What's New in...
NEWPORT, RHODE ISLAND
by Marlene Fanta Shyer
Unlike many American coastal towns,
glamorous Newport offers more than beaches, boats, and
boutiques, although theyre bountiful here
too. Its an end-of-the-rainbow vacation spot to
which the gold of progress has come, but history has
left its indelible mark on this city of 80,000. Cobblestones,
quaint streets, and restored 18th-century cottages are
juxtaposed with the latest and sleekest hotels and spas.
At a nearby farmers market the rainbow flags fly,
while potential Democratic or Independent candidates
for governor of Rhode Island have all pledged to support
same-sex marriage if elected.
Visitors to this seaside Shangri-La
will appreciate the new eco-friendly hotel 41°
North (351 Thames Street. Tel: 401-846-8018. www.41north.com).
Its all cutting-edge modern sparkle inside, while
the outside has maintained and honored the citys
colonial heritage. The place is wall-to-wall elegant
and the epitome of cool, so even if you dont stay
here, try stopping in for a drink.
Renovated and re-imagined, the opulent
1909 Vanderbilt Hall (41 Mary Street. Tel. 401-846-6200.
is worth a look if only for the new eye-popping amenities
and American Illustration art collection. Check out
also the award-winning Stillwater Spa at the redone,
264-room Hyatt Regency Newport Hotel and Spa
(1 Goat Island. Tel: 401-851-1234. www.newporthyatt.com).
Its part of a stunning, state-of-the-art resort
complex. Theres also a fresh start for The
Hotel Viking (1 Bellevue Avenue. Tel: 401-847-3300.
which mixes Old World charm with todays
21st-century spa facilities. Ever try an infrared sauna?
The hotel is just a short walk from town.
Of course, Newports world-famous
mansions are as popular as ever. In Doris Dukes
former home, youll stand under crystal chandeliers
the size of planets that illuminate Joshua Reynolds
paintings and hang above Portuguese needlepoint carpets.
Thats part of the fun in Newport, struggling with
your inner show-off who wishes to be able to afford
a pair of mother-of-pearl torchieres or just one gilded
swan flower vase, like Doris Dukes. Here it sits
in her summer place on Rhode Islands platinum
coast. Mariners named it to describe the sea at this
inlet, probably never dreaming that one day the richest
woman in the world would live here. Rough Point (630
Bellevue Avenue. Tel: 401-849-7300. www.newportrestoration.org)
is Dukes cottage, the euphemism for
every one of the eleven mega-mansions on view here from
April to November (fewer are open the rest of the year).
Most of these over-the-top homes periodically
feature new exhibits, and if you can, see them all.
Doris Dukes home is the most authentic: every
George VI chair, Italian gilded door, vase, and wine
vessel (early Ming, not just ordinary Ming), was her
selection. Heres the couch on which Elizabeth
Taylor lounged, and the Parquet de Versailles floor
on which Martha Graham taught Doris dance steps. Wouldnt
you also like your own resident tapestry person to care
for three centuries of wall hangings? How about a gardener
to trim the topiary camels in the front yard?
No camels are to be found at the legendary
Breakers (44 Ochre Point Avenue. Tel: 401-847-1000.
Built by Cornelius Vanderbilt, its the largest
of the mansions. Seventy rooms (33 for staff) are spaces
filled with rare marble, alabaster, gilded walls, and
red cut-velvet draperies. The kitchen alone was big
enough to accommodate a normal size house, but the two-and-a-half
story Great Hall is what youre not likely to forget.
William Vanderbilt, Cornelius
younger brother, built The Marble House (596
Bellevue Avenue. Tel: 401-847-1000. www.newportrestoration.org)
as a present for his wife on her 39th birthday. More
than half the eleven million dollars was spent on imported
marble, and the house was later filled with medieval
and Renaissance art treasures. On the property is an
incongruous, charming Chinese tea house, where you can
have a light lunch coupled with a direct ocean view.
On to The Elms (367 Bellevue
Avenue. Tel: 401-847-1000. www.newportmansions.org).
If gardens, sunken or not, are your thing, these are
considered the best. They are neoclassical with a terrace,
fountain, and formal drive. Also of interest here is
the Behind-the-Scenes Tour, which shows how the staff
lived. The have-nots were busily keeping
out of sight as they tended to the haves
in the coal and wine cellars, the boiler, laundry rooms,
and the hallways, carefully hidden from view.
If the mansions inspire you to enhance
your own cottage, head to The Drawing Room (152
Spring Street. Tel: 401-841-5060. www.drawrm.com).
Owned by Federico and John, long-term partners in life
and in retail, this shop rocks. There is a diversity
of treasures new and centuries-old to be found here.
Barbra Streisand stopped in and so did designers Kenneth
Jay Lane and Mary McFadden. You can spend days looking
at everything from a one dollar postcard to a $65,000
Zsolnay piece of pottery. Check out the Lucite mid-century
ice bucket, the silver butt sculpture, or the books
that deal with homoerotic art, all here and much more.
The new owners at Armory Antiques
(365 Thames Street. Tel: 401-848-2398. www.armoryantiquesnewport.com)
have upgraded the quality of the merchandise in this
huge space, a collective of sixty dealers. Need a bronze
mermaid? How about purple glass doorknobs? If youre
really flush, maybe a $25,000 grandfathers clock?
While youre still in a decorating
mood, a local collaborative of artists who work in glass
has a shop filled with hand-blown pieces. New are the
clear seascape bowls and glass-wave paperweights to
sparkle on your tables or serve as gifts. Anchor
Bend Glassworks. (16 Franklin Street. Tel: 401-849-0698.
Should shopping make your feet hurt,
perhaps an up-to-the-minute pair of shoes? Head for
the new Active Sole (16 Bowens Wharf. Tel: 401-619-5709),
gay-owned and packed with sports shoes you wont
see anywhere else. You can give them a workout on the
three-and-a-half-mile-long Cliff Walk. (Tel:401-845-5300.
This somewhat rugged path offers views of the mansions
from the ocean side and was once also reputed to be
a pickup area for sailors at the nearby naval base.
Maybe it still is. Be careful of poison ivy, though.