On my first reconnaissance of Hotel Rodney, I completely missed the interlopers. My defense: I was blinded by the zebra rugs, the long white couches and the Thai elephant chairs that evoked Bianca Jagger, not sunburned beachgoers with sand between their toes.
Set on the main drag in downtown Lewes, Del., the boutique hotel keeps the beachy kitsch where it belongs: elsewhere. The property’s only acknowledgment of its seaside setting — the actual beach is about a mile down the road — is a pair of glass containers filled with shells and a tea light. I was such a maladroit spy, I’d walked in and out of the lobby at least six times before noticing that transgression.
Despite the foxy furnishings, which also include black leather bucket seats, python-patterned stools and a wall of dimpled glass squares, the hotel is neither uppity nor exclusive. A bubbly staff member, for example, didn’t shoo me away when I hovered like a paparazzo over the carved-wood pachyderm-shaped seats that face the front desk and boast their own fan base.
“People who stayed with us years ago come in just to see if we still have the elephants,” she said. “See how smooth the wood is? That’s from all the rubbing.”
The elephants, long-standing residents due in part to their heft, have survived many lodging incarnations and name changes. Since 1926, the hotel has answered to Caesar Rodney Inn, Swans’ Inn, New Devon Inn and Zwaanendael Inn, which a binder of information admits that “none of us could spell correctly and was hard to find on the Internet.”
The “Rodney” of Hotel Rodney refers to the original owners, John and Ruth, who resided in the building with their brood of 12, two of whom governed Delaware in the 1800s. Caleb, who served for less than a year after the death of Gov. John Collins, later ran a grocery store in the space now occupied by the front entryway. During the War of 1812, a British cannonball thwacked the door, which now rests around the corner in the Zwaanendael Museum. The boys are buried across the street at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, a who’s who of Lewes townsfolk.
Rooms facing Second Street, and therefore the church, have clear views of the family headstone. If graveyard-chic is not to your taste, there are plenty of black-and-white photos inside the hotel to take you back.
The sole piece of artwork in my executive room features a behatted man standing beside a sign. The placard notes the founding date of Lewes (1631) and his jobs (mayor, tax collector, police department).
If Hotel Rodney were to follow suit and advertise all its functions, it would need a billboard. The list would include exercising (basement fitness center, bike rentals), shopping (on-site gallery, jewelry store, home wares and antiques shop, whoops-I-forgot wall of sundries), dining (Beseme, billed as an “eclectic bistro”) and computing (free WiFi, two computers available for $5 per visit).
Eventually, I surrendered to the inevitable activity of sleep. My room was good for nesting, with a color scheme that reminded me of coffee and vanilla. The warm creams of the coverlet and the curtains mellowed the buzz of the rug, whose spectrum ranged from cappuccino to dark roast. The bed’s hillock of pillows came in handy as back support and later as earmuffs, once the man in the neighboring room started snoring. (A staff member said that next time, I should request a room where the headboard isn’t placed against the same wall as the headboard in the next room.)
In the morning, I shook off the lingering zzz’s with a free cup of coffee sweetened with caramel flavoring. While awakening sip by sip, I scanned the gift shop offerings and noticed a potential infraction: The hotel sold stuffed hermit crabs. Relieved that the plush toy wasn’t a regular blue crab, however, I allowed it.
142 Second St.