For as long as most locals can remember, the Greek revival mansion and sometime antiques store known as the Bull's Head Inn sat on three overgrown acres at the corner of Route 27 and the Bridgehampton/Sag Harbor Turnpike, falling into increasing disrepair. Then, in 2006, financier Bill Campbell and luxury goods executive Simon Critchell bought the dilapidated property at the historic Hamptons crossroads and began the process of renovating and expanding, spending several years and many millions of dollars to transform it into a full-service luxury hotel.
With room rates starting at $950 per night, the Topping Rose House, now named after the judge who originally resided here, is no roadside motor court. It delivers all the bells and whistles you'd expect for the price and the neighborhood -- 22 rooms, a four-star restaurant, a full-service spa, a fleet of Jaguars and Range Rovers to take you to the beach.
Nor is it a rich man's folly. John Eilertsen, director of the Bridgehampton Historical Society and overseer of the restoration of the Nathaniel Rogers House across the street, notes that corner has been an economic and social hub since Colonial times, and applauds the new owners' preservation of a significant building. "They really did a fine job and an important one. To their credit, they attempted to maintain the historic integrity of the site as much as they could, and have been successful."
Architect Roger Ferris modernized the original building while maintaining its historic character. The cupola, pilasters, and Italianate trim that distinguish the outside of the building have all been restored. Inside, wood floors, banisters, and fireplace mantels also shine. Rooms in the main house have been reconfigured for maximum comfort and luxuriously furnished in colorful but traditional style. Marble bathrooms are entirely new. A charming second-floor library with state-of-the-art lighting and plush upholstered furniture, is a soothing place to relax. Downstairs at the lacquered bar, gaze at a Robert Wilson video installation depicting a slowly blinking owl while you sip a glass of Bridgehampton merlot.
Ultra modern cottages
In addition to the main house, there is a restored barn that can seat 60 for dinner, a new building comprising a spa, gym, event space, and pool, and four modern "cottages" along the back line of the property, each with two guest rooms, a suite, and a rooftop patio. When designing the grouping, owners and architect rejected a faux-antique aesthetic in favor of the ultramodern. Flat roofs echo the roof of the main house, but the resemblance ends there. Instead of bright white clapboard, the buildings are sheathed in gray sheet metal with warm wooden louvers covering the windows. Interiors are cool and contemporary. Bathrooms have slate and natural wood countertops and cabinetry and deep soaking tubs. Prominent local architects approve of the strategy. Says Harry Fischman of Sag Harbor, "I would hate to see a dozen little reproductions of that building surrounding it. The new construction really showcases the beauty of the old for a new century."
As well as satisfying historic preservationists and fans of modern design, management sought to impress high-end customers. Campbell's wife, gallery owner Christine Wächter, oversees a rotating selection of works by prominent artists including Sag Harbor resident Eric Fischl, whose work hangs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. All the art is for sale.
And then there is the Topping Rose restaurant, awarded four stars by Newsday's Peter M. Gianotti, and overseen (mostly from afar) by "Top Chef" host Tom Colicchio. Chef de Cuisine Ty Kotz is in charge day-to-day. Farm-to-table has become a cliche, but in the case of Topping Rose, which boasts a one-acre vegetable garden, it accurately describes many menu items, including an appetizer of spring garlic risotto with razor clams ($21) and roasted chicken with chestnut spaetzle, baby carrots, and rosemary jus ($38). Topping Rose was almost fully booked for Memorial Day Weekend before the project was complete.
Parrish Art Museum director Terrie Sultan, who guided the design and construction of the Parrish's brand-new space a few miles west, likes what she sees. "The new renovation of Topping Rose makes a lovely and strong statement on a very key intersection, and this will have a very positive impact on the community."
WHAT Topping Rose House
WHERE 1 Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Tpke., Bridgehampton
INFO 631-537-0870, toppingrosehouse.com
A place to eat, gallery-style
From Newsday's November review of Topping Rose House:
The brilliant white, 1842 Greek Revival building, once a private home and most recently an antiques center, has been stunningly transformed, re-imagined and made into one of Long Island's showcase restaurants.
Now, contemporary artwork plays off the white interiors for a near-gallery effect. The pointillist, achingly tasteful main dining area delivers a harvest of focal points, from paintings to plates.
Colicchio and chef de cuisine Ty Kotz make Topping Rose House locavore central with monthly menus that highlight East End purveyors and farms. They give marquee billing to vegetables and fruits usually found well below the title. Topping Rose has its own farm, too. At first, it seems a bit precious. But the results often are sensational.
For many years, the grand house of County Judge Abraham Topping Rose was a landmark.
It is again. -- Peter M. Gianotti
Topping Rose House by the numbers
1842 Year inn was built
2+ years Duration of renovation
$12,000,000 Cost of renovation
100 Miles from New York City
22 Rooms, suites, and cottages
$950/night King room in Main House
$3,000/night One-bedroom cottage with rooftop patio
50 to 75 Types of vegetables grown in the inn's garden
$12 Breakfast of brioche doughnuts with brown butter maple glaze
$4,500 Price of Peter Dayton's oil, acrylic, resin, and paper decal "Noland #13 Surf Bunny Beach," now hanging in the bar