“This is a unique site,” asserted Andy Glazer. I had asked him about his Re-imagining of the Silvermine Tavern as Graybarns on the Silvermine River. “It had a great location, compelling history, and enough land to create a village of businesses,” he replied.
Graybarns is the only of our local historic Inns that has been given a complete makeover and a new lease on life. I wanted to know why. While Stonehenge in Ridgefield is closed with an uncertain future and New Canaan’s Roger Sherman Inn is recovering from a near death experience, Graybarns is renovated, modernized, and off to a strong start.
Of course, any viable business needs a strong financial foundation and a manageable overhead. With the high cost of bringing old buildings to today’s standards it often makes more financial sense to start from scratch than to renovate, which puts historic inns at risk.
Renovations are expensive, time consuming, and often have unexpected challenges as the work proceeds. The Red Barn, The Three Bears, The Elms, and Cobbs Mill Inn didn’t make the cut.
A successful rejuvenation also needs vision – a clear goal for what the property will be, who it will serve, and what will draw customers. Glazer, along with his wife Marsha and their daughter Nicki have been on the same page since the project began. “It’s easier when we have a shared view of the future,” he said.
Both the Inn and Tavern at Graybarns enjoy the same esthetic. The strong old post-and-beam buildings now frame a contemporary interior that suggests a rustic history with a modern style. The inn, with six suites, offers a luxury experience. Glazer aspires for The Tavern to be known for, “good, accessible, well-done American food.”
We have a long history with the Stonehenge Inn in Ridgefield. It was our special occasion place for Marsha and I before we were married, our first stop as a married couple, and often visited for anniversaries and other celebrations over the years. In its early days it thrived as a destination restaurant for New Yorkers. Now it’s closed.
Stonehenge was a fancy restaurant with tuxedoed waiters, formal service, and silver on the tables. It’s tough to shake that image.
The saving grace at Stonehenge was a long-time owner-operator who kept the ball rolling. After a recent sale, the out-of-town location and formal reputation worked against it. Perhaps a total makeover would have made a difference, but it wasn’t in the cards. It’s not too late for someone with deep pockets to take on the project.
The Roger Sherman has a charming historic building, a great location on the edge of town, a lovely venue for events and weddings, and New Canaan’s only hotel rooms. Yet, they seem to have a tough time competing with the ever-expanding roster of restaurants in town. The Roger Sherman with its formal dining room and cozy bar is up against a sleek, casual, and diverse competition.
Last year The Roger Sherman announced a deal to sell and a closing date. Unexpectedly, the plans fell through. Now they face the herculean task of coming back from near death. Publicity about closing spreads like wildfire; the word of re-opening travels much more slowly.
The owners, Nes and Joseph Jaffre, are putting their hearts into it. They’ve retained a new chef with an excellent resume, rebuilt the staff, and are sprucing up the decor. Personally, I feel (and hope) that the area can still support one classic restaurant with all the traditional comforts and amenities. I still want to be able to dine in luxury and quiet, be professionally served, and have a traditionally trained chef in the kitchen.
Chef Francois Kwaku Dongo started his career in New York, worked for years in LA for Wolfgang Puck, ultimately as the executive chef at Spago West Hollywood, and then moved east as executive chef at l’Escale in Greenwich. He’s working on a new seasonally inspired menu using local suppliers and sustainable ingredients. Next year he hopes for his own kitchen garden at the inn. Sounds to me like a bright future at the Roger Sherman.
These three cherished inns are in transition: one closed, one rebuilding, and one completely redone. Each was a Fairfield County mainstay, hosting memorable occasions for decades, part of the fabric of our area, loved by neighbors and visitors alike. It will be interesting to see how they fare. I’ll be watching.