The Inn of Cape May
In this high-tech, post-pandemic age, many hotels have transitioned to digital check-in, electronic keys, and touchless everything. So imagine my surprise to arrive at the Inn of Cape May and 1.) be greeted by a doorman, 2.) assisted by a porter, and 3.) registered by a front desk clerk, who gave me an old-fashioned brass room key. The former Colonial Hotel, an island landmark since 1894, is a grande dame in the grand tradition, with warm personal service at every turn.
Formerly owned by the Menz family, the property changed hands in 2022, in what current owner Manny deMutis describes as “passing the torch.” The handover brought big changes: an ongoing renovation, the addition of a new restaurant and outdoor café, and coming soon, the Monkey Bar, set to open in the fall. Despite all the changes, “We didn’t alter anything that was original,” says deMutis, “and were meticulous about preserving the creativity and craftsmanship of the original structure.”
When I visited, at the height of the summer season, the place was pleasantly bustling, with some folks wandering through in swimsuits and sandals (beach tags are on the house, and there’s also a pool on the grounds). Casual attire aside, there’s a sense of gentility here that made me feel I had returned to the Gilded Age.
After check-in, I rode the 1900 Otis “birdcage” elevator to the second level. The oldest working lift in the state isn’t much bigger than a phone booth, but has an opulence all its own, with filigree metalwork, a recessed crystal dome light, and even framed vintage photos. Note: guests must be escorted by an elevator operator, who is summoned via an old-style rotary phone. It’s just one of the inn’s fun and novel features.
My room was neat and pristine, with simple, understated décor in restful, neutral tones, everything brand-spanking-new and ultra-comfy. Decks on the upper levels overlook the promenade and ocean, with rocking chairs for reading and relaxation.
The real buzz these days is about the restaurant, Ocean 7, formerly Alethea’s. Chef Sam Walter serves up a “contemporary twist on American classics” for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Walter’s culinary hero is Anthony Bourdain, not because he was a great cook (which Bourdain himself acknowledged) but because “there’s nothing he wouldn’t try,” says Walter. The chef recommends the Pork Ragu Calabrese, his grandmother’s version of the Italian standard, with rigatoni in a rich, simmer-all-day tomato sauce, plus black cod and the “deviled-egg BLT,” an unexpected appetizer made with Southern-fried oysters, house-made tomato-bacon jam and micro-greens.
A friend happily joined me for dinner. For starters, we had grilled sweet corn ribs, served with tangy cotija cheese, spicy citrus aioli, and lime juice—so yummy, I had to remind myself to save room for the main event. We then split an entrée, twin jumbo crab cakes that were satisfyingly crunchy on the outside, and full to bursting with fresh crabmeat on the inside, with a side of roasted red pepper puree and asparagus. It was a feast for the eyes and the palate, but alas, left no room for dessert.
In the morning, I had breakfast at the open-air Porch & Coffee Bar, a wraparound bistro just steps from the promenade and beach. It started with a fizzy peach Bellini, followed by homemade spinach and feta quiche with sundried tomatoes. The quiche was creamy and custard-like, and the crust was just right. For the road, I grabbed a chocolate croissant: flaky, sweet, and light as air. Brava to pastry chef Liz Johnston.
Dwayne Ridgaway, director of hotel operations, calls the Porch “a highlight of the experience, with the breeze, the view, the food, and the entertainment.” Yes, entertainment. Now open year-round, the Inn of Cape May is developing a full calendar of diversions, from nightly live music to Agatha Christie murder mysteries to holiday events for kids.
It may also be on the list of local haunts for ghost hunters. One staffer recalled walking into the kitchen one night and having a sweater plucked from her shoulders, presumably by the spirit known as Captain Jack. Another has seen cups spontaneously fall from shelves. And according to local lore, a mysterious “lady in blue” has been seen gazing mournfully from a window. While I had no ectoplasmic encounters, the mere possibility added to my enjoyment.
By 19th-century standards, the Inn of Cape May was one of the island’s smaller hotels, dwarfed by giants like the Stockton, the Mount Vernon, and the Columbia. Today, it’s one of the largest and oldest, occupying half a city block, with a matchless location and commanding views of the Atlantic.
While I enjoy the convenience of self-check-in and other remote options, certain things don’t go out of style, like the attitude of service I found at the Inn of Cape May. I didn’t realize how much I missed the human touch in hospitality. I hope to return soon.