Elbow Beach, a grand dame of luxury lodging in Bermuda, with its iconic yellow main building high on a hill, and 98 cozy bungalow rooms and suites dotting the landscape below, reopened in May 2014 as an independently managed property under the Burns Group, represented by industry leader Edmund Burns.
For several years it was managed by Mandarin Oriental, and since 2008, the 70 rooms in the main building, located on upper floors above the ornate lobby, library and meeting spaces, were dormant.
Not for much longer, though: the hotel is currently breaking the rooms in half, knocking down walls and creating 35 suites.
In addition, a long-closed restaurant, the Sea Horse Grill, is expected to reopen in 2015, hotel officials said. Another plus: Elbow Beach is now open year round, having been closed for winter under previous management.
We visited the property in late fall, and the main building was already improved; virtually all of its ground floor has been redone, with huge conference rooms fashioned out of little-used spaces. Carpeting throughout was pulled up to highlight wooden floors and in one spot near the classic library, an antique compass rose was discovered, refurbished and protected.
The hotel has retained the classic luxurious look that has made it a staple of Bermuda lodging since it was built in 1908, the first lodging built along the island’s famed South Shore beaches.
In 1924, the formal resort that exists today was built by Harold H. Frith, with arriving guests taken from Hamilton by private ferry or horse and buggy. During World War II, it was closed and used as a storage facility by the U.S. Navy.
Elbow Beach had a reputation as a party place in the old college break days, but no more.
For many years now, the hotel has appealed to a more sedate crowd, people seeking to relax on the pink-sand beach, and who can afford the price: in off season, rates kick in around $450 a night.
Elbow Beach Rooms
There are several categories of room sizes in the bungalows, from very comfortable 450-square-foot premier ocean-front cottages, which we had, to the sprawling 2,500-square-foot Bird of Paradise cottage.
Our room was more than big enough for the two of us, with a small patio overlooking the Seaside Terrace restaurant below, and ocean a couple hundred yards away. It was nicely appointed and comfortable, with relatively speedy WiFi, HDTV, roomy bath with rainhead shower, and Nespresso coffee machine. Best bet: get room service for breakfast and enjoy on the patio with the new morning sun.
The beach, about a half-mile long, is as good as it gets, with pink sand and ample lounging chairs and umbrellas, along with dedicated, uniformed attendants who always seem to be there when you’re thinking of getting something to eat or drink. Our usual guy was Arturo, quick to deliver Dark ‘n Stormy cocktails or fabled Bermuda fish chowder whenever the mood struck.
Elbow Beach Dining
The food scene in Bermuda has vastly improved over the last 20 or so years, and it shines at Elbow Beach.
At Café Lido one night we had a ridiculously large – and exquisite – double lobster-tail dinner, perfectly cooked and seasoned. Lunches are best had at the Sea Breeze Terrace, where the Mediterranean salad is packed with squid, shrimp, scallops, octopus and greens, along with killer ocean views.
Other dining options here, some closed in winter, include Blue Point Restaurant (poolside), Mickey’s Beach Bistro & Bar (right on the beach) and The Deep Lounge, a moody, sexy lounge that can be booked for private functions.
Great off-site dining options include Little Venice in downtown Hamilton, an Italian staple on the island, run by Umberto, Emilio and Antonio, any one of whom regularly visits tables to check on things. And things were great the night we went, including tasting Antonio’s own spicy olive oil, and his homemade olives with capers.
I have Celiac disease and asked about gluten-free options. I got a beauty in the gluten-free penne Bolognese, indistinguishable from wheat pasta and easily one of the best Bolognese dishes I’ve had anywhere. As was the flour-free chocolate cake for dessert.
We also had dinner one night at Blu, located in the Belmont Hills Golf Course with spectacular views of the Great Sound and serving spectacular sushi, a beautifully fried sea bass marinated with ginger, garlic, chili hoisin and scallions, and succulent pan-seared salmon with peppercorn-dill mustard cream sauce.
Elbow Beach Amenities
The spa is a must at Elbow Beach, as well, refurbished in 2012 with six private spa suites and done up in soothing colors and organic textures, with handcrafted granite soaking tubs, bamboo flooring, and river pebble-lined steam showers. I had the Oasis massage ($225), 80 minutes of knot-melting bliss. My diminutive therapist had pretty powerful hands, digging in so deeply at times it bordered on agony, but she intuitively pulled back when needed.
Another must is the pool, and tiny bar alongside, where the barkeep-du-jour, Cameron, told us all about the work being done at the hotel while doling out masterful drinks. The young man, a chef who’d trained at the Culinary Institute of America, is also a diver, and told us one popular thing at Elbow was taking out kayaks to snorkel at a shipwreck just offshore.
The resort, already pretty spectacular as is, should be noticeably better under Burns’ regime. He would seem to know his stuff: With more than 30 years in the hospitality industry, he’s been part of developing, building and opening more than $2 billion worth of hotel real estate, and more than $1 billion in acquisitions.
“This resort has all the assets needed to be successful,” Burns said in a press release.
Sitting on his beach with drink in hand, we couldn’t agree more.