Sometimes the place where you stay is enough reason to go anywhere.
by Paul Gerald
Eight of us were waiting for dinner at the Sylvia Beach Hotel one
evening, and we were comparing notes on our rooms. That should
be your first sign that the Sylvia Beach is not your typical hotel.
Other signs should be that we could hear the waves crashing against
the sandy beach just outside the windows, somebody said they had
seen gray whales from their room that afternoon, and we were eating
king salmon that had been caught out in the ocean that morning.
If the Sylvia Beach Hotel were in Des Moines, I'd go stay there.
But it's on the Oregon coast, so its location only adds to its
attractiveness. This hotel, you see, isn't just a place to stay.
It's a place to go to, and there's an important difference. The
Sylvia Beach is a testament to a particular lifestyle, one that
most of us need a vacation to indulge in: sleep in a wonderful
room, eat well, walk along the ocean, and most of all, relax with
a good book.
|The Agatha Christie room and its clues.
Consider the conversation we were having about our rooms. The
mother-daughter pair from Portland were in the Edgar Allan Poe
room, up on the third floor. It has a double bed, an ocean view,
a raven over the door, and a guillotine hanging over the bed.
The sisters from California were in the Agatha Christie room,
one of the Classics, with a deck and fireplace and queen bed.
(The other classic is Mark Twain.) They had spent part of the
day finding clues in their room. We were in the Herman Melville,
with the only king-sized bed in the place, paintings of whaling
ships all over the walls, a convex portal mirror that made shaving
interesting, and a sloping floor that gave the impression of being
at sea. Most guests also had a story to share of being visited
by the hotel's cat, Jersey.
If you haven't figured it out yet, the Sylvia Beach is of, by,
and for book-lovers. All of its 20 rooms are named for authors
and decorated in appropriate styles. In the lobby of the third
floor is a library that extends up into the attic. Beanbags and
couches and recliner chairs support, at all times of the day and
night, people with books. At 10 each night they serve hot wine,
and soon after that the furniture supports sleeping people with
books somewhere nearby. This is a vacation, after all.
The hotel is in a building that went up between 1910 and 1913.
At that time it was Oregon's honeymoon capital, the New Cliff
House. Now it's on the National Register of Historic Places. It's
named not for any shorelines around there but for the owner of
Shakespeare and Co. Bookstore in Paris in the 1920s and '30s,
one Sylvia Beach. She was a friend and supporter of many writers
in those days and is credited as being the person most responsible
for the publication of James Joyce's Ulysses.
Back down in the restaurant it's all family-style seating in
the, yes, Tables of Content restaurant we were considering whether
or not to play The Game. Apparently it's something of a tradition:
You tell the others seated at the table three things about yourself,
one of which is a lie, and they try to guess which it is. We hadn't
had enough wine to get into it, unfortunately, so for once I have
no lies to report.
|The Sylvia Beach Hotel in Newport, Oregon.
In some ways, the town of Newport is an afterthought to a stay
at the hotel assuming you're already in Oregon, which everyone
should be once in their lives. But the Oregon coast is a magnificent
thing, and Newport is the biggest city on it. The beaches are
wide, sandy, and white, and state law prohibits building or doing
anything that impedes the progress of pedestrians along them.
Only Ma Nature gets in the way of your walking the coast from
Washington to California: It's tough to get past the cliffs being
bashed by frothy waves, the rivers that support salmon and steelhead
trout, the mountains, and the thick rainforests that come right
down to the surf. Tough to get past them, lovely to be among them.
In Newport you can get a charter fishing boat and go after salmon,
snapper, or halibut. You can also hop on a whale-watching boat
and watch the local gray whales feeding, a sight that is virtually
guaranteed in the summer. There's a fantastic aquarium there which
is currently home to Keiko, the killer whale better known as the
star of the movie Free Willy. This fall Keiko will be flown to
a special pen in Iceland, where he was captured, in an effort
to get him back in touch with his original pod and, yes, free
We did some of that tourist stuff, but most of my memories are
of the Sylvia Beach. Late at night, after we had sampled the wine
in the library and been soothed by the wave-sound, I retired with
one of the six copies of Moby Dick in our room. You can't beat
the opening line to that one: Call me Ishmael. The first thing
Ishmael did, in the 20 pages I read before drifting off, was check
into a sullen hotel and nearly get killed by his roommate. I was
sipping hot wine in a king-sized bed with non-lethal company.
Ishmael was headed for a higher adventure than I was, but I was
perfectly happy with my surroundings.
Rates for the Sylvia Beach Hotel run from $63 to $152. For more
information, call 541-265-5428. For travel to Newport, Oregon,