The Wauwinet, that oasis of calm at the Head of the Harbor, was awarded Five Diamonds by AAA this year, making it the only resort and restaurant on Nantucket to receive the accolade.
First opened in 1875 as The Wauwinet House, named after a Wampanoag chief who ruled over the eastern edge of the island, guests accessed the inn via the catboat Lillian, which sailed up-harbor and delivered guests on the sandy beach to enjoy shore dinners and simple accommodations. The inn underwent several renovations over the ensuing decades and was ultimately bought by the Backus family, who owned and operated it for close to 100 years.
In 1986 it was purchased by summer residents Jill and Steve Karp, who undertook an extensive renovation of the property, turning it into the world-class resort it is today. The Wauwinet and TOPPER’S restaurant, named after the Karps’ dog, reopened in 1988 and the property has been the gold standard for luxury accommodations and fine dining on the island ever since.
For more than 80 years, AAA has enlisted professional inspectors to conduct anonymous, in-person property assessments. It is the only rating system using comprehensive, on-site professional hotel and restaurant evaluations. Restaurants at the Five Diamond level must provide a highly-personalized and unparalleled culinary experience. Chefs are expected to use the freshest ingredients available, meticulous techniques and impeccable artistry in presenting leading-edge creations.
That’s the official line, but being the local experts, we thought we’d do our own research to see what makes this place so special.
Location, Location, Location: Tucked away in the northeast corner of the island at the Head of the Harbor between the quiet waters of the harbor and the rough and tumble deep blue Atlantic, The Wauwinet offers an oasis of calm. Its unique location provides access to a deep connection with nature, just a Jeep ride across the Galls to Great Point and the nature preserve owned by The Trustees. Sit on the green lawn in one of the white wicker lounges and gaze across the serene waters while you read a book and sip a cool drink. Or grab a beach towel and hike across the dunes on the other side of the peninsula and watch the (sometimes) wild Atlantic, far away from the crowded beaches elsewhere on the island.
Service: The small room count – 26 in the main inn of the Wauwinet, plus a three-bedroom cottage – coupled with the long-term staff assure the service at this resort is unparalleled with understated elegance. Manager Eric Landt has been at The Wauwinet for 16 years. Chef Kyle Zachary has been with the property for nine years, while food and beverage director Jen Hudson has been with The Wauwinet for eight years. All oversee continuous training in every department. The Wauwinet follows the Forbes standards for training, which focus on pleasing people. Landt says the weekly training keeps the entire staff on its toes, with the goal to make guests happy enough that they plan to return and recommend the property to friends.
At The Wauwinet there is no resort fee. Everything is included in the price of the room, from bikes to stand-up paddleboards, boat trips across the harbor to town, courtesy-van service, Wi-Fi and turn-down service. If guests are watching a movie, they can call down for popcorn.
Food and Wine: Zachary oversees a kitchen that produces casual but elegant meals at breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as all-day dining on the deck, overlooking the blue waters of the harbor. Zachary sources locally, using oysters harvested from the water within sight of the hotel. The seafood chowder is light and delicious with
local lobster, mussels, fish and clams. The burger is handmade from Wagyu beef. But it is at dinner where the highest standards are achieved and TOPPER’S Zagat score as one of the highestrated restaurants in New England is truly evident. Zachary creates beautiful, flavorful composed dishes that are elegant and delicious. There is no better tableside service.
TOPPER’S is known for its 1,450-bottle wine list, featuring thoughtfully-chosen selections from around the world. Wine director Jason Irving comes from the Boston area where he has been affiliated with some of the top restaurants in the city.
Rooms are beautifully decorated with Pratesi linens, Bose radios with iPhone chargers and views of either the gardens or Nantucket Harbor. A library on the first floor has a fireplace for chilly nights and books and movies for guests to borrow.
The Wauwinet and TOPPER’s are open from mid-April in time for the Daffodil Festival through late October. For more information visit www.wauwinet.com