Three Hotels in Three Nights
I am headed to West Hartford.
This is not a sentence I have typed before and probably never will again. But there you have it: Starting from my town of Pleasantville, N.Y, I’m driving my car, a dashing-green Mini Cooper Countryman, north on Connecticut’s Merritt Parkway. My destination: the 60,000-person suburb about five miles west of downtown Hartford. Connecticut’s capital and a hub of the insurance industry, Hartford is about as exciting as those descriptors sound. (I grew up in Connecticut, so I can say that.) Still, people do visit it, often while they’re on their way to somewhere else.
Problem is, it’s mid-afternoon on a blistering hot summer Friday, the hottest weekend of the year in what will probably be the hottest month in the history of the planet, and the rest of the tri-state area seems to have the same delusion: Head north. It will be cooler there. (It won’t.)
Consequently, I am driving in my dashing-green Mini Cooper slower, as my second-grade teacher liked to say when describing my work output, than molasses in January. Stuck in more-stop-than-go traffic, I experience a brief existential crisis: Why am I doing this?
Because I am visiting a hotel, the Delamar West Hartford, a mid-size boutique hotel that is one of three Delamar-brand hotels in Connecticut. I have no business in West Hartford, no family, no friends, no child in a nearby college. I am not on my way to Springfield and in need of a stopping point. I have no compelling reason whatsoever to visit the upper reaches of the Constitution State. But I am going to spend the night in the Delamar West Hartford if it kills me.
The thing is, I love hotels. I’m obsessed with the mechanics of their operation, all the interconnected moving parts, the thousands of different choices incorporated in the design and experience of every hotel. Like restaurants and Italian sports cars, hotels are complex machines with myriad moving parts that can break down at any time. And yet, at good hotels, everything seems to work. How does that happen? And why would you build three hotels in Connecticut suburbs anyway? To date, the Delamar brand exists only in these small Connecticut towns—the company behind them, the Greenwich Hospitality Group, is also building one in the lakeside resort town of Traverse City, Mich., which makes more sense. (Also, GHG founder Charles Mallory, who built his wealth brokering the sale of shipping tankers before founding the hotel company 20 years ago, is a Greenwich resident.)
My other reason for hotel-hopping is that, frankly, I have work to do: writing and editing for Worth, a few hundred overdue email responses to write, a line edit of a friend’s book manuscript, a draft of a screenplay to review, the last 150 pages of Anna Karenina to power through (not technically work, but it feels like it sometimes). I love to work in hotels. When you’re sequestered in a hotel room, no one bothers you. Other than hard-to-use cable TV, there are no distractions. It’s quiet. The desk is clutter-free, which cannot be said of my office desk, and usually comes with a pen. People will bring you food and coffee and clean up after you. A writer I know once moved into a hotel for six weeks to finish a book for which he had a tight deadline. On hearing of this, I felt deeply jealous.
So when the people who promote the Delamar hotels asked if I’d like to visit their newest, I counter-proposed. Sure, I said—I’ll visit the Delamar West Hartford. But I’ll also visit the Delamar Southport. And after that, I’ll stop in at the Delamar Greenwich Harbor. And to make it interesting, I’ll do it on consecutive nights. A hotel-hop!
In the process, I’d get a modest staycation, finish all the work I’m late to finish, and check out how a hotel brand executed its vision in three different locations. To some, this may sound strange. To me, it is three days of peace and productivity.
It takes the Mini and me three hours to go 90 highway miles, but we will not be stopped: West Hartford, here we come.
The Delamar West Hartford
Tucked on a corner of a pleasant mixed-use development called Blue Back Square (“it is an example of New Urbanism,” says Wikipedia helpfully), the Delamar West Hartford looks like a small castle, if you don’t look at it too much. It’s a handsome building, and I like being able to pull my car into its uncrowded driveway without feeling immediately pressured to move on. I also like that the hotel shuttle car is the idiosyncratic Ford Flex, an unusually weird car for an American automaker. The Delamar West Hartford has, it appears, some flair.
Inside, the lobby is bright and filled with artwork, like a silver settee by sculptor Johnny Swing made entirely of quarters. (More form than function, as you might imagine, but very cool.) The lobby contains a flower shop and a custom clothing store. In an adjacent lounge, the hotel has an espresso machine available 24/7. The coffee is good—the on-demand ubiquity of coffee is a hotel litmus test for me—and the machines turn out to be a Delamar staple. Another common denominator: a glass of prosecco at check-in. On this steaming day, the drink is welcome. But would it be petty to say the prosecco isn’t great?
The Delamar West Hartford isn’t really a fully equipped hotel; there’s a barely adequate gym, the spa is functional but lacks room to shower or lounge, and the business center turns out to be a computer and a stool in an open space. I would also subtract for the bathroom amenities, which are from Bulgari; I see this brand in hotels around the country and it feels like generic “luxury!”—like something you’d buy in an airport duty-free because you’re killing time before your flight. To me, hotel bath products are an opportunity for a hotel to say something about its character or its place. These ones say, “We didn’t think about it much.”
Still, my room is large and has funky but comfortable furniture, and the bathroom is spacious and well-designed. I eat dinner at the farm-to-table restaurant Artisan, sitting at an outdoor table, and it’s quite good: a panzanella salad dominated by terrific ripe tomatoes and croutons, a massive grilled pork chop washed down with a local pilsner, strawberry gelato for dessert. It all tastes like summer. Back in my room, I pass out reading Anna Karenina.
After a solid sleep, the breakfast, alas, is less yummy—a buffet with a watery vat of eggs and melon that crunches when you bite it. Flavorless fruit is the breakfast bane of hotels everywhere, but…is fresh fruit in July really so difficult?
On the whole, though, I have grown fond of the Delamar West Hartford. After a too-fast 16 hours there, I hop back in the Mini.
The Delamar Southport
My arrival at this small, affluent hamlet on Long Island Sound starts unfortunately. Following a sign that says “Hotel/Restaurant Parking,” I pull into the almost empty parking lot for the hotel and the restaurant, another Artisan. The valet rushes to tell me that hotel guests cannot park there. I point at the sign, then at the dozens of empty parking spaces. As Bob Dylan once said about something more important, it makes no difference: The man directs me to a subterranean parking garage under the hotel. It’s claustrophobic and creepy, and I am reminded of the scene in director Sam Raimi’s classic film Drag Me to Hell in which a youthful bank teller, while unlocking her car in an underground garage, is attacked by an embittered gypsy who puts a curse on the woman that does, in fact, cause her to be dragged to hell. (A hotel staffer will later apologize, telling me that the valet services are outsourced and they’ve “been having problems with this.”)
After the glamour of the Delamar West Hartford, the Delamar Southport disappoints. While the Delamar West Harford is about two years new, the Delamar Southport opened in 2010 and is in dire need of a refresh. The staff is friendly and helpful, but they’re saddled with a bland product. The long hallways, with their floral-patterned wallpaper and squat sconces, remind me of a retirement home in Boca. The hotel generously puts me in a two-bedroom suite with a kitchen, but its furniture is heavy and dated, like my grandmother’s classic six on the Upper East Side. There’s no charm here, no character, no fun. The Delamar Southport does have a spa, a small suite amidst the rooms, but again, no locker rooms—just one tiny bathroom with a shower, right next to the spa entrance. When I visit, I’m instructed to change out of my clothes in the massage room itself. Odd. The masseuse is excellent, but who wants to carry their clothes through the waiting room to the bathroom shower? It’s awkward.
Demoralized, I have a hasty breakfast at the Delamar Southport’s Artisan (yogurt and granola, much better than the eggs) and check out. Frankly, I can’t wait to get to Greenwich.
The Delamar Greenwich Harbor
I arrive at the Delamar on Sunday night, and I’m quickly impressed. The 82-room hotel is blessed with an authentically picturesque location, perched on the water of Greenwich Harbor. The harbor view overlooks a long wooden dock and steady small boat traffic. Greenwich, once a sleepy commuter town and now the home of hedge funders in gated McMansions hidden behind 10-foot-high walls, isn’t exactly scenic New England. But here, it does a pretty good imitation.
The hotel puts me in another suite, and it’s lovely—spacious, comfortable, with a view of the water. It’s also hot. The hotel’s air conditioning is losing the fight to this summer heat wave, and though the thermostat is set to 65 degrees, the temperature reads 75. Basically, I’m trapped in a slow cooker. An apologetic desk clerk moves me to the same suite one floor below, but the situation is just slightly better; only the arrival of nightfall, and somewhat lower outdoor temperatures, helps.
I didn’t try the spa at Delamar Greenwich, but it appears to be larger than those at the other Delamars. The hotel restaurant, L’Escale, French- and fish-centric, is more formal and upscale than the Artisans; I’ve been there before, and it’s quite good. A couple of days later, I happen to meet a Greenwich local who tells me that the bar at L’Escale is a notorious hook-up spot for Greenwich singles, but that’s not my agenda: My two sons, aged 7 and 5, are joining me for the night at the hotel—an adventure for them, and also, it must be said, a bit of an adventure for the hotel staff, who gamely try to keep up with the children as they sprint down the hotel’s long corridors. For dinner, the boys and I order Chinese food from a local joint and watch a National Geographic special on cannibalistic sharks, which we agree is awesome. The boys cap their night with a bath in the enormous tub in the suite’s enormous bathroom, and then we all fall asleep around 9 in the king bed. This is what a hotel staycation should be.
In the morning, the breakfast buffet is set on a table in the lobby; to call its barren offerings half-hearted would be generous. But the boys and I grab chocolate croissants and hop into the Mini; they’re off to day camp, me to Metro North, back to the daily grind. I haven’t finished Anna Karenina, tweaked the screenplay, edited the manuscript or responded to several hundred emails. But I’ve survived the hottest weekend in summer, traversed Connecticut in the dashing-green Mini, and (mostly) enjoyed my hotel-crawl through the Delamars. Traverse City, here I come.
For more information on Connecticut’s Delamar hotels, visit delamar.com.