What’s Going On: Lighthouse Inn taking it one step at a time
It’s been a helluva first year back for the famed Lighthouse Inn at Guthrie Place in New London.
The beautifully restored inn unofficially opened last April as a group of neighbors was invited to brunch, but a month later, as the finishing touches to the restoration were being completed and shortly after its tavern reopened, disaster struck. A fire set off by workmen installing a sign caused significant damage in the upstairs area of the inn, where its rooms are located, causing the owners to shut it down once more.
Lighthouse Inn came back to life again last June, but dining options initially were limited to evening hours in the tavern as owners worked to assemble a reliable staff. For the past three months, however, the inn has been open for lunch, and managing partner Alwyn Christy six months ago hired Dave Bureau, former chef at Chaplin & Friends bistro on Bank Street, to add his professional touch to the menu offerings.
“The food is very consistent now,” Christy said. “He understands the area better.”
“It was a great opportunity to come to New London,” said Bureau, a city resident who more recently had been working in the New Haven area. “We all have a vision of getting this place to where it needs to be.”
Bureau said he recently came across some old Lighthouse Inn menus and hopes to add in a few of the classic items longtime customers had come to expect. This includes the famed Delmonico potatoes the inn was once known for, though during a trial phase to get the recipe right Bureau is calling them “Tavern potatoes.”
Bureau said he is also trying to mix in some old favorites, such as stuffed flounder, from his days working with the late New London restaurateur Jack Chaplin as he tries to update the inn’s menu.
“I wanted to give my respects to Jack,” he said. “I wish Jack were here to see this.”
“A lot of people don’t know we’re open,” Christy said, surveying an empty dining room last week shortly before lunchtime. “But now that the weather is good, we should see an uptick in people.”
Christy said Lighthouse Inn’s traditional wedding business is already starting to pick up, featuring buffet offerings.
The inn’s kitchen is open every day but Monday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., though those hours could change up as the summer progresses. And Bureau said he’s always happy to accommodate late arrivals or whip up something on the spot when someone tells him to surprise them.
“You want to eat, we’re cooking,” he said.
Bureau and Christy enjoy the fact that a lot of people from the neighborhood still walk on over to Lighthouse Inn for a quick meal.
“A lot of older people who used to come here are coming back,” Christy said.
Bureau said he’s been concentrating on simple foods to start with as he assembles a consistent crew in the kitchen.
“We just try to keep it creative,” he said, saying he has been concentrating on fresh seafood from local fishing ships. “We’re always trying to do something no one else is doing around here.”
“We’re catering to everybody’s price point,” Christy said. “We also want people to know they don’t have to come here for a special occasion.”
He added that the inn is hoping to open up for breakfast and brunch on Saturday and Sunday in the summer.
Meanwhile, Christy continues work to bring back the inn portion of the business, having just installed new windows last week. He estimates it will be at least six months before the upstairs is ready to accommodate guests, and said the Carriage House out back will be completed sometime after work on the main building is complete.
It took three years to bring the Lighthouse Inn back to its old grandeur after a decade of neglect, and Christy is clearly taking his time to do everything right.
“It would have been easier to build something new,” he admitted.
But the results are spectacular. And he certainly deserves our respect and support for doing such a beautiful job, right down to the plaster walls, gorgeous newel posts and lovely stained glass.
“We just keep it simple, nothing crazy,” he said. “That’s the thing that keeps us going, people coming in to tell their stories about having their wedding or their prom here. You don’t get that anywhere.”
Lee Howard is The Day’s business editor. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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