I’ll admit that I was drawn to the Avery Hotel last weekend by the promise of roasted leg of lamb and mushroom saffron risotto prepared by an esteemed chef, more so than the social aspect of the social. As with most journalists, I am inconveniently introverted but rely on dinners such as these to supplement my diet.
Yet as I pulled up to the white picket fence and waited in my car to be fashionably-but-not-noticeably-late, I felt a twinge of childlike intrigue at the prospect of crossing the threshold of the lovingly preserved, white and hunter green lodge in the pines that I had driven by so many times before. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I recalled imagining ghosts gazing out of its thick-paned windows, watching the changing cars with tranquil indifference.
It was even easier to envision now, the windows backlit by a delicate, warm glow while guests lingered outside in the waning autumn light, that the inn’s oldest patrons were observing the sights, sounds and smells of the evening with perhaps a touch of envy.
With that thought, I resolved to join them inside and ascended the creaking steps into the foyer which, to my surprise, was also a bar. Already approaching capacity, there were many kinds of foothill folk packed into this well-used space: a colorful sampling of cowboys, artists, mountain dwellers, city transplants, and an outrageous beard or two.
The guests enjoyed cocktails and hors d’oeuvres while mingling in close quarters. Some sat in comfy old chairs near the stove and others sidled up to the bar, as I did, perhaps feeling overwhelmed by the sudden warmth and immediacy of human interaction. I sheepishly accepted a Chardonnay from the bartender, a kind-looking woman who recognized my discomfort, and I resolved to stick with her for a while.
Her name was Gail, she told me, and she was actually a massage therapist. She was summoning her long-dormant bartending skills to help her friend, Fred, who was the owner of the hotel. I asked if she could introduce me, and she led me through a crowded hallway into the drawing room, where the host himself was inspecting the spread of deviled eggs and cheeses.
In his blazer and black wide-brimmed hat, Fred Baker appeared enveloped by his hotel in more ways than one. When he told me how he had fallen in love with the place five years ago and restored it, painstakingly, to its former glory; when he described his sacred nights spent reading by the fire in this very room and his excitement in preparing every detail for this “inaugural dinner,” I could see that the inn was not just a business venture, but rather an essential piece of Fred.
I asked him if there were any ghosts, and he replied, with a twinkle in his eye, that there were none we had to worry about.
He insisted that I go look around upstairs, and I gladly obliged. At the top of the stairs was a water closet, serving the second-floor rooms. Each room was unique, with an old-world charm of in-room sinks and quilted bedding. If this was where the spirits were hiding, it was an afterlife of clean, pressed sheets and polished mirrors.
To my delight, I discovered an extra room above the stairs that hosted bunk beds and a space for games. As with the rest of the inn, the walls were covered in antique photos, paintings and posters. For the roaming recluse, there were plenty of curious collectables to keep one occupied at the Avery Hotel, and I was grateful for it.
When I returned downstairs, dinner was not yet on, so I escaped through the chatter of the bar to the porch, where I found a pudgy tuxedo cat lounging on a chair. I sat down beside him, enjoying the quiet and the chill in the air. After only a few seconds, however, I was joined by a woman with beautiful silver hair.
“You found the cat,” she said, sitting down across from us in a metal tea chair with a sigh.
“Too much?” I asked.
“I can only keep it up for so long,” she replied knowingly.
We talked about intuition, destiny and dreams until it grew dark and cold and dinner was served.
Inside a heated tent, we helped ourselves to the meat with mint jelly and heaps of risotto. The conversations grew subdued as the food took center stage, living up to all that was promised under the $50 fee.
Toward the end, chef Michael Chipchase emerged with a glass of wine to gauge his success. Fred toasted him with a well-received speech and laid out his hopes for the new Avery Social Club, celebrating a turnout that had already exceeded his expectations.
“My job is over,” Fred addressed the increasingly merry gathering.
“Wait a minute, somebody’s gotta do the dishes!” someone yelled.
As the night settled in deeper, I skipped the dessert of fruit galettes in the parlor and ducked out through the yard with a lighter heart than when I arrived. Just another spirit, in another time, taken by the Avery Hotel.