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Charming Chatham

Courtesy Chatham Bars Inn

Alluring, arresting, eye-catching; not adjectives typically tied to elbows, but when the elbow is that of Cape Cod, appealing modifiers do apply.

Where the Cape bends, its point jutting to the east, is the near-300-year-old village of Chatham, a farm-community-turned-fishing-port that is now a vacation destination beloved by many.

The families who summer there have also made Chatham a destination for small meetings.

“A lot of company presidents and CEOs have second homes in the area,” said Patti Lloyd, vice president of sales for the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce/CVB.

“Many times our leisure clients will turn into our group clients,” said Janet Lincoln, assistant director of sales for the Chatham Bars Inn. “When someone calls us about a meeting, nine out of 10 times they tell us, ‘Our CEO was there with their family or ‘One of our board members was there and suggested it’” as a meeting site.

Chatham is the halfway point on the Cape, equidistant from Provincetown to the north and Bourne to the west. As refined as Provincetown is raucous, Chatham is the stereotypical high school cheerleader: pretty, popular and peppy.

On the village’s winding Main Street, local shops open to sidewalks that in summer are packed with strolling tourists and baby strollers. Commerce is interrupted by the green of a church lawn or of Kate Gould Park, where a 40-piece town band plays each Friday night in the summer during concerts that can attract up to 6,000 people, nearly equal to the village’s year-round population of 6,700.

Vigilance protects village feel
Although some villages on the Cape may be regarded as overly commercialized, Chatham has been vigilant in terms of development.

Nancy Underhill has lived on the Cape for nearly 40 years and has seen the changes, good and bad.

“Chatham has been able to maintain its character while other towns have let larger businesses come in that have destroyed their character,” said the director of sales at the Chatham Wayside Inn, which fronts Main Street. “It is not antibusiness, but it has been very particular to keep businesses within the guidelines established to keep the village feel.

“Chatham is a strolling town with mom-and-pop stores, great boutiques. You just step out our door and there is ice cream or olive oil tastings, the best shoe store anywhere around, art galleries.”

Seascapes trump shopping

Water borders Chatham on three sides, and the views from Shore Road, which fronts the Atlantic, are all ocean and beaches below. Being on a point as it is, the village benefits from breezes, which temper both its summers and winters.

Chatham’s three primary meeting properties each have a different viewpoint.

The Chatham Wayside Inn is the most urban and also the smallest. The main inn has 56 guest rooms with another 38 in nine Cape-style houses a short walk away at sister property the Bradford Inn. At both inns, the original buildings were once the homes of sea captains.

Only a white rail fence separates the inn from the throng on Main Street; a deck outside its Wild Goose Tavern at the front of the inn is made for “people who like people-watching,” said Underhill. The inn is flanked by Kate Gould Park and the city-owned Chatham Seaside Links golf course.

Although the Wayside’s only meeting room is 1,200 square feet, it seems larger because it opens to a bluestone patio and private gardens. A tiny meeting room with a fireplace at the Bradford Inn is a place where an executive board group could “disappear,” said Underhill. “It is an intimate escape.”

Although the Wayside and the Bradford are open year round, there is a monthlong shutdown in January so repairs and improvements can be made without inconveniencing guests.

Chatham Bars is a Cape institution
Also in Chatham, on the oceanfront, is the Chatham Bars Inn, a Cape institution that began life in 1914 as a hunting lodge built by a Boston stockbroker as a getaway for friends.

Of course, the resort has changed a great deal since then. For one, it is larger. There are 217 guest rooms across its 25 acres, most in Cape cottages.

The original lodge, considered the soul of the resort, contains 40 rooms. Although the resort’s cottages look like small homes, they are all divided into individual guest rooms with their own private baths.

There are porches and balconies and other perches for enjoying the view of the water, the gardens or the nine-hole Chatham Seaside Links, which runs along part of the resort.

Like the guest rooms, 9,000 square feet of meeting space is also scattered about. “It enables us to have a few groups at one time and not feel like they are running into one another,” said Lincoln.

The 3,750-square-foot Monomoy Ballroom is the largest space, recently upgraded with new decor to lighten and brighten it. Built-in LCD projectors and screens and other high-tech audiovisual equipment were added in meeting spaces. Adjacent to the ballroom, a 750-square-foot prefunction space is used for registration and breaks.

A favorite meeting and event location is the 1,100-square-foot Boathouse, updated over the winter and right on the beach. Sliding glass doors on the ocean side open to a deck so the space can become an indoor/outdoor venue.

Clamoring for clambakes

Groups often use the resort’s beachfront Beachhouse Grill for authentic New England clambakes. Coals, lit in the midafternoon, are later topped with seaweed before lobster, clams, potatoes and corn are added and then covered with a tarp. “As it cooks, the seaweed pops and gives the seafood a sea-scented essence,” said Lincoln. “We are one of the few resorts that can do a clambake on the beach and in the traditional way.”

The beachfront comes into play for many groups. When S.V. Life Sciences, a venture capital firm, brought 75 staff and family members to the inn to celebrate a company achievement, the opening-night dinner was held on the water with a beach bonfire to top the evening.

Since 2006, the resort has been owned by Richard Cohen and his real estate firm Capital Properties. “He has been careful to make sure the resort is updated and upgraded so our high-level clients will have all they expect while he has maintained a historic and a kick-off-your-shoes kind of Cape Cod resort,” said Lincoln.

That does not mean that the Chatham Bars Inn has returned to its rustic roots. For example, half of its 10 treatment rooms are in poolside cabanas where massages are enhanced by fresh air and soothing views. Courts for tennis, croquet and bocce make for friendly competitions.

Japanese gardens bring an contemplative air. There’s a wine cellar where groups of six to 10 can dine among 6,000 bottles of wine and a demonstration kitchen where cooking demonstrations or wine-pairing dinners are held.

In July and August, families swarm the resort, known for a children’s program that teaches children about aspects of Cape Cod life, such as lobstering.

The Star fleet expands
In addition to a quarter-mile of private beach, the resort has its own dock and a growing fleet of boats. “Last year, we added a pirate boat: the Black Star,” said Jenn Allard, marketing coordinator.

“This year, we have purchased a sailboat — the Stars and Stripes — which will be used for harbor cruises, twilight cruises and team-building receptions,” she said.

The resort also has a 52-foot Viking for deep-sea fishing and a 22-foot launch for seal-watching and shuttles to outer beaches.

Beaches also come into play at the Wequassett Resort and Golf Club, three miles from Chatham on 23 acres next to the Cape Cod National Golf Club and Pleasant Bay. It has 6,000 square feet of meeting space and its largest meeting space is 2,750 square feet..

About two years ago, the resort’s private owners spent $40 million to expand the number of guest rooms from 104 to 120, add a second pool and an outdoor tennis pavilion and create a high-tech boardroom.

The boardroom is an interesting feature because of the dual purposes it serves. In the summertime, its 150-inch screen and surround sound serve as a movie theater for the children’s program. The boardroom is professional space, sales and marketing director Andy Ross assures, although he admits there is “something whimsical about taking a Fortune 500 group and putting them in a children’s activity space.”

Tennis complex doubles as event space

The tennis complex has also been a hit. In addition to four Har-Tru courts for round-robin tourneys, a raised grilling area with permanent tables and chairs works well for watching the matches and is a natural for cookouts, buffets and receptions.

Like most Cape properties, the Wequassett sees a drop in meetings business in July and August as families arrive for vacations.

“We do find that the July and August business retreats tend to be extremely high-end,” Ross said. He offered as examples meetings of a dozen or so executives of PepsiCo and the Discovery Channel held in the midst of last summer’s high season.

The Chatham Bars Inn would be considered Wequassett’s peer, but the two properties differ in a number of ways. The Wequassett opened as a resort in 1976 and although it has two historic homes on property, both were moved to the site. One of them, the Eben Ryder House, now houses 28 Atlantic, the Cape’s only AAA Four Diamond restaurant. The resort is also in a much quieter setting, given the Chatham Bars Inn’s position a quarter-mile from Chatham.

The Wequassett is on a protected inlet of the Atlantic, so the surf is mild. The resort does have a beach, but guests can also be motored over to the Cape Cod National Seashore, which lies off the Cape’s east coast and is accessible only by boat in the Chatham area.

“Our property is more understated. We are set back from the traffic, and we offer a quiet retreat setting rather than a town-center setting,” Ross said. “And, we are about half the size of Chatham Bars.”

Like the Chatham Bars, the Wequassett is always improving, a key to its continuing attraction. The Northeast Gas Association moves its annual meeting for high-level industry executives around a bit, but the Wequassett is one site to which it regularly returns.

“It is a favorite location of the people who attend,” said Thomas Kiley, president and CEO. “They also continually reinvest in their infrastructure.”

Despite its storied summers, the Cape’s most popular times for meetings are the late spring/early summer and the fall. But as many of the larger resorts, including the Wequassett and the Chatham Bars Inn, are year-round properties, winter meetings aren’t out of the question.

“In the winter time, it is very, very quiet,” said Underhill, whose inn closes only in January. “ The saltwater tempers our weather so we don’t get the hard, hard winters. As a rule, people can play golf all year, but you have to be hardy. This isn’t Myrtle Beach golfing.

“Those who come in off-season get a lot of work done and have relaxing meals at night and spend time walking the beach. It is an introspective time of year.”