Monday, November 23, 2009

This is a week marked with family memories, recollections of gatherings, verbal history passing from one generation to the next, and sharing of joy and warmth. For Pete and for me, Thanksgiving Day has become a week-long celebration of our desire to join our Frenchtown community in celebration of a rebirth of this beautiful Delaware River town.

If you stroll down the street, you'll find activity, you'll find energy--from the shop owners to the customers. What a diffference a year makes! Almost every store front has a business that is viable, that is anxious to participate in Frenchtown's growth, and that contributes to the economic vitality of this great nation. Somehow, Pete and I got on this express train, and we're staying on to the last stop!

I just have to brag...please forgive me...but I have to share with you the article that Chris Poh, editor of American Public House Review, has written about our establishment. Here is the pasted copy of the page, that includes a picture of an old sketch that even has the name misspelled of "Restaurant," but that incorporated the hand-drawn element that pre-dated computers. His review is so generous and truly conveys what Pete and I try to share everyday: You are welcome here...truly welcome. We want to greet everyone, meet everyone, make sure everything surpasses your expectations, and above all else, hopefully make you feel welcome and have the opportunity to see you time and again. The National Hotel has reopened for YOU, not for us, but for you. This establishment has so much history that has been here for generations prior to our arrival, that all we can do is try to be hosts who can carry forward the tradition to the next level, and try to make it a place you frequent often.

Don't come just on the "special" occasions; we want to see you time and again, because very selfishly, Pete and I truly enjoy meeting all of our old and new friends who knock on our door. Our daughters are learning valuable lessons every day, and given how splintered our lives have become, isn't it nice to have one place where we can feel like it's OK to let our guard down and share with those around us?

Friday, November 20, 2009


OK, so it's not the newspaper reviews to which I refer...rather, it's the feedback we got last night from our new menu insert that featured our specials of the day. Our executive chef, Ron Rittenhouse, created a "specials" menu that featured deliciously balanced items that excited your palate and left you feeling incredibly satisfied and eager to try the next item on the menu.

Guest after guest who left last night, complemented us on the selection of items, the delicate treatment of the ingredients and the tasteful balance of the choices featured. Wow! Even our two daughters couldn't get enough of the Oyster Mushroom Calamari with a sweet soy wasabi sauce...and our oldest, who is just "salad-crazy," ordered two plates of the Lyonaisse Salad, that featured lola rosa frisée, pancetta crisps and a poached egg, that when mixed, tossed and blended, created an incredible culinary experience.

Anyway, that was just the beginning, because the experience upstairs flowed into the Rat and just kept getting better and better. More over the weekend, I'm sure. Let us know if you had a chance to try any of the dishes on the "specials" menu and if you'd like to see more. We really appreciate all of your feedback and commentary--it's very, very helpful.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


A couple of nights ago, Pete told me that we had the distinct pleasure of being joined by a Frenchtown resident who pulled him aside to share a little bit of inter-generational history: One of the photos we have in our upstairs Bar, features either his grandfather or his granduncle. There are two men standing in front of a Frenchtown shop that has the sign "Variety Store" and they are standing next to a smaller sign that says "Opdycke's Ice Cream Parlor Inside."

Turns out that Mr. Opdycke himself was in our building and by coincidence had started walking around our Bar to look at the different photos that we have hanging on our walls. There is just so much history here!

But that's not all: Also this week, we were hosts to the Sieps anniversary dinner. It was wonderful to see them take a few minutes to also walk around our Bar and look at all the photos--many of them reproduced from the very original photos they lent me--which feature not just the town, but also Mr. and Mrs. Sieps (father and mother) who owned this establishment from the 1930s to the 1970s. There are photos of them standing in their back yard...our parking area today! There are photos of them at the Bar, and photos of the front of the building with practically all the men in hats (as was de rigueur in those days) and horses in tow.

Last night was another busy night--NO COMPLAINTS!!! We finished closing up the upstairs Restaurant and Bar, and everyone migrated downstairs to the Rat and to the lounge area we created in the cellar. It's so nice to see people enjoying all of the different areas of the building, from the hotel, to the lounge, to the restaurant, to the Rat. And we keep seeing people starting at the Rat and then making their way upstairs, and vice-versa; exactly what we envisioned as the ideal exchange of ideas, conversation, and everything in between.

We have been joined by local Frenchtown residents, Milford residents, Kingwood residents, and even people from towns and cities that are farther away. I always ask, "How did you hear about us?" and time and again, we are pleased to learn that either they googled this area and found Frenchtown to be a destination--which led them to start looking for a place to stay and eat--or there are those who found our website (or even our blog) and then found Frenchtown to boot. It looks like the information that is easily accessible on the internet on both the town and on us, is helping to boost the people traffic Frenchtown is getting. Wonderful!

People keep coming, keep dropping by, keep making reservations, keep visiting us. We are so grateful to all of our fellow Frenchtown friends, and all of the new friends that we are making from areas near and far. Each night is more exciting, more fun, than the last. And our staff keeps going with the flow, managing this little wrinkle and that one; we'll keep tweaking things to make everything grow organically and continue to assess, improve, and develop this into a place that our friends will be proud to continue to frequent. Friendly service, quality dining, beautiful surroundings; that's The National Hotel.

We'd love to hear from you if you were at our establishment and saw a photo that reminded you of your family, or features someone you know from long ago. Photos are an important part of preserving the history of this beautiful town. But verbal historical evidence is just as important. Let's start recording these little tidbits. I bet you that the next generation will be just as intrigued by the motivations of the early residents to make this town their home, as our generation is today. Historic towns--and charming ones such as this one--preserve the very fabric of our nation's birth. They are often a microcosm of the struggles of a nation that is not even 300 years old! Look at how far we've come in just over 200 years.

Can you tell we love history and historical nuggets of information? This is going to keep getting better.

Saturday, November 7, 2009


Three days after we opened our doors, we are still pinching ourselves. Friday night was a fantastic night--I don't even know what time we put our heads down, but it was well past 2:00 a.m.--full of stories, and memories recounted; it's a night that Pete and I will remember for a long time.

Amazing how much history is in this town; how many individuals recall the different generations of previous owners of The National Hotel, and the many famous people who frequented this establishment. For instance, I learned last night that Jimmy Stewart--yes, the Hollywood Jimmy Stewart--used to be a client, because he had a relative who lived in this area. This was told to me by someone who has been in the area for decades, Alan Runfeldt, owner of, and who tells me that if I dig hard enough, I'll find verbal historical evidence on other "greats" who've stopped by. Chris Poh, editor-in-chief of American Public House Review, and one of our very first guests at The National Hotel on Tuesday, shared that
Annie Oakley was one such guest, because she had a relative in Pennsylvania, and Buffalo Bill Cody and his Wild West Show crew would also stop in...can you imagine?!

I also met someone a couple of nights ago, who shared that when Claiborne Cary owned this establisment in the 1970s, it was frequented by the likes of Mike Douglas, (the talk show host), Mary Tyler Moore, Valerie Harper, and of course, Claiborne's sister, the actress Cloris Leachman.

These Broadway and media stars would arrive from NYC and set up musical evenings that would wow the clients, while creating an atmosphere of warmth and comfort for Claiborne's guests. I did find actual evidence of some of this in the New York Times--I had to research it!

So many other stories...and all told with enthusiasm, a verbal legacy to be left to the next generation at The National Hotel. It's such a privilege to be able to hear these stories, to find evidence of the truth and the folklore, and to hopefully continue to share these wonderful stories with all of you.

Three days later, and we're into the weekend...we're so lucky to be a part of this town. Thank you to those of you who dropped by just to say "hi," to those of you who joined us for a drink, to those of you who shared a meal with us, and to those of you who made the time to book a night or two with us already. And thank you to our dear friends who have greeted us with flowers, with warm wishes, and with beautiful cards. Among them, our fabulous interior designer, Kristine Marinelli, Gary Walia, co-owner of the critically-acclaimed NYC restaurant, Tamarind, and Jim & Kathy Mathews. Their flowers now decorate The National Hotel Bar, our lobby area, and even our private breakfast room. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Thank you to all of you for helping us make The National Hotel, your place.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What an unbelievable night! We had our official, unofficial, quiet (yet loud according to our local Frenchtown friends) opening tonight. And boy did our staff "run" to make everything work!

Wow. We are just finishing up and are just so exhilarated, so fantastically overjoyed by the warmth, the encouraging words, the "I'll back for sure" statements, that we just can't wait until tomorrow. And, our place was PACKED! From top to bottom--from just checking-in a guest into
our guest suites--we have been blessed with meeting new people, old friends, future contacts, and a brand new circle of acquaintances.

My biggest accomplishment: Seeing that our clients enjoyed the upstairs Restaurant and Bar, and the downstairs Rathskeller Pub. You have no idea how much it means to us to know that our establishment is a place that can make you feel welcome, at ease, comfortable, and yet catered to, whether you are enjoying a beer at "The Rat" while watching a game on the flat screen TV, or enjoying the quieter ambiance of the main floor Bar.

We had guests upstairs, then taking their drink downstairs to chat with some friends, and then back again to continue their conversation with other guests. OK, here goes my favorite word for 2009: AMAZING. We asked everyone who joined us tonight to be absolutely brutally honest about any glitches they may have seen, any items that weren't "quite right," and without exception, we apparently hit the mark. We are so happy that our friends, neighbors, friends-to-be, have come out to support our establishment and to make The National Hotel their new hang-out.

You should have been at The Rat! It was literally a kissing-fest down at The Rat, with one guest seeing another friend or neighbor and reaching out to him/her to give a big hug and a welcome cheer. What a night.

Let's have more. If you joined us tonight and would like to share your comments of the night, please do so and post your feedback. We are so happy to be a part of the Frenchtown community.

See you tomorrow!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

So Halloween is over...but the festivities continue.

We had an amazing night yesterday, tasting the wonderful, flavorful, often exotic dishes that our executive chef, Ron Rittenhouse, created. We were joined by our family and a few friends who heard whisperings of the tasting--not one person walked away with even 1 criticism. The whole idea, was to get those who knew us best to give us their honest opinions. We asked them to be absolutely brutal. But either they love us so much that they just saw through any hiccups we may have had, or in fact, more likely, they truly and honestly had an amazing evening.

I met Ron's mother and his wife. Both are just lovely--intellectually stimulating conversation, & attractive to boot! Today, after a long day of visiting with vendors and accounts in NYC, I had the pleasant surprise of finding a thank you note from Ron's wife:

I'm blown away. I know, I know, you're probably saying, "That's your executive chef's wife; how can she not like it?" Truth be told, after meeting her, I just know that she has integrity. She is the kind of person who wouldn't pay you a compliment just to make you "feel good." And honestly, I can say the same about my mother.

My mom has what we call in Spanish "No tiene pelos en la lengua" which translated literally means "She has no hairs on her tongue." The actual meaning is that she doesn't mince words; she's very honest and direct. I love that about her. And having gone through numerous restaurant, bar and nightclub openings of our family with her, I know my mom will tell it "like it is." She left me a beautiful message this morning on my voicemail confirming how much she had enjoyed the night. She not only complimented Ron, but also the decorating we'd done--thanks Kristine Marinelli (a.k.a. KM Interior Design)--and the upbeat, exuberant staff we had hired. Each and every one of our staff who has joined The National Hotel has shown us how committed they are to rejuvenating the business, to making sure Frenchtown is "front and center," and to maintaining a high-level of quality that will surely be enjoyed by our guests.

Hey, that's not to say that we won't make mistakes along the way...but honestly, you have ALL shown us that you love this building, the history behind this building, so much, that any little bumps along the way, are well worth having as long as we reach our destination.

So let's lift our glasses to this grand old building, its history, its secrets, its quirks. Let's be a part of the next lines that need to be written and recorded as it now breathes and welcomes the new and the old back on its premises. Cheers!

And don't forget, that if you have a story to share, you are always welcome to post a comment. I hope to meet each and every one of you who have taken the time to read this blog. Can't wait until's 12:45 a.m...already tomorrow...where are you?