By Cherise Madigan
Ambling along the halls of The Red Lion Inn, you may wonder exactly which century you’ve stepped into.
Around one corner, you’ll discover an intimate, yet lively, tavern — its wood walls welcoming you to an evening of warmth. Lifting a frosty mug of Lion’s Ale, you may feel a faint urge to foment revolution — a lingering spirit of the 1773 establishment’s earliest inhabitants.
An alternate avenue may lead you to the pleasant and precise brush-strokes of Norman Rockwell, who featured The Red Lion Inn in his depiction of the “Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas (Home for Christmas), 1967” — on display at the nearby Norman Rockwell Museum. Continuing this odyssey, you’ll discover a collection of antiques, a treasure trove of puzzles and games, and camaraderie around a crackling fire.
The warm ambiance doesn’t end around the fireplace, however. Whether a visitor from afar or a hometown explorer, the hospitality found within The Red Lion Inn’s halls makes one feel as though they’ve just returned from a long and weary journey.
“When you walk in to the fireplace roaring and find the welcoming reception of our staff, you feel like you’re coming home,” said Red Lion Inn General Manager Michele Kotek. “We have a lot of return guests, even a lot of generational guests, because they get that warm and fuzzy feeling when they walk in the door.”
Though Kotek describes the inn as something akin to a “living museum,” she notes that there’s no dearth of modern amenities including high-speed internet, nightly live music and bi-weekly yoga classes. Italian sheets and fresh flowers hint at luxury, while the inn’s hometown hospitality and reverence for history ground guests firmly in New England culture.
For more than 200 years, this “grand, old lady” of an inn — as Kotek calls it — has been a destination for all sorts of travelers.
“The trick is trying to preserve the history while trying to change with the times,” Kotek explained. “The Norman Rockwell portraits hanging throughout the inn really remind people of the quintessential town that Stockbridge is, and what it has to offer.”
Located along Stockbridge’s charming Main Street, the inn provides a true taste of the Berkshires — both literally and figuratively. Throughout the summer, cultural institutions like the Berkshire Theatre Group offer performances, some just minutes away. Resting on your pillow, you’ll find a chocolate mint from Great Barrington’s Catherine’s Chocolates, and ingredients from local farms and distilleries can be found on the tavern’s menu year round.
“We’ve just welcomed a new executive chef, Max Kiperman, and we’re excited to see how he continues our philosophy of using local products,” Kotek said.
“We’ve been known for warm, comforting food that showcases New England flavors with a little flair,” said Kiperman, an alum of the California Culinary Academy who boasts a global resume. Still, the Marblehead, Mass., native maintains a healthy respect for the flavors of the Northeast.
“Caring for our community starts with the local farmers, and parlaying their premium products into our dishes,” he said. “Whether they’re vegetarian or paleo, I think the menu is diverse enough to offer choices for everybody.”
The Lion’s Den, located downstairs at the inn, carries entertainment every evening of the week with no cover charge.
It’s the place “you can have a drink in the tavern and really experience the history” of the place, Kotek said.
Both Berkshire natives and starry-eyed travelers frequent The Lion’s Den, said Kotek, who maintains that the Red Lion is the perfect place for locals to enjoy a “staycation.”
“A lot of people have the misconception that The Red Lion Inn is just for tourists,” she said. “I’ve found that people often don’t explore enough in their own backyard, but the Berkshires is a fantastic place to do that.”
Boasting 125 rooms, the inn provides guests with their choice of chambers.
Those staying in one of the Main Inn’s 81 rooms will enjoy a vintage experience accentuated by flowered wallpaper, four-poster beds and clawfoot tubs. Some rooms in the South Wing even house functional fireplaces, setting the tone for a romantic getaway.
For a more modern getaway, the Maple Glen guest house boasts 17 rooms with mini-bars, smart televisions, heated floors and sleek bathrooms. Families also can enjoy full guest houses, where multiple rooms and full kitchens provide the perfect balance between utility and luxury during longer stays.
No matter which room you choose, quirky features including a custom coloring book and guest-written stories for bedtime reading bring a sense of community to your stay.
The “Lion’s Tales” — a collection of short stories by guests of the inn — is filled with accounts and fantasies of the inn. The inn challenges visitors to craft their own cunning narratives.
“The stories accumulated from guests sharing their adventures, and we’ve evolved it into a contest,” said Kotek. Story submissions are accepted for the book’s two annual editions.
If a story writer’s piece is selected for “Lion’s Tales,” he or she earns a night’s stay.
“It’s really been quite interesting to read all of the stories that guests write,” Kotek said.
The tales act as a rolling account of the inn’s history, penned by guests enamored with its elegance, as The Red Lion Inn presses on into its third century.
“The Red Lion Inn is full of history and hospitality,” Kotek said. “We pride ourselves in both.”
The Red Lion Inn
30 Main St., Stockbridge, Mass.
(413) 298-5545 | redlioninn.com
The Lion’s Den
Monday through Thursday, 4 to 10 p.m.
Friday, 4 to 11 p.m.
Saturday, noon to 11 p.m.
Sunday, noon to 10 p.m.
Sunday through Thursday, 8 to 11 p.m.
Friday and Saturday, 9 p.m. to midnight
Widow Bingham’s Tavern
Dinner only. Reservations are recommended.
Sunday – Thursday, 5:30 – 9 p.m.
Friday – Saturday, 5:30 – 9:30 p.m.
Cherise Madigan, a native Vermonter, is the editor of the Manchester Journal. She and photographer George Forbes live in Manchester Center with their two cats.