as interesting stories—and new sources are continually coming to light. “We’re uncovering things all the time,” Sampson says. In researching the resort’s history, for example, CBI staff were able to track down the founder’s grandson, and Charles Ashley Hardy, III has since co-hosted a presentation with them on the inn’s history.

The inn has hosted a series of celebrations this year to mark the anniversary. The festivities kicked off in June with an ice cream social—the same way the inn celebrated its opening in 1914. Later in June, guests were invited to dinner and dancing at a costume party reminiscent of a scene from “The Great Gatsby.” That night, a 20-piece band entertained with selections from the 1920s ‘Big Band’ era, and the inn’s tavern—The Sacred Cod—was decorated in the fashion of a Prohibition-style speakeasy.

Like any business, the Chatham Bars Inn has adapted over the years as times have changed, but guests and longtime employees say the resort’s essence as a gathering place for family time, leisure, delicious food, and good old-fashioned fun has remained the same. “Things that were important to guests 100 years ago are the amenities that are still important to guests today,” says Jennifer Allard, the resort’s marketing manager.

When the Chatham Bars Inn opened for business in June of 1914, the new resort was the picture of luxury

Today, the resort features a total of 217 rooms spread across its 25 acres of waterfront property. The Main Inn—with its iconic structural curvature providing an arc of beautiful water views—houses 40 rooms as well as Stars restaurant for formal dining and The Sacred Cod for more casual fare. Private dining options are available as well, and guests can enjoy coffee or cocktails on the adjoining veranda. The resort also includes 35 cottages—each featuring individual rooms and suites—and The Beach House, a third restaurant located just steps from the sand. A private beach and pool area add to the fun for guests, as do a multitude of on-the-water opportunities, including sailing, kayaking, and seal-viewing tours.

In 2006, Richard Cohen of Capital Properties, a New York-based real estate developer, purchased the resort and has since spearheaded a $100 million renovation to both restore and update the resort. The improvements include updated rooms and suites, the construction of a new pier, and the opening of a world-class spa.

While the Chatham Bars Inn has changed over the years, many great traditions have remained the same. One time-honored activity is the beachside clambake, which the inn hosts every Monday through Thursday evening in the summer, beginning at 6 p.m. “We do it the traditional New England way with the fire pits and the seaweed, right on the beach,” Sampson says. “It’s typically sold out every night.” The clambake is not just for guests of the resort; the festive dinner, which can include lobster, potatoes, and corn on the cob, is open to anyone looking for a true taste of New England fare.

While the clambake is an example of a celebrated tradition at the inn, CBI has also demonstrated a capacity for change. While some features such as the private beach remain designated for guests alone, the inn’s restaurants, once private enclaves reserved only for those staying at the resort, are now open to the general public.

According to longtime employee Raymond Barker, this change is one of the most notable he has experienced during his time at CBI. Currently tending bar at The Sacred Cod, Barker began working at the inn 50 years ago, helping to maintain the grounds as a high-school student. “People in town couldn’t come to the inn,” Barker says, therefore he didn’t often bump into his Chatham friends and neighbors on the property. He did meet several movie stars over the years, though, including Paul Newman, Tony Curtis, Anthony Quinn, and The Sundance Kid himself—Robert Redford.

Another recent development has the resort returning to its roots—in more ways than one. When the inn opened in 1914, a farm on the property provided produce for the inn’s restaurants. With a renewed focus on locally sourced ingredients, the inn’s owners purchased an eight-acre farm in Brewster in 2012 to once again grow fresh fruit and vegetables for its restaurants. Still a work in progress, Allard says the farm provided about 30 percent of the produce—including lettuce, herbs, native corn, summer squash, zucchini, and 75 tomato varieties—for the hotel’s restaurants during the summer of 2013. This year, Allard says the goal is to grow that figure to 45 percent.

Another new amenity is the inn’s world-class spa. Opened in 2006, The Spa features five treatment rooms where adults can enjoy massages, pedicures, steam baths, and more. The Spa also features a Japanese Zen garden and a seasonal outdoor hydrotherapy pool.

As one might expect, the inn is at its busiest during the summer months, but remains open year-round. Hunting aficionados comprised a majority of the off-season guests in the early years, but nowadays, the inn hosts weddings, girls’ weekends, beer dinners, corporate events, and other special gatherings throughout the year.

New Hampshire resident Maria Ronga and her husband, Michael, have been regular guests at the resort for the last 20 years. They discovered the inn while looking for a place to dance, but once they arrived, it was a “love at first sight.” “We made reservations that very night to come back in the summer,” Maria recalls, adding that over the years, members of the inn’s staff have become like family. “When we are leaving for our week at the Chatham Bars Inn, there’s such anticipation,” Maria says. “We know this is going to be a relaxing week and there’s such familiarity to it. We wait all year to go back.” The couple’s daughter Daniela, 14, enjoys the resort so much, she wrote an essay about it titled “My Home Away from Home.”

Once settled in their cottage suite, the Ronga family has a favorite spot where they like to relax. “The veranda,” Maria says, “is the crowning jewel. It is so beautiful and the chairs are comfortable and welcoming. We love sitting there in the morning, having coffee—but after dinner, it is equally beautiful. It is serene, and the view is unmatched. There are always interesting people and groups having fun. It is very much a part of the inn’s charm.” Guests visiting the inn a century ago likely shared the sentiment.

Nancy White

A native of Hingham and a graduate of Boston College, Nancy White works in Boston as a writer for a digital marketing agency and lives in Hull with her husband and beloved Westie, Duncan. In recent years she has written many articles for Cape Cod LIFE including a piece on the history of Brewster’s Stony Brook Grist Mill as well as the ascension of a popular new sport in the area: Pickleball!