Bed Check: Southern Maryland's cozy Brome Howard Inn

By Zofia Smardz
Sunday, January 17, 2010; F05

I wasn't really looking for anything romantic when I booked the McKenney room at Southern Maryland's Brome Howard Inn for a night several weeks ago. I just wanted a nice (and pretty, because I like pretty) place for my husband and me to put our feet up after a day of traipsing all over the countryside. Also, I'm partial to red walls (you'd know if you saw my house), and I wanted a river view.

On that last score, the room in the 1840 plantation house-turned-B&B delivered: The windows -- not exactly "towering" as described, but big enough -- looked out onto the hotel gardens and the tree-lined river bank, the waters of the St. Mary's River glinting steel blue beyond it. An oyster trawler put-putted in the distance. Even in the brownness of late autumn, it was lovely.

But apparently other guests have taken the room's Web site billing as "our most romantic" to heart. Judging from the cloth-covered guest book on the bureau, they reveled in the queen-size white four-poster that's so high there's a big green three-step stool to launch you onto it. I reveled in it, too, but only as an awesome platform for a great night's sleep (I dreamed I was flying, honestly). Some of the entries in the book, though, threatened to turn my cheeks the same shade as the walls. Skinny-dipping in the river before a romp in the sheets? Gee, thanks for sharing.

It was a bit off-color for what's otherwise a genteel country inn that has established itself as a fine-dining destination in St. Mary's County. A couple that night turned down wine, telling the waiter in the salmon-colored dining room that they'd driven down from Charles County. Dinner, for the record, was deliciously impressive, as was the huge breakfast (omelet made-to-order for me) the next morning.

The big white clapboard house once anchored a 3,000-acre tobacco and wheat plantation that turned out to be on the site of Maryland's disappeared first capital, St. Mary's City. When the state decided to excavate the city in 1994, Dr. Brome's old home -- the inn is named for the house's first two owners -- was moved to its present nearby location, up a long ginkgo-lined road, and innkeepers Lisa and Michael Kelley took over a couple of years later.

By all appearances they've made a good go of it. Famous folk with homes in the area are more-than-occasional diners here. That includes The Post's own Ben Bradlee and Sally Quinn, who, I was surprised to discover, have a suite named after them -- for being "good friends and very supportive," according to Lisa, who said that all the rooms are so named; the moniker for ours is in honor of across-the-river neighbors Shep and Pat McKenney. But for the ordinary guest, the place has the fairly standard, pleasant vibe of the cozy country B&B, complete with graciously nonchalant hosts who invite you to show yourself to your room and then come on down for a glass of wine -- gratis -- in the parlor before dinner.

Our room, one of three plus the suite on the top floor, was spacious, clad in the requisite antique country furniture, with a large and airy adjoining bathroom that lacked only water glasses and a lock to keep the door closed. (On the other hand, we could have done without the lock we discovered on the shower the next morning -- a vapor lock apparently caused by the heavy rains of preceding days, as Lisa later explained. Bathing instead felt curiously old-fashioned.) There was a fireplace, too, which the Web site lists as an amenity, though is that fair if you can't actually light a fire in it?

That, happily, was not a problem downstairs, where fires blazed in the parlor and dining room. Real ones, snapping and crackling, not those wimpy gas-log things. As my husband and Lisa briefly discussed the best fire starters, I checked out the books jammed on the parlor shelves. Lots of out-of-date tomes by out-of-office politicians and old Hollywood biographies. Sigh. The Brome Howard is a most congenial hostelry and an appealing getaway, but I do wish somebody would do something about the reading material.

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