The second time’s a charm.
Of course, I thought the first time was, too.
We’ve stayed at the Hotel Northampton in Northampton, Mass., once before on our way to New Hampshire for our annual family New Year’s fest. I have fleeting recollections of a mini-grande dame gracefully flanking a main street in town, with lots of intriguing corridors and stairwells and nooks and crannies — ooh, love it! — and a restaurant that had some special history attached to it.
But I’m a little distressed right now that the dinner reservation isn’t going so smoothly. We’re way behind schedule, crawling through Connecticut in rush-hour traffic, and it sure doesn’t look as if we’re going to get to Northampton in time for the 8 p.m. dinner we’ve booked. But I call the hotel three times — twice I’m put on hold and then cut off — before an unconcerned-sounding young woman finally says that oh, all right, she’ll tell the tavern to push the reservation back to 9 p.m. But will she?
I don’t trust her. I’m grumpy and famished from nine hours on the road. My warm memories of the hotel are cooling rapidly.
We pull into the parking lot at 9:15 p.m. Yikes! We have to clean up! The kitchen closes at 10! My husband will be upset if he can’t eat!
Yet oddly, he-whose-first-thought-is-always-of-food seems far less concerned about the time than I. (He must be faint from hunger.) I’m anxious, but he’s as copacetic as the coolly efficient young man at check-in, who looks at me quizzically when I ask whether the restaurant will still seat us. “Of course,” he says.
I’m still apologizing for our tardiness at the restaurant, when the hostess smiles at me benignly. “The important thing, you’re here,” she says, showing us to our table.
At last I clam up. Of course. We’re not in Washington anymore. We’re in small-town New England. In a historic hotel, but not a full-of-itself historic hotel. In a relaxed, hospitable place, elegant but low-key and, well, charming.
Yes, I am decidedly charmed. For the second time.
Starting with the restaurant. Wiggins Tavern (there’s also a more modern cafe upstairs) is a bona fide 18th-century public house that was moved from its original site in New Hampshire in 1927 and reassembled brick by brick and beam by low, dark beam in Northampton entrepreneur Lewis Wiggins’s new hotel. That is so fun to know. As is the fact that Wiggins, like so many in his day, was a Colonial Revival enthusiast and, according to the hotel’s official history, sought to furnish his inn with pieces of “museum status.” And then employed art curators to mingle with guests and talk about the hotel’s antiques. How clever was that?
I confess that I have no idea which items in the public spaces are still the genuine old-time articles, but no matter. Everything adds to the sense of graciousness. The high-ceilinged lobby is as pretty as I remember it, especially on a winter’s day, with gas flames flickering in the large fireplace. And the long, glassed-in sun porch that stretches across the front of the building seems a perfect place to sit and contemplate the snowy streets outside.
But first we have to find our room. I have visions of last time, when we wandered down a winding hidden hall to a door tucked into a dead-end alcove. That was fun, like a treasure hunt.
This time, though, we face no such challenge. We get off the elevator, turn left, walk a few paces, and voila. No. 307. Well, that was easy.
The room itself is fine, a standard king with all the usual accoutrements — coffeemaker, flat-screen TV, Gilchrist and Soames toiletries in the (small) bathroom. I’m just disappointed that it’s in the back of the building, looking out onto the parking lot. Harrumph.
But wait. I peer out the single window and, well, could there be a prettier parking lot? Christmas lights are sparkling in the bushes outside two small cottages that house extra guest rooms (the hotel has 106, including a number of suites). The lot itself is wide open and stretches far back, to the foot of a small hill topped by a gorgeous white-columned red-brick building. The church spires of pretty, pretty Northampton rise gleaming in the distance beyond. Lovely!
In the morning, my husband heads down to the lobby to drink his coffee in front of the fire. I head out on a mission of my own. Down the hall from our room, I peer through an open doorway, and yes! There it is — one of the internal passageways I remember from our first visit. I head down it and soon find myself turning unexpected corners that spill into further passages and staircases leading who knows where.
I wander for a while, giddily exploring and getting lost, like a happy mouse in a maze. I don’t know why I love this kind of labyrinthine rambling, but I do.
Next time we stay, I think, I’m going to request a room on one of these halls. It will guarantee that the third time will be a charm.
Just like the first and second.
36 King St.
Rooms from $129.99.
A biweekly staff review of East Coast and regional lodgings.