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Sea change in store for Tidewater Inn

All photos courtesy Tidewater Inn

The Tidewater Inn on Maryland’s Eastern Shore is 61 and putting on a new face.

It has new owners, a new restaurant and a new ballroom. A $2.5 million renovation, on top of millions invested by the previous owner, is also upgrading the inn’s 103 guest rooms to the breezy, elegant style of Ralph Lauren.

But its past is not forgotten; the site in the heart of historic Easton has been home to a hostelry for nearly 200 years.

The inn’s collection of hunting decoys has been rescued from the attic and resettled in Hunters’ Tavern, the inn’s restaurant that was renovated and returned to rustic chic last year.
The new ballroom is a splendid resurrection of the inn’s Gold Room, long the hub of social life in this area.

And executive chef Ray Copper’s Snapper Soup, a long-standing tradition, stands proudly alongside more upscale menu items like bison from a nearby farm, wild rockfish and chorizo tofu.

Tidewater’s dignity, charm returns
To meet at the Tidewater Inn is to go back to the future in this town of 15,000, which is celebrating its 300th anniversary this year.

“The new owners are bringing back the old dignity and charm,” said Copper who started working there 47 years ago washing dishes.

You know just what he means when you walk into the lobby with its fireplace, comfortable sofas and stairway that curves gracefully to the second floor.

The reception desk also curves. It’s an inn original, as is the small wooden letter and telegram box where guests can still post letters. A sepia photograph of the inn’s predecessor, the Avon Hotel, which burned in 1944, hangs behind the desk.

The Tidewater Inn is convenient to Baltimore, Washington and Northern Virginia and is best suited for meetings of up to 200 people, according to Joanna Brennick, director of sales. “You can walk to shops and galleries, and there’s a lot for spouses to do.”

The inn’s 8,000 square feet of meeting space includes two ballrooms, a boardroom and an intimate second-floor conference center where small groups (up to 18) can meet privately with their own lounge and business center. Another meeting space for 18, once a shop, opens to the street.

The Gold Room reopened in May, restored to its original grandeur. The 3,000-square-foot ballroom, the inn’s largest space, can accommodate 250. Added to the inn in 1954, it has hosted hundreds of events and notables like Bing Crosby, James Michener and Elizabeth Taylor.

A second ballroom, the Crystal Room, is slightly smaller at 2,300 square feet. A fireplace can warm cool evenings, and in the summer, events can spill onto an adjoining courtyard.

A third of the room can be sectioned off for lunch or a breakout session.

An anteroom, vibrant with green-striped drapery and bright rose sofas, would be perfect for a prebanquet reception or registration for a meeting.

Nearby, a boardroom for 14 with velvety maroon walls, Oriental rugs and imposing leather chairs is named for Eastern Shore artist John Moll, who painted the historical mural on one wall.

John Wilson and Bob Greenlee, the new owners who took over in October, also own the Chesapeake Bay Beach Club, 40 minutes away on Kent Island. At the Tidewater, the focus will be on the function market, both social and corporate.

“The wedding market is there [at the Chesapeake Bay Beach Club]for us right now,” said Thad Hoy, general manager. “But this inn was built for meetings. It has great little meeting spaces, and it’s in a walkable town with many things to do.”

Wine room, lobby library spell comfort
A number of comfortable gathering spaces can help meeting attendees connect.

The spacious Brick Room has tables and soft leather chairs and opens onto a patio with an outdoor fireplace. Lined with wine racks, the Decanter Room can be set for a meeting or dinner for up to 14. The new Lobby Library, fashioned from what was a storefront, is a place for guests to relax, read a newspaper and find out what’s going on in the area.

Sales staff will put together meeting packages that include rooms, meals, meeting space and Internet access.

Such a package drew a United Methodist Church group to the Tidewater recently for a conflict-resolution workshop.

“We were on a tight budget and, after shopping around, we decided on the Tidewater because of an all-inclusive package they offered us,” said Beth Stevens, administrative assistant for the church’s Easton district.

“We were very impressed,” she said. “The food was great, the meeting space was comfortable and the staff was awesome.”

Scavenger hunts get guests acquainted

Easton also offers some unusual options for off-site events and team building.

Dockside Express offers activities like scavenger hunts to get to know the area and amazing races that get teams of people pulling together to meet physical and mental challenges.

Across the street from the inn, the 89-year-old Avalon Theater was known as the “showplace of the Eastern shore.” Renovated in 1989, it offers entertainment that ranges from bluegrass to ballet, and when there’s no show, it can be used for private events like a cabaret or a film showing.

The Historical Society of Talbot County conducts hourlong walking tours of historic homes and will host a wine and cheese reception in its small museum. The society also hosts larger events (for up to 150) in its auditorium on the second floor of an old Methodist church.

Two small Easton inns are bright prospects for off-site receptions or dinners.

The Inn at 202 Dover is housed in a grand 1874 mansion that “Maryland Life” magazine once dubbed “the Buckingham Palace of inns.” Its Peacock Restaurant and Lounge, surrounded by porches, windows and a solarium, would be a beautiful choice for a dinner for up to 60 people or a reception for up to 150.

The feng shui-inspired Bartlett Pear Inn, whose muted walls are splashed with the colorful work of artist Zemma Mastin White, can seat 36 for dinner or host a reception in its courtyard.

Mason’s restaurant, done in dark red walls and mellow wood overlooking a garden, has two rooms on its second floor for private dinners. One seats 25, and the other, 15.

There are two golf courses 10 minutes from the inn, as well as an art museum and options for kayaking and boat rides.

And eating a bowl of Chef Ray’s Snapper Soup is an event in itself.

“It has amazing flavor,” he said, “Twenty-one different flavors, in fact. Different parts of the turtle have different tastes — like beef, like chicken, like pork.”

Long ago, his grandfather taught him how to catch a turtle and make the soup. Now those snappers come cleaned and frozen.

Back to the future? What’s old is new again.