A hundred years ago, Camden’s Whitehall Inn was where a 19-year-old poet made her debut before becoming world-renowned.
Today, the inn known simply as Whitehall is getting noticed for its hip, casual bar and restaurant, fit with exceptional cocktails, locally inspired food, wrap-around porches and chic fire pits.
Perched on the crest of a small hill, a half-mile from Camden Harbor, Whitehall was originally built as a sea captain’s house but is known best as the place where Camden poet Edna St. Vincent Millay was discovered during a reading of “Renascence.”
“All I could see from where I stood/Was three long mountains and a wood,” starts the poem inspired by the view from Mt. Battie, near the foot of which Whitehall sits.
An entire parlor room in the inn’s bright, stylish and expansive lounge area is devoted to Millay with books, photographs and even a piano where she sat and played. Hence half the name of Whitehall’s restaurant, Pig + Poet, which opened in May 2015 after boutique group Lark Hotels completed substantial renovations, gave the inn an updated look and shortened the name.
The “pig” in the restaurant’s name comes from its original chef, Sam Talbot, a finalist on Bravo’s Top Chef, who wanted to incorporate the use of whole animals on the menu. Although Talbot has since moved on, the concept remains, now in the talented hands of chef Dirk Yeaton. Bar snack offerings include crispy pig ears (think: French fries meet lightly burnt bacon), served with Yeaton’s rub and hot sauce for $10.
Millay probably wouldn’t recognize Whitehall’s interior, which is a mix of brightly colored, modern furniture and Angela Adams rugs and tapestries. Pig + Poet occupies a corner of the ground floor and has about 80 seats, 14 of them in the bar area and the rest in the main dining room, which extends into a covered porch. There’s also a private room and an intimate patio with plush furniture, a fire pit and string lights. This is the kind of restaurant patio, tucked into the building and shaded by trees, that feels more like a friend’s backyard.
Inside, a reclaimed barn-style door opens to the bar, where rope lights dangle overhead and cast light on intricate pipe light fixtures that extend across the dining room. The walls are covered in prints of branches, and there’s a distinct feeling here that you are at one with the woods and sea, a central theme at Whitehall.
The restaurant and hotel are open from early May through end of October. This season, the restaurant’s general manager, Barry Hunter, said he is seeing a lot of repeat guests who are now bringing in friends and becoming regulars. Most come in for the cocktails, and there’s a steady bar crowd. There are the nightly guests of the hotel, which has a capacity of about 75 people, but Hunter said more than half of his clientele is from the Camden community. It’s really not just a hotel bar; walk-ins are welcome.
One major reason for the recent shift in clientele is bar manager Dennis Carey. If you’ve lived in the Camden/Rockport/Rockland area in the last couple decades, you know why. Carey has tended bar for over 25 years, most recently at the acclaimed Shepherd’s Pie in Rockport, until it closed this spring.
Carey has incorporated some local drink favorites into the menu but is constantly testing recipes and creating specials, such as the cucumber sake sangria ($8) and cilantro martini ($12). Both shared one distinct quality: being unique.
Carey spends hours before the bar opens squeezing fresh juice and using what’s on hand to craft something original, like a beet shrub or a house-made orgeat syrup for the mai tai ($10). Guests are encouraged to take cocktails to the patio overlooking High Street and relax on rocking chairs, start a game of corn hole or just sit by the fire.
Great for groups, as well as solo bar-goers who can slip a book of poetry off the shelf and settle in, Whitehall has masterfully integrated the hotel and restaurant experience for regulars and travelers alike. Come dressed to the nines or sporting flip-flops; this is a place to discover and make all your own.
WHERE: 52 High St., Camden
HOURS: Bar is open 3-10 p.m. every day; dinner is served 5-9 p.m. Wednesday through Monday
AMENITIES: Spacious outdoor patio with fireplace, outdoor swing, corn hole yard game, wrap-around porch, stylish lobby area and seating, piano played by Edna St. Vincent Millay, private dining room available
BOTTOM LINE: Pig + Poet manages to find a happy medium between casual and elegant. Come for a celebratory cocktail and feast or a laid-back, feet-up, beer-in-hand Friday afternoon. Drink menu offers nine cocktails and nightly specials, in addition to local beers on tap, cider and a sophisticated wine list that will cater to everyone. Expect a steady crowd most nights at the bar, open May through October.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE: Yes