You had to look closely last week to see the “Now Open” sign that quietly appeared in front of the Peacock Inn on Bayard Lane in Princeton. It was just an understated whisper, but it did not go unnoticed by the inn’s neighbors and fans who have been eagerly waiting — for four years — for this renovation to be complete.
Well, the wait is partly over. The long-awaited restaurant is not open yet (though word has it they are in conversations with a very prominent chef), and chef and original partner Bobby Trigg (of the Ferry House on Witherspoon Street and BT Bistro on Route 1) has withdrawn from the venture. But the exquisite, 16-room hotel is open, as is the expanded bar — it opens at 5 p.m. daily and that’s where we met Phil Mercado, the general manager and a veteran of the hospitality industry, who took us on a tour.
The hotel (no longer a bed & breakfast as some used to think of the old Peacock Inn) balances an old world historic charm — lush crown molding as smooth and rich as fondant icing; Italian porcelain tile floors; framed portions of the inn’s old speakeasy walls with their original painted whimsical characters on them, which now hang in the restaurant; a suite of 24 original Ben Shahn lithographs from the private collection of the inn’s owners, Barry and Elaine Sussman; plantation shutters in the 16 guest rooms; a Rolls Royce in the driveway (available for rented tours of Princeton) — with 21st century technology — iPod docks; two-line phones; flat-screen TVs; double-sided non-innerspring, antimicrobial Morpheus mattresses from Hollandia International (one side firm, the other soft), which retail for $2,600 in queen (yes, they can be purchased through the inn); heated bathroom floors, and multi-jet showers in the guest rooms; and black granite, high-tech lighting (care of TJ Tindall), and a Denon Italian music system (the only one of its kind in the United States) in the bar. The renovation is the work of KSS Architects on Witherspoon Street and decorator Annette Palmieri.
The Peacock Inn already has another distinctive feather in its cap: it is the only New Jersey hotel to become a member of the elite Small Luxury Hotels of the World group, joining other members like the Coco Palm on the private island of Bodu Hithi in the Maldives islands and the Chateau d’Esclimont, halfway between Paris and Versailles; and the Gaia Hotel and Reserve.
Sussman, who also manages other hotel properties, and former partner Trigg bought the inn in 2006. Trigg, a Princeton native and Hun School graduate, Class of 1972, had a soft spot for the inn, where he had his first paying job as a chef in the early 1990s before opening the Ferry House. Sussman was a frequent diner at the Ferry House and even recommended Trigg to cater a 300-person dinner at the War Memorial when President Clinton came to speak in 2003. Last year Sussman and Trigg partnered to open BT Bistro (also decorated by Palmieri). Sussman says Trigg stepped away from the partnership about a month ago. He did not cite details but only said Trigg “is no longer involved.”
According to a story in Bucks County Life last November, the renovation mushroomed in scope when “every relatively insignificant change seemed to unmask a greater structural issue.” For example, digging out the floor of the former speakeasy in the basement to create a private dining room with a seven-foot ceiling revealed that the 1775 building had no foundation — it had been moved to its present location from the Princeton campus in 1890.
So who was there at 9 p.m. on Friday night? The handful of happy campers at the bar included the Sussmans; Lynne Cannon, president of Princeton Management Development Institute, an HR consulting firm, and board member of Mercer County College and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton; and a young couple from Kingston — she works for the Princeton office of the law firm of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney at 700 Alexander Park, and he is a lawyer with the U.S. Attorneys Office in Newark. We just missed Mimi Omiecinski by minutes, who already has made the Peacock bar a stop on Princeton Tour Company’s “pub crawl.”
John Cross, the bartender, is the former owner of the Cafe at Encore Bookstore in Princeton Shopping Center. While the Peacock’s kitchen won’t be open for another couple of months, cold plates of cheese and prosciutto or cheese and fruit are available at the bar for $9.
The now-ubiquitous huge flat-screen TV is situated above the back of the bar (though, happily, its volume is turned off), and two upholstered banquettes off to the side afford a place for some privacy. Mercado says valet parking (they have made arrangements with the nearby YWCA) will soon be available.
So if you just want a drink, John’s got the wine list and the Absolut ready.
Peacock Inn, 20 Bayard Lane, 609-924-1707. www.slh.com/peacockinn Bar open only: 5 p.m. daily.