New owner, new look for the Claremont Hotel …

SOUTHWEST HARBOR, Sept. 26, 2020 – Well that didn’t take long.

Eager to put his mark on the Claremont Hotel, the new owner wasted little time since closing on the purchase 10 days ago.

The hotel, which has fielded a yellow exterior for most of the last a century, has taken on a new coat of white paint. I wondered whether it was a primer, but a friend suggested that since the scaffolding was down, the color was probably permanent.

This is one of the places you go to fall in love with Maine

Tim Harrington, partner and creative director of a collection of nine Kennebunkport resorts and hotels which was sold to EOS Investors of New York City in February just before the pandemic wreaked havoc, is now calling the shots at the Claremont and making quick changes. He has hired contractors and designers to make much needed updates.

But it will be interesting to see what he does to the dining room at the Claremont which offered serviceable but unspectacular fare. Will he replicate the epicurean sensibility of “Earth” at Hidden Pond resort in Kennebunkport? That would be exciting. But my guess is that he’ll settle for a safer, middle-of-the-road dining room like that at the Asticou Inn in Northeast Harbor where I recently had a great meal but only because I ordered the special: a pork belly cooked to perfection. My companions had fresh fish which was, well, like well-made fresh fish.

I’m sure Harrington signed a non-compete so he won’t be able to poach Joe Schafer, the chef at Earth. Another unlikely candidate is David Turin, the celebrated Portland chef whom Harrington fired with little notice in November 2017. The shuttling of David’s KPT caused a kerfuffle which got some unwanted press such as this article in the Bangor Daily News.

I’m looking forward to see what Mr. Harrington will create for us, sans the extracurricular friction which probably doesn’t wear well on the Quietside.

The Claremont, which opened in 1884 and is on the National Registry of Historic Places, had been on the market for $6 million. It did not open this year because of the pandemic.

The main building of the Claremont was built in 1883 by Jesse Pease, a retired sea captain, and was one of the first large hotels to be built on Mount Desert Island. It is a 3-1/2 story wood frame structure, finished in clapboards, with a cross-gabled hip roof and a stone foundation. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. The building currently has 24 private rooms, as well as Xanthus, the hotel’s restaurant.

The hotel was run by Jesse Pease and his wife until his death in 1900. She continued to operate the hotel until her death in 1917, but sold the property in 1908 to Joseph Phillips, a local doctor. Phillips and later his son ran the property until 1971.

The hotel was known to have hosted the Claremont Croquet Classic, the oldest continuous croquet tournament in the country.

I’m old enough to remember when they required men to wear jackets in the dining room. But the hotel was kind enough to provide them if you came up short sartorially as was the case once with my brother-in-law and me. We rummaged through its collection to find the ugliest ones we could don as a quiet protest.

Then there was the time I couldn’t get out of the 19th century elevator and had to call for help from the desk which luckily was on the same floor.

The Claremont was always slightly behind the times but that was its appeal: You came here to seek that rare sentient experience as your parents might have, to hear the tires crunch on the gravel driveway, to view the uniformed white-clothed croquet players knock an opponent’s ball out of bounds with alacrity and be genteel about it, to smell the ocean at the dock while you await your lobster roll and chips, to sleep in a room with the window slightly ajar, and to taste that morning coffee made from a percolator and not from an espresso machine. I actually saw a couple spend an entire morning on a jigsaw puzzle, while I read the Times on a rocker on the porch.

The dining room offered workman-like New England fare commensurate with its slightly musty sensibility. But the view was why you came. To have a window seat at the Claremont was the prize.

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