Past and future perfect

Elegant Stonehenge moves forward by casting a backward glance

Photographs by Sinéad Deane

A charm-filled country retreat tucked into the backroads of Ridgefield, Stonehenge Restaurant & Inn dates from the 1940s.

So very much has changed since then – yet much has stayed the same.

And it’s the balancing of those two elements that propels Stonehenge ever forward without leaving its storied past behind.

It’s all accomplished under the gracious stewardship of Douglas Seville, who has owned the 10-acre destination since 1972.

Sure, there may no longer be staffers dressed in tuxedos and today’s female guests can wear pants in the dining room, but the genteel sensibility of an earlier era remains.

“I hate to use the word ‘elegant’ anymore,” Seville says.

But it is, it must be said, appropriate.

It’s evident in the well-appointed dining room with oversize picture windows that look out over the pond and in the club room that offers a cozy place for cocktails and more casual fare. It’s also exemplified by the Old World charm of muted-plaid wingback chairs in the parlor or a four-poster bed in an understated guest room.

Liz Taylor slept here

Coming off nearly a decade as the food-and-beverage manager of The Plaza Hotel in Manhattan, Seville bought Stonehenge perhaps at the height of its fame.

Though the main building dates from the early 19th century, it was opened as a restaurant and inn in the late 1940s by Victor Gilbert. Seville says Gilbert returned to America after serving in the military in England and not only named his new venture after the landmark he was stationed near but furthered the theme with rooms and suites named after places ranging from Oxford to Windsor, Cambridge to York.

During those early years, a radio show, Seville says, was broadcast from Stonehenge and drew guests such as “Martha Raye and that crowd, John Wayne and the Rat Pack.”

Over time, Stonehenge’s links with the entertainment industry grew, as did its culinary reputation. Starting in the mid-1960s, Stonehenge garnered great acclaim thanks to pioneering Swiss-born chef-owner Albert Stockli, who founded The Four Seasons in New York before his retreat to the Connecticut countryside.

Seville took over after Stockli’s death, tapping into a rich history of attracting a discerning clientele.

“We do a lot of celebrities, sports people,” Seville says. “Redford, Newman, De Niro… they’ve all been here many times.”

While Seville speaks of hosting everyone from Catherine Deneuve to Barbra Streisand, one name from Stonehenge’s past never fails to captivate.

“Elizabeth Taylor honeymooned here,” he says, later pointing out her secluded cottage.

Today, Stonehenge also hosts less-famous VIPs, those most-welcome patrons who come to celebrate weddings and birthdays, anniversaries and bar and bat mitzvahs.

Love at first bite

A revamp of the dining room and expansion of the terrace a few years ago (which followed a major rebuilding after a 1988 fire) brought a fresh approach, Seville says.

The room, he says, was “very, very formal, like going to Brussels.”

Today, it’s light and airy while still carrying that charming hint of the past. Corner cabinets neatly display vintage china with an air of quiet grandeur further echoed by glistening glass, glimmering silver and fresh flowers throughout the space.

“We’re basically what we call classical, a European type of cuisine,” Seville says of the menu offered by chef Bruno Crosnier, a native of the Loire Valley. “People expect more choices. That’s part of the change. A little of this, a little of that.”

Dinner entrées range from seared sea scallops served with basmati rice with tomato fennel compote to veal scaloppini Savoyard accompanied by whipped potatoes with port wine sauce to chicken breast filled with mushrooms and served with goat cheese and tarragon sauce.

And Stonehenge is clearly hitting the mark: Seville has been awarded the AAA Four Diamond Award for “providing exceptional cuisine, excellent service and an elegant dining atmosphere” for 22 years in a row.

A far, far better rest

For those who want to extend their stay, Stonehenge offers six guest rooms in the main building, six in the cottages and four suites in the guesthouse.

Every room has a different theme or decor,” Seville says.

A golf-accented room, for example, hosts a bronze statue of a player.

“That’s when I was a famous golfer,” Seville says in jest.

There is nothing outdated, Seville says of the amenities, with all rooms having “24-hour phone service, WiFi, cable TV, of course… all the basic stuff.” Luxury linens and pampering bath products further liken a stay to that of a plush bed-and-breakfast.

“For some reason we get a lot of people from England, France, Italy,” Seville notes.

But just as often, guests are simply those looking for a restful getaway close to home.

“They are five minutes from their kids,” he says of the local clientele. “They don’t have to go to Vermont to get the feel.”

Throughout, Seville notes, changes have been gradually introduced, seamless updates that almost fail to register with the more infrequent visitors.

“They say ‘Oh, it hasn’t changed.’ They don’t see it.”

And it also doesn’t hurt, he adds with a laugh, to have one other constant on hand.

“Most people that come in now, they’re mostly just surprised that I’m still here.”

For more on Stonehenge Restaurant & Inn, at 35 Stonehenge Road in Ridgefield, call (203) 438-6511 or visit stonehengeinn-ct.com.

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