Channeling John Steinbeck, Baron’s Cove Celebrates Its Anniversary
The East End has earned its reputation as a haven for literary lions. The list is long and peppered with boldfaced names, including Truman Capote, Kurt Vonnegut, E.L. Doctorow, Edward Albee, Joseph Heller and many others. But locals of a certain age will tell you that the author most synonymous with the Hamptons is Sag Harbor’s favorite son, John Steinbeck.
If you’re in Sag and looking to get your Steinbeck on, the innkeepers at Baron’s Cove would like to have a word with you. The picturesque hotel and restaurant on the harbor was one of Steinbeck’s favorite haunts from the late-1950s to the mid-’60s. This Memorial Day, the property is celebrating its 65th anniversary.
The inn has changed ownership more than a time or two since its first owners, Tom and Arthur Baron, swung open its doors on Memorial Day weekend in 1958. The original building has been replaced by condos, but just down the block, the new Baron’s Cove was reborn eight years ago as an upscale yet chilled-out destination resort.
“We built a new building that looks old,” says Curtis Bashaw, co-founder and managing partner of Cape Resorts, which purchased the facility in 2013 and lovingly restored and reopened it in 2015. “Baron’s Cove was a storied place that had fallen on hard times when we met it. It had lost its marina and its restaurant, and it was really a remnant motel. Our new building replaced the original restaurant and anchors the front of the property.”
As was the case with their recent renovation of the Pridwin Hotel on Shelter Island, which reopened last year, Bashaw and his team (which includes his sister, the designer Colleen Bashaw, and the architect Richard Stokes) approached the restoration process with a healthy dose of respect for the things that came before.
“I think John Steinbeck would have liked our renovation,” Bashaw says. “The property we built really harkens back to the original. We didn’t want to be a nightclub pretending to be a hotel. We wanted it to be an authentic space. We tried to give it that nautical-casual, almost tavern-like vibe that the original Baron’s Cove had.”
When you walk the Baron’s Cove grounds, the overarching feeling is that of a carefully curated balancing act between Sag’s past and present. All the amenities of a luxe beach resort are on tap, including the requisite saltwater pool, tennis court, fitness studio and a full slate of spa and concierge services. The immaculate outdoor common areas and the hotel’s 67 rooms, many with harbor views, are light and airy in typical Hamptons summer style.
But walk in the front entrance, particularly after the sun has gone down. Note the dark wood appointments, wingback chairs and old-school nautical artwork on the walls. It could almost be 1962, the year John Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for his “realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humor and keen social perception.”
Belly up to the mellow and inviting bar with the harbor rising up over your shoulder and order a “Jack Rose,” a semi-sweet, yet tart concoction made with Laird’s Applejack, lemon juice and grenadine that’s said to have been Steinbeck’s beverage of choice on his many forays into the original Baron’s Cove.
You won’t find the Jack Rose on the everyday cocktail menu; it’s only offered on special Stein- beck-themed occasions. But if you ask nicely, and maybe slip in a casual reference to East of Eden, the bartender might agree to mix you up a shaker or two.
All things Steinbeck don’t stop at the entrance to Baron’s Cove bar. As part of its 65th anniversary celebration, Cape Resorts supported the efforts of the Sag Harbor Partnership, which on March 30 completed its purchase of Steinbeck’s home and writer’s studio on Sag Harbor Cove. The author lived on the property with his wife Elaine from 1955 until his death in 1968 and wrote both The Winter of our Discontent and Travels with Charley on its grounds.
The Partnership’s current plans are to create a writer’s retreat on the property and allow public vis- its on holiday weekends and select Saturdays in the summer and during the off-season. Cape Resorts is underwriting transportation to and from the house via the Hampton Hopper shuttle service, which will depart from Baron’s Cove several times a day.
In addition to the libations and the transportation, Baron’s Cove management has found yet another way to celebrate Steinbeck’s legacy. What better way to channel the genius of one of the greatest writers of the 20th century than with your favorite canine in tow?
Kudos to the marketing person who came up with the hotel’s rather brilliant Travels With Charley package. Based on the 1962 Steinbeck travelogue that chronicles the author’s trip across the country with his wife and beloved standard poodle, Charley, the TWC getaway includes “deluxe dog-friendly accommodations” at the hotel as well as a dog wel- come kit with poop bags, a Baron’s Cove Frisbee, dog treats and a physical copy of the book itself.
You’ve sipped a Jack Rose at Baron’s Cove bar and made a pilgrimage to Steinbeck’s home; maybe you’ve even recreated the opening scene of Travels With Charley with your own pet. If you’re a Stein- beck completist, your tour has one more stop—and it’s an easy walk from Baron’s Cove.
Head over to the Wharf Shop on Main Street and browse the toys, gifts and collectibles. You might find Nada Barry there. Barry, 92, has owned and operated the shop, a village institution, since she opened it in 1968. If you’re very lucky, she’ll tell you a few stories about her friends John and Elaine Steinbeck.
In 1963, Nada married Bob Barry. Bob and his brother, Frank were the second owners of Baron’s Cove, having acquired the property a few years ear- lier from Tom and Arthur Baron.
“My husband was John Steinbeck’s best friend in Sag Harbor,” Barry says. “He had been in the mili- tary, which I think John respected very much; they both drank, and they had a symbiotic relationship.”
Listening to Nada Barry reminisce about mo- ments in her personal relationship with the Nobel Prize-winning author of The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, East of Eden and many others is an otherworldly experience for a lover of literature and local history.
Some of her stories recount seminal moments in Steinbeck’s life.
“When John got the Nobel Prize, he didn’t want to go and accept it in person,” Barry says. “I was adamant that he had to go. I and other people pushed him on that. I absolutely outright said it to him.”
Other stories are more simple, little more than random snapshots frozen in time.
“John loved my raspberries,” Barry recounts. “So I gave him some plants. At one point, he said to me, ‘Nada, they’re not doing well like yours.’ I said, ‘John, they’re not doing well because you’ve got them planted in the shade by the garage.’”
Perhaps Barry’s most poignant story takes place in 1968, the year Steinbeck passed away.
“I called Elaine and she said she wasn’t doing anything for John’s birthday,” she remembers. “I said, ‘Hey, why don’t you come up for a drink and I’ll bake a cake.’ So they came up to the house, and ac- cording to Elaine, John hadn’t had a birthday cake in ages. So John had a birthday cake that day… and it turned out that was his last birthday.”
The more you speak with Barry, the more you realize that as Baron’s Cove celebrates its 65th an- niversary, the hotel has every right to burnish its legacy as one of Steinbeck’s favorite spots during the last decade of his life.
“John came up to the house sometimes, but our socialization was mostly down at Baron’s Cove,” Barry says. “To me, John was just John… He was basically a shy person. He was an observer.”
This article appeared in Behind The Hedges’ May 2023 issue over Memorial Day weekend. Read the full digital edition online.