WOODBURY — After passing through the hands of a diverse cast of owners since its establishment in 1754, Michael Bates-Walsh has breathed new life into the historic inn now known as the 1754 House.
Bates-Walsh, a New England native and acclaimed executive chef, recently acquired the property and reopened the establishment as an inn, restaurant and tavern.
According to Bates-Walsh, the 1754 House is considered by many to be the oldest operating inn in Connecticut. He explained that the property was built “prior to 1736” and opened its doors to the general public as an inn in 1754.
Meanwhile, others consider the Griswold Inn in Essex to be the older of the two establishments. Bates-Walsh explained that there has been some casual debate through the years concerning which inn is older, specifically in terms of which one has continually operated without interruption.
“We recognize that there is a little discussion, but we are not trying to give any misinformation or start arguments,” he said.
Prior to being reopened as the 1754 House, the property was previously known as the Evergreen Inn and the Curtis House. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and a handwritten list of its past owners hangs on one of the walls in the building.
Upon acquiring the inn earlier this year, Bates-Walsh and his team began preparing for its opening by upgrading the inn’s dining space and guest rooms. These renovations were made with a strong focus on maintaining the inn’s history and character.
According to Inn manager Cara McArdle, the restaurant’s dining room was filled to its allowed capacity during Father’s Day weekend. The opening was in line with the second phase of Connecticut’s reopening following the state-mandated shutdown related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think a lot of people are excited to come inside and eat, and have that sense of normalcy,” McArdle said. “However, I still think there is a little hesitancy of people keeping inside.”
In order to accommodate patrons who may not be comfortable dining indoors, the ownership has indefinitely extended its dining options with a large open-air tent on the premises.
“Every day I talk to people who say, ‘This is our first time out since the shutdown happened,’” Bates-Walsh said. “We appreciate being their first time out.”
Bates-Walsh explained that the restaurant is now welcoming guests six days a week for both indoor and outdoor dining. His staff is paying a close eye to the regulations required by local and state authorities.
All spaces within the property are functioning at the 50 percent capacity mark in accordance with public health guidelines. Masks are required on the premises, but may be removed while dining.
“The community has been great, they’re very supportive and understanding of the rules and regulations,” Bates-Walsh said. “It’s really been quite uplifting in this difficult time.”
As the restaurant works to accommodate a steady flow of customers, Bates-Walsh is joined in the kitchen by Chef de Cuisine David DeMarco. The two have worked together for nearly a decade and previously led culinary operations at a hotel in Vermont.
According to Bates-Walsh, diners can expect to see an “ever changing and ever growing” array of options presented on the restaurant’s menu.
“I think of an inn as a place for people to gather, and so we geared the menu around that,” he said. “We have a focus on fresh and seasonal rotations, and we are going to utilize local and regional products too.”
This past weekend, the restaurant featured a “limited edition” flatbread pizza topped with house-made bacon, grilled shrimp and goat cheese spread. During Father’s Day weekend, patrons were spoiled with a 16-ounce grilled ribeye steak served with Brussels sprout potato hash. Regular menu items include pan-seared sea scallops and the signature 1754 burger.
Another signature aspect of the 1754 House is the many tributes to the family members that have made a lasting impact on Bates-Walsh throughout his life.
During a recent interview, Bates-Walsh fondly recalled his childhood memories involving his grandmother. He credited his love for cooking and entertaining to these cherished experiences during his early years, and time spent with loved ones on the terrace of his family’s farmhouse in New Hampshire.
“The hospitality aspect of things I credit to my grandmother, who just had a knack for being welcoming and entertaining, and enjoyed hosting things and making people feel good,” he explained. “Getting the gift of gab and making people feel comfortable; I get a lot of that from her.”
Visitors to the inn’s restaurant may also notice that his mother’s signature dishes are often featured on the menu. One such item is his mother’s Dutch pancake, a special treat often enjoyed during Bates-Walsh’s childhood. In addition, vivid watercolors of New England landscapes painted by his late father Brian Walsh lovingly adorn the walls throughout the building.
In addition to its welcoming tavern, dining areas and many personal touches interspersed throughout the property, the 1754 House also offers lodging in the main house and the Inn’s former carriage house. Reservations for overnight accommodations opened to guests on June 17.
Now that the business is officially up and running, Bates-Walsh was quick to point out the support he has received from DeMarco and McCardle throughout the process of preparing the establishment for its grand opening.
“This is not a one man show,” Bates-Walsh said. “They have worked incredibly hard to make this happen, and have exceeded any expectations I have. They really deserve a lot of credit for how fantastic this place is going to be for our guests.”
The restaurant serves lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday, and meals are also available for take-out. Senior citizens receive a 10 percent discount on lunch served Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.
The 1754 House is located at 506 Main Street South in Woodbury. For more information, visit the inn online at www.1754house.com or call 203-405-3735.