It felt like a sigh of relief: an escape from the theme park hoopla of Atlantis resort and the shopping/boozing throngs just down the hill in downtown Nassau. Graycliff: Its very name strikes respect and appreciation among those who know it.
Begun as an utterly gracious historic inn and restaurant, it continues to add superlatives in the wine, cigar, chocolate, coffee, and interactive dining departments.
This is the Bahamas of the wealthy colonial days. Forgotten grace and delicious decay: That succinctly describes the patina of the circa-1776 gem, a National Register of Historic Places landmark. During its lifetime, the property has served as home to pirate Captain John Howard Graysmith, an Anglican Church (which the Spanish destroyed but for spare ruins still noticeable on property), headquarters and garrison for the American Navy after its 1776 rebuilding, one of the earliest plantations worked by freed slaves, an inn, a Civil War mess hall, a private home, and finally in 1973 today’s incarnation.
Graycliff, Grande Dame
The old stone house wears its age like a grande dame – some signs of aging here and there but with a near-haughtiness that stays true to its Old World finesse and faithful guests, even while seeking ways to win over new clientele.
In Your Bucket Because…
- You want to discover the “real” old Nassau.
- You eschew large, gawdy resorts.
- Great for: history-lovers, foodies, romantics.
Rooms each have their own personality, generally heavy on the brocade, with thick tasseled cords, antiques, and period trinkets. In summer, its drafty or flung-open windows can mean a little less cool relief than some might prefer from the season’s humidity; Graycliff isn’t for everyone – especially the budget-minded – and doesn’t try or need to be. Its ultimate strength lies in its meticulous service, which trickles down from personalized, steadfast, hands-on family management.
Dining at Graycliff
Dinner upstairs in the main dining room, the first 5-star restaurant in the Caribbean and AAA 4-diamond-rated, is a throwback to a more genteel age of manners and rituals. You begin this defining Nassau dining experience in the parlor, where stuffed couches, paddle fans, a baby grand, and shelves full of the finest liquors, wines, and liqueurs induce relaxation.
You make your dinner decisions in the parlor and, once you’ve ordered, are seated at a table in one of a half-dozen indoor or outdoor venues, the window-surround Gallery Room being the most popular. Dinner can be a multi-course affair, but doesn’t have to be. The most recent night I dined I noticed some dropped standards on dress and decorum on the part of diners.
Courses came at a leisurely pace; service was over-attentive. Between my house signature salad – greens with a peppercorn vinaigrette—and coconut flake-flavored slices of bread, I slurped a spoonful of raspberry sorbet to cleanse my palate. The next course, coeur de filet quatre poivres, was flawless in degree of doneness and execution of the four-peppercorn and brandy sauce.
One of the white-jacketed members of my service team presented the grand finale – guava soufflé – by topping it tableside with a creamy rum-spiked sauce inspired by the islands’ popular guava duff dessert.
Wine, Cigars & Chocolate
Many ask for a tour of the wine cellar before or after dinner. The world’s third largest with more than 275,000 bottles, it has been winning the Wine Spectator Grand Award since 1988. It hosts wine luncheons with tastings and a tour of the cellar, which served as an American Naval soldier garrison in the 1770s. Guests can arrange a group dinner in the cellar’s private dining room surrounded by Spanish vintages and the light mustiness of the underground.
The macho way to end the experience is with a cigar freshly rolled in the lobby by one of the hotel’s cigar factory rollers. In 1997, Graycliff’s Garzaroli family added the cigar factory and other expansions that have brought it to 20 guest rooms, two pools, a fitness center, and three restaurants.
Its latest enterprise, Graycliff Chocolatier, opened in October 2012. Necessitated by a lack of fine chocolate-makers who could satisfy the Garzaroli family’s desire for a chocolate to pair with tobacco as well as other local fruits and wines, it sells its products along with tours that allow guests to watch and participate in the process.
Two other additions from late 2012 include Giotto Pizzeria and the Beer Garden in Humidor Piazza, home to the property’s Humidor Churrascaria, a Brazilian meat-lovers’ affair.
Future plans call for renovating historic buildings across the street that the family has purchased or leased to create a “heritage village” pedestrian mall, complete with a coffee roasting company, a barista café and bistro, space for local artisans, and a new 75-room hotel.