History in the remaking

Icons of New Hope are getting a make over.

Mary Anne and I remember the “old New Hope” of the 1970s. Our frequent breakfast hangouts included Mother’s and Karla’s where owner Rolf would hoist our toddler daughter Genevieve and swirl her around the restaurant, showing her off to customers. The Canal House and Chez Odette’s were favorites for dinner or just hanging at either’s piano bar. Life was romantic in New Hope and at a slower pace.

The new River House at Odette’s will become the first luxury hotel in New Hope when it opens in the spring of 2020.

Time waits for no one however. Such is the case on the lower side of New Hope where history is going up, buffing up or relocating in the 297-year-old tourist village. Recently I set off to inspect what was going on. Temperature outside 30 degrees. Icy wind hitting 10 mph on the spike of land between the Delaware River and Delaware Canal. Perfect for a brisk walk on the canal towpath to where I could view and photograph the future.

Odette Myrtle in her early years.
Odette Myrtle serving movie star Maurice Chevalier in billboard memorializing Odette’s restaurant on the Delaware Canal.

My immediate goal was to size up the River House at Odette’s, a 34-room hotel at the town’s eastern gateway on River Road. Exterior walls have gone up under four stories of scaffolding. Workers push for completion of the $35 million project this spring. Billed as New Hope’s first luxury hotel, it targets business travelers and in-house wedding parties with seating for 200 guests. Menus will feature regional farm-to-table cuisine as well as local wines, beers and spirits. The interior motif will be “edgy” modern with floor-to-ceiling glass sliding doors to a veranda and a members-only rooftop bar overlooking river rapids.

The hotel sits on the site of Chez Odette, owned for two decades by Odette Myrtil, a French vaudeville, Broadway and Hollywood star of the early to mid-20th century. Her restaurant and cabaret in the 1960s and ’70s was immensely popular. As often as possible, she joined customers in her lively cabaret and piano bar where she sang and played her vintage French Boirin violin.

The restaurant under a new owner closed because of damaging river flooding and was tinged by tragedy with the drowning death in 1983 of NBC news anchor Jessica Savitch and Martin Fischbein, vice president of the New York Post. Both had just left the restaurant when he accidentally backed into the canal where his car overturned. (Mary Anne and I met Savitch while we covered the Democratic National Convention in 1975.)

To make room for the new hotel, decaying Chez Odette was slated for demolition. A spirited campaign by preservationists succeeded in sparing the building constructed eight years after George Washington made his famous crossing of the Delaware. Known then as the River House, it was popular with canal and river boatmen throughout the 19th century. To save it in 2018, the state took ownership and moved the entire two-story, fieldstone structure about 2 blocks up River Road. Since then, workers have repointed the exterior, returning it to how it looked in the 1950s. But its future is a matter of debate. The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources suggests an interpretative education center devoted to Chez Odette and canal history. Some argue the building has lost historical significance in being moved away from the canal and the river to where it’s now hemmed in by a busy intersection and a parking lot. However, there’s some thought it will enhance what’s going on at the original Locktender’s House on a low bluff above Chez Odette. It’s there canal history is emphasized on the edge of a former canal boat storage and repair basin. Enthusiasts dream of mule-towed boat rides being resumed through New Hope from the basin.

The Mansion Inn is undergoing renovations and expansion in New Hope.
Expansion is underway at the circa-1726 Logan Inn in New Hope.

Toward the center of town on Main Street, the Logan Inn and Mansion Inn are undergoing dramatic change. Built in 1727, the Logan advertises itself as the oldest continuously operating inn in Bucks County. Owners Jeanne and Frank Cretella of Landmark Hospitality are embarked on a major expansion, doubling its overnight occupancy and expanding special event space. The inn will continue to feature its historic tavern where Benedict Arnold and George Washington once enjoyed a brew. The hotel’s large indoor-outdoor restaurant serves hand-crafted American cuisine where seafood and steaks dominate the menu.

The Cretellas also own the Mansion Inn two doors up from the Logan. That too is undergoing a Renaissance. Besides adding more overnight lodging, plans are underway to move a heavy iron fence back from the Main Street sidewalk and create more outside dining at the white Victorian Second French Empire manor house built in 1865, the year the American Civil War ended. A new garden pavilion and a menu devoted to Asian fusion cuisine will further define Mansion Inn. The owners of the Logan and Mansion anticipate 100-plus rooms for overnight guests.

By this spring, all of these changes will begin a new chapter in New Hope’s history. See you there.

Additional information can be obtained for the Riverhouse on the web at [email protected]; for the Logan Inn at https://loganinn.com/; and for the Mansion Inn at https://loganinn.com/themansion/