Cape May adds Victorian twist to beach vacation Seaside SOPHISTICATION

June 19, 1994|By Martin W. G. King | Martin W. G. King,Special to The Sun

In last Sunday's Travel section, the phone number of Van Scoy's Restaurant in Cape May, N.J., was incorrect. The correct phone number is (609) 898-9898. Also, Van Scoy's does not charge a corking or setup fee for wine bottles.

The Sun regrets the errors.

There's a mid-Atlantic resort that's as American as apple pie and as sophisticated as New York. And it's got a beach that's as broad as its hospitality is gracious. It is Cape May, N.J., and if you haven't been there yet, you ought to go. This is a beach town that's truly different from the rest.

What sets Cape May apart is its restored Victorian architecture. You haven't seen "gingerbread," turrets, domes, stained glass windows and verandas until you've seen Cape May's. Many of its gaily painted architectural gems are bed and breakfasts, many of them quite elegant -- and expensive, although there are some in all price ranges. There are modern beachfront motels, too, for those who prefer central air-conditioning and cable television to sea breezes and complimentary pre-dinner wine and cheese.


Dining helps set Cape May apart, too. The town's restaurants may range from the simple and tiny to the grand, but most offer cooking that is frequently adventurous. And, if all you want is a hamburger or a pizza, they are available, too.

It isn't only dinner that's outstanding. At Cape May, breakfast is bound to be more of a feast than the typical morning fare of doughnuts and coffee that many motels and a few of the smaller B&Bs serve. At the Abbey, for example, one of Cape May's premier inns, breakfast frequently includes everything from souffles and egg casseroles to freshly baked breads and pastries. At the Chalfonte Hotel, a true 1880s period piece with few modern conveniences, breakfast consists of Southern fare that may include fried fish, eggs and grits. At many B&Bs, you have the choice of eating at a communal table in a grand dining room or taking a tray to a nearby veranda or garden.

After breakfast, you might enjoy the breeze on your veranda or, if you're in a motel, your balcony, and read the morning paper. Or you might rent a bicycle and explore. (Except on summer weekends, light automobile traffic makes bicycling the preferred mode of transportation.) Or, you might just head a block or two to the beach, with your essential beach tag (provided by your lodging place) in hand.

Cape May does offer a bit of honky-tonk -- but not much. Down by the beach, there are several clusters of arcades built on stilts. But they are innocuous, providing just enough diversion for kids and the young-at-heart. The first-run, twin-screen movie theater is down by the beach, too.

Ten years ago, my wife and I spent our honeymoon at the Abbey -- (609) 884-4506 -- a B&B whose rooms are furnished with Victorian antiques (most have baths). The innkeepers take pride in offering tips on restaurants and, as at most B&Bs, menus of the town's dining spots are available for perusal. Rates at the Abbey range from about $70 off-season to more than $150 in-season.

The Mainstay Inn -- (609) 884-8690 -- is one of the town's two most elegant lodgings, sharing that honor with the newly restored Virginia Hotel. The Mainstay is an old yellow mansion with a broad veranda and one of the nicest gardens in town. One of the first restorations, it epitomizes the luxurious comfort and charm that most of the better B&Bs strive for. Rates are similar to those for the less luxurious Abbey.

The much larger Virginia Hotel -- (800) 732-4236 -- offers as much charm and history as the town's others first-class hostelries, but adds more privacy and modern conveniences -- like cable television and central air-conditioning and heating. It also offers an old-fashioned dining room -- the Ebbit Room -- with linen tablecloths and fresh flowers at every table. Its cozy cocktail lounge, something missing at the B&Bs, invites chatter with other guests. It's open year-round, with rates that range from $85 in the winter to as much as $235 in the summer, for the hotel's best room and a private porch. Next door, the Carroll Villa -- (609) 884-9619 -- offers pleasant but less expensive accommodations. Across the street, the pristine white-and-purple Inn at 22 Jackson Street -- (800) 452-8177 -- offers rooms and suites at rates from $95 to $250.

Other noteworthy B&Bs include the very expensive but out-of-the-way Angel of the Sea, (609) 884-3369, and the simple but much better located Captain Mey's Inn, (609) 884-7793. The Delsea, (609) 884-8540, offers no-frills comfort a block from the beach and rates that start at $85 for a small room with twin beds and private bath.

The rambling and very historic Chalfonte Hotel, still being HTC restored, offers expansive porches and public areas, including a first-rate bar and dining room, simple comfort in its guest rooms but no private bath rooms. Guests have to trot to the shared

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