On a recent Wednesday night, Ramblin’ Dan Stevens and the Mellow Men launched into their first set, filling the Old Lyme Inn’s patio with song. Tapping out a beat on the drums, Ken Kitchings, the Inn’s co-owner, watched as guests reclined on Adirondack chairs, couples relaxed over cocktails and families enjoyed dinner beneath the towering maple. “When you’re playing, you see everything that’s going on in the crowd,” says Kitchings.
That Ken is just as often found behind the drums as welcoming guests to the inn should come as no surprise: A longtime jazz aficionado and musician, Ken is also an ardent supporter of the local arts community and, for a time, produced concerts at the Garde Arts Center in New London. When Ken and his wife, Chris, owner of The Bowerbird gift shop, bought the Inn in 2011, they viewed it as an opportunity to breathe new life into an aging local landmark. That it was also the ideal location to open a jazz club—a longtime dream of Ken’s—didn’t hurt, either. “Every time we got off the ramp at Exit 70, we would note that the building was looking unloved and what a great spot it would be for a jazz club,” says Chris.
The Kitchings have worked tirelessly to transform the Inn from a special-occasions-only destination to an inviting neighborhood haunt that’s just as well suited to date-night drinks and a jazz concert as it is to weeknight family dinners. “The Old Lyme Inn is a value to the community,” says Chris. “In the past, it was very formal. We want to be an all-inclusive community destination.”
Truly, the Inn has something for everyone. During the summer and early fall, the brick patio is a delightful spot to dine while enjoying live music. The restaurant and bar are airy and welcoming, combining classic details—an entryway mural depicting Lyme Street painted by local artist Gigi Liverant in 1976, a handsome mahogany bar salvaged from a pub in Pennsylvania—with more modern elements, including reclaimed oak floors and bright, light walls.
That classic-meets-modern approach influences the cuisine, too. Chef Lou-Anne Langlois, a veteran of the Connecticut shoreline dining scene, has spent the better part of a year revamping the lunch and dinner menus, putting a contemporary, feminine spin on traditional dishes while emphasizing fresh, locally sourced ingredients. “She’s been taking the menu and making it special,” says Ken. “When people come in, they get a sense of the passion she puts into her cuisine.”
For her heirloom tomato toast, Langlois tops a house-made bâtard with whipped feta and sweet basil pesto. Come fall, Langlois will switch it up, topping the toast with seasonal root vegetables, pumpkin or apples. Braised short ribs are a perennial customer favorite, in the summer paired with a cilantro and jalapeno polenta, red peppers and broccoli rabe; in the fall, Langlois will pair them with roasted garlic mashed potatoes, heirloom carrots and fennel with a red wine demi-glace. Lobster scampi, fried oysters, and a seared scallop pasta pay tribute to the abundance of stellar local seafood, though Langlois isn’t one to shy away from more exotic fare, either, including fresh Mahi and prosciutto-wrapped monkfish. “I like to get people out of their comfort zone with seafood,” she says.
A chef’s select menu available Tuesday through Thursday features lighter, more casual fare for $20 or less. “It’s geared to people who want to come in and get a really good burger and listen to music,” says Langlois. The pared-down menu changes weekly and is comprised of such knife-and-fork-optional dishes as fish tacos, clam fritters, lobster quesadillas and crabcake burgers.
There’s more on the menu for music lovers at The Side Door, one of the premiere jazz clubs in the country. On weekends, concertgoers pack the intimate club to catch some of the genre’s top touring musicians, with recent headliners including Freddy Cole (Nat “King” Cole’s younger brother) and Grammy Award-winning vocalist Catherine Russell. In keeping with the Inn’s community spirit, home-grown talent takes over The Side Door stage every Thursday night, with local musicians and youth groups performing. “It’s casual, fun and affordable,” says Ken.
With 13 well-appointed guest rooms, guests can wine, dine, catch a show and stay the night, a popular option with many concertgoers. That one-stop-shop philosophy should also appeal to organizations looking to host midweek conferences and meetings in a relaxed, stylish atmosphere. The inn’s cozy Peterson Room, a private meeting space outfitted with a flat-screen Apple TV and state-of-the-art audio-and-visual capabilities, can accommodate groups of 18 to 20. “We’re located smackdab in the middle of the Connecticut shoreline,” says Ken. “You can bring a team from different points in New England and have a nice getaway for your meetings. Companies like it because we’re unique, small, kind of old, but new.”
What’s old is new again at the Old Lyme Inn. Gone is the stiff, formal guesthouse and restaurant. In its place is an unpretentious, modern destination for dinner, drinks, an overnight stay and great live music.
The Old Lyme Inn is located at 85 Lyme St., Old Lyme. The restaurant/bar is open Tuesday through Saturday. Lunch is served from 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; dinner is from 5-9 p.m. and Sunday breakfast and brunch are served from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. For more information, call 860-434-2600; to see the seasonal menus and make a reservation online, visit oldlymeinn.com.