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March 22, 2014updated Jul 31, 2015

A Step Back In Time In The Bahamas

By Chris Boyle

Graycliff Hotel And Restaurant HotelThree blocks from the thousands of cruise ship tourists who descend daily on Nassau Graycliff, Hotel & Resort is stuck back in time by at least two or three generations.

Yes, there is air conditioning, but it’s the type you can tell it’s working by its clunky hum.  However on the evening I spent there last week the whisper of the slow turning ceiling fan in the living room like bar was more than enough.

For elite travelers that want to take a trip back to slower times, but want to be close enough to party into the late of night or gamble at Atlantis less than two miles away, or shop for luxury goods from Bulgari or Cartier and dozens more brands just down the hill, Graycliff is a unique option.  Twenty rooms and suites have high ceilings, oversize bedrooms and sitting areas and are closer to an apartment in layout than typical hotel accommodations.  There are no room numbers, just names.  It really doesn’t matter if you don’t remember when you want to sign a check.  They know who you are in a good sort of way.  There is a large rectangular pool with racing lanes painted on the bottom dating from a time when pools were meant more so guests could get their daily swim or lounge about as opposed to being a resort experience. Beautiful, lush gardens surround the well-maintained main house that dates to 1740 and modern amenities include a sauna and gym.

Built by pirate John Howard Graysmith, whose schooner Graywolf was one of the region’s top predators, his namesake has hosted Sir Winston Churchill and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor among others.  It also served as a garrison for the American Navy after Nassau was captured in 1776.  During prohibition in the ‘20s Graycliff was a popular stop for elite travelers of the day, good and bad, including Al Capone.  For many years Graycliff became the private residence for a wealthy Canadian family during which it underwent substantial renovations, including the addition of the pool.  It changed hands again in 1966 to Lord and Lady Dudley whose tenure added an English accent with various antiques and paintings, many of which are still in the rooms and public areas.

The current innkeeper is Enrico Garzaroli who has tended to the property since 1973, and I had the pleasure of sharing my martini nightcap with Wednesday.  Tall and robust, Enrico is to say the least a great storyteller and the type of person who should own a place such as Graycliff. The son of a well to do Italian industrialist, after knocking heads with his father about how to run garment factories, he went off to hotel school.

The family owned a share of a hotel in Luxembourg, and at that point Garzaroli knew he liked the hospitality business but not the cold weather.  In the late ‘60s the Bahamian national airline was managed by Icelandair, which coincidentally also managed Luxembourg’s national carrier.  Reminiscent of the world-traveler lifestyle Leonardo DiCaprio portrayed as a faux pilot in “Catch Me If You Can,” the first generation of jet airplanes flew half full, and airline employees and their hotel counterparts often had reciprocal discounts so Rio for the weekend was the norm. Garzaroli found himself getting away from the dark European winters and ending up in Nassau via Reykjavik.

Noticing that the combined Icelandair/Bahamasair flights were often delayed not by hours, but days, he bought a hotel in Nassau to house crews and passengers for their extended stay and thus made the move to The Bahamas.  From there he purchased Graycliff and has been enjoying himself ever since.

In addition to the hotel he has expanded with a AAA 4-diamond fine dining restaurant with private dining room options.  There is also a culinary school, and the wine cellar, one of the world’s largest private collections, that boasts an inventory of 250,000 bottles from 400 vintners in 15 countries. It has won the Wine Spectator Grand Award every year since 1988 and includes an 1865 Chateau Lafite and a 1727 Rudesheimer Apostelwein from Bremen Ratskeller. Additionally he has his award-winning Graycliff Cigar Company and even a chocolatier on premises.

Whether you want to step back in time for a couple nights or a couple hours, Graycliff is worth a stop next time you are in Nassau, or if you don’t have plans for the weekend a worthwhile hop on your private jet.

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