Vanderbilt Grace, Rhode Island – Hotel Review
Vanderbilt Grace, Rhode Island
Melissa de Carteret discovers Rhode Island’s Gilded Age charm…
Embodying the quintessential elegance and decadence of America’s Gilded Age, Vanderbilt Hall – as it was then – was one of Rhode Island’s many spectacular residences or ‘summer cottages’ owned by the wealthy Vanderbilt family and other prominent 19th-century industrialists like them.
In these Jazz Age party palaces, America’s political and social elite spent long, luxurious New England summers, their vanishing world immortalised by the likes of Henry James and Edith Wharton. ‘Li’l Rhody’ remains a magnet for New Yorkers escaping the heat and pace of Manhattan for the cool ocean breezes and cobbled streets of historic Newport, and a century after it was built this magnificent red-brick mansion is still synonymous with glamour and exclusivity.
These days though, you don’t have to be an Astor or Kennedy to enjoy its Beaux-Arts splendour. Set in a quiet location within minutes of the waterfront and superyachts, just off vibrant Thames Street (pronounced ‘thaymz’ if you’re blending in with the locals), the property is enjoying a new incarnation as 33-bedroom boutique hotel Vanderbilt Grace under the ownership of iconic luxury brand Grace Hotels.
Their first in the US, its relative seclusion (it’s rumoured to have housed the summer liaisons between young millionaire sportsman Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt and his glamorous mistress Agnes O’Brien Ruiz) makes it the perfect base to relax while exploring Newport’s many cultural and historic attractions, including the immaculately preserved Bellevue mansions, art galleries, chic boutiques, and trendy bars and restaurants.
Not that you need to venture far. For informal dining there’s the nautically themed Conservatory restaurant, and in summer the Garden Terrace, where you can dine in an oasis of calm before working it off in the fitness centre, 15-metre indoor pool or outdoor plunge pool, or indulging in a facial or stress-busting Brenton Point hot stone massage in the spotless spa. The highlight of our stay is dinner at Muse, the fine-dining restaurant under the direction of renowned Grand Chef Relais & Châteaux and Grace Hotels Chef de Cuisine, Jonathan Cartwright.
As part of the hotel’s ongoing ‘Gracification’, gone are the heavy wood panelling and gilt excesses in favour of a simpler, more elegant and muted décor, and just a hint of funkiness from the Bar’s feature lighting. The glamour of a bygone age is recalled by stunning original architectural features, enhanced by a stylish illustrative art collection belonging to previous owner Peter de Savary. After taking in the rooftop terrace’s panoramic downtown and waterside views, we embark on the exquisite five-course menu, reasonably priced and expertly delivered by head chef Daniel Oosthof.
My pescetarian tweaks to the set menu are graciously accommodated without a whiff of preciousness or pretension, and New England favourites using the freshest of saltwater fish and seafood plucked straight from the ocean feature alongside European classics. The style is light and the execution precise. There’s a sublime lobster bisque with crispy lobster wonton and lobster crème fraîche, hickory-smoked lobster poached to perfection, and a faultless pan-seared halibut with a lobster ravioli, asparagus and champagne froth – each immaculately presented and accompanied by equally impressive service. The Vanderbilts would have approved.
Room Rates (subject to season): $350– $2,450 Muse by Jonathan Cartwright (per person): Five-course menu: $95, Four-course menu $75