Bringing the “Heart” Back to The White Hart

There has been so much publicity and excitement about The White Hart opening again this Fall in Salisbury, Connecticut!   Of course, we knew there would be lots of articles (so many already) on its opening, but Auntie M and I decided we wanted to visit before they officially opened.  You know how we love “before and after” stories!  And this one is sort of a love story too.

The White Hart  Postcard from the 1960's

The White Hart
Postcard from the 1960’s

For me, The White Hart has been a part of my memories since I was in my early 20’s. Exploring beyond the family boundaries of Pine Plains and Millerton, I ventured along Route 44 into Connecticut.  There was the beautiful White Hart!  She stood at the gateway to the Berkshires — the intersection of Routes 44 and Route 41 (Under Mountain Road) which is one of the most scenic roads (in my top 10 list) in the country!  After that, it became my Fall tradition to take that ride through Salisbury to Under Mountain Road and meander into the Berkshires with the kids, with the dogs, and alone…it offered me solace every autumn. That beautiful drive and stopping for some comfort food with friends or family at The White Hart was truly a cherished annual rite of passage to the season.

white-hart-after-2010-renovation

White Hart after its 2010 renovation

After a much-talked-about $5 million renovation and according to some, a questionable upscaled re-envisioning of the White Hart in 2010, it suddenly closed. The New York Times had this to say at the time:

“While the outside world changed, the inn sat primly at the town green, a faded painting by the entrance in the Olde English style featuring a captured white hart, the archaic word for a mature stag.  It’s where residents, whether local E.M.T.’s or Wall Street weekenders, came for July beers and February martinis in front of the fireplace and where prep school parents from the Hotchkiss and the Salisbury Schools booked rooms. It was the site of town Christmas tree lightings, chili cook-offs and ice sculptures…And then, poof, just five months after a $5 million renovation, the 15-room inn was closed and put up for sale…People are still chattering and scratching their heads.” (Nov. 2010)

And it remained “For Sale” for almost 4 years.

white-hart-plaque

Because my daughter and her family now live on Under Mountain Road, over the last few years I’ve been making that journey quite often and every time I passed The White Hart, there was a pang of sadness to see it closed and empty and “unloved”.   I realized I had had a real relationship with this place and, like any good friend, I missed her. But then came the news that The White Hart had finally SOLD.  AND…the even better news that the group of investors (Deer Friends, LLC) who bought it have ties to the area — and they know exactly what they’re doing.  (Read more about them here).   Conley Rollins, of  the NYC Economic Development Corporation, who pulled the investors together, has said in other news sources that the group came together with a “shared interest in making the White Hart a vital part of the community once again”.

chef-annie-wayte-at-work-in-the-kitchen

Chef Annie Wayte, at work in the kitchen, took time to say hello. She’s got a wonderful, open energy.  I can hardly wait to taste her food!

The team that they have put together to reopen this historic, beloved landmark is incredible.  British chef (and one of the investors) Annie Wayte; General Manager, Christopher Brooks (was the Relais & Châteaux Grand Chef at Blantyre in Lenox, MA); and Dan Winkley, from the upscale Mayflower Inn in Washington, CT, is the new Hotel Manager.

I just HAD to see,  in person, what was happening at The White Hart.  I contacted Conley (whose mother-in-law, Conley told me, is a Hammertown customer!) and he agreed to meet with Auntie M, Wanda Furman and me. Even though he was (as you might imagine) VERY busy, he took the time to show us the progress, the plans, the changes…we even got to meet the star chef Annie Wayte.

A big proponent of using fresh, seasonal ingredients (she wrote a book about it “Keep It Seasonal”) Annie was in the kitchen already working on recipes for the new menu which will include favorite dishes from her other restaurants (Nicole’s in London and Notting Hill Café 202 in NYC) and new ones for the White Hart that will “embrace the culture of sharing a meal with friends and family”.   Sounds perfect!

I had hoped to feel that special “Love Where You Live” spirit–the heart and soul of a home or place–when we visited and I can happily report that even in this unfinished phase, the new White Hart has it in spades.

Both Auntie M’s and my first thought was “they’re bringing the heart back…to The White Hart!”  What a wonderful thing to see and if all goes according to plan, we’ll be returning for their soft-opening in the Tap Room on Labor Day Weekend.  We’ll keep you all posted on that.

So now when I drive by The White Hart on my way to visit my daughter and my granddaughters, I no longer feel sad.  I feel hopeful.  Watching my “old friend” coming back to life…bringing with her a palpable excitement and the potential to revitalize not only a community but an entire region!

[click photos below to enlarge]

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