Finding peace and privacy at the active Owenego Inn


Owenego Inn and its restaurant, the Hungry Dog Cafe, overlook Long Island Sound on the Connecticut Shore. The inn also has a beach and tennis club. (Barry Sachs/FOR THE WASHINGTON pOST)
September 14, 2012

A biweekly staff review of East Coast and regional lodgings.

Finally, I had some alone time with the Owenego Inn.

Hours earlier, I’d had to share the winsome Connecticut Shore property with a slew of people, none of whom were even slumbering here. Among the drop-bys: a budding Sharapova lobbing tennis balls to her instructor on the clay court (one of three) and a grandmother watching her two small charges romp on the wide smile of sand abutting Long Island Sound. The largest group milled along the edges of the grand green lawn that begged for a croquet set. The dozens of early-bird feeders were waiting for the inn’s Hungry Dog Cafe to open and start rolling out the Monday night lobster special.

As much as I wanted the Owenego to myself, I couldn’t criticize the property for flapping its social butterfly wings so hard. The inn is an extrovert with an active schedule: In addition to playing hotelier, restaurateur and bartender (at the Thirsty Gull and the Main Cocktail Lounge), it is also a beach and tennis club and a Cinderella wedding site. (Note: The main season is Memorial Day through Labor Day, but the inn and lounge stay open through October.)

Named after the warrior son of a Montowese tribal chief, the Owenego has been bringing together people — and their balls and rackets and shovels and pails — since the mid-1800s. Back then, the Branford area was a jolly playground for people who matched their locations with their seasonal wardrobes. More than three dozen resorts catered to the she-looks-chic-by-the-seashore set; today, only one remains.

“I’m probably the oldest member here,” said a white-haired man who struck up an inter-table conversation with my family at dinner. “I’ve been coming here since 1949.”

Hotel guests, clubsters and local diners easily coexist. We ate and ambled along the waterfront together. We rested on adjacent stone benches and squares of sand without incident. We even exchanged passing pleasantries. But eventually, I wanted them to go home. I was ready to have the place to myself — and I do mean myself.

The inn’s six rooms occupy the second floor of the main building and sit above the dining room. (The reservationist warned me of potential noise, but I didn’t hear a single rattle of plates or scraping of silverware.) As the sole guest for the night, I could hog the shared bathroom and peruse the hallway art in my pajamas. Of course, I did neither. But if I’d wanted to . . .

I had reserved the Montowese Room, a cozy space dressed in white with a water closet. I imagined that the interior decorator was a little girl who never wanted summer to end. An ivory palette informed the linens, lacy pillows, curtains and furnishings, including the dresser, the chair and the bedside lamp adorned with imitation frosting rosettes. I could even have my noise in white, one of the settings on the tower fan.

The rooms are completely unplugged: no TVs (but yes on WiFi, which technically does not require a plug). For entertainment, I wandered up the road to Branford’s Main Street, a small-town charmer with a village green, ice cream parlors and a coffeehouse with a “Friends” vibe. But I could just as easily have stayed in, choosing a novel or magazine from the upstairs bookcase. I could even have read in the hallway chair by the open window, in my pajamas. But I didn’t.

When I returned to the hotel, the building was tucked in, lights out. Everyone had left, including the staff. It was just me and the Owenego — us.

In the morning, I ventured down to the empty dining room, where I found a platter of pastries and a pitcher of coffee. I poured a cup and wandered outside, toward the beach. A lifeguard was already at her station. A sunbather had thrown down a towel, then disappeared into one of the club’s outdoor changing stalls. Two friends in yoga pants huffed-and-puffed by.

The first wave of members was slowly arriving. I sat on the bench, ready to welcome them back.

Owenego Inn

40 Linden Ave.

Branford, Conn.

203-488-3805

www.owenego.com

Rates from $105 a night. The hotel does not accept credit cards; cash
or check only.

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