Newport’s mellow district delivers sand, sea, and a good place to read a book.
The woman named Sylvia Beach, as readers, romantics, and trivia buffs may know, had nothing to do with the ruggedly magnificent central Oregon coast. Beach operated Shakespeare and Company, a celebrated English-language bookstore in Paris that opened in 1919 and soon became a haven for such expatriates as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and T.S. Eliot. These and other Lost Generation luminaries frequented her shop on the Left Bank, looking for fellowship, stimulating conversation, and a good book to read.
Those attractions are precisely what brought me to the comfortably creaky hotel that bears Beach's name in Newport, Ore.—or more precisely, Newport's equivalent of the Left Bank: the historic, artsy Nye Beach district. Like the bookshop, the Sylvia Beach Hotel is a refuge for lovers of the written word, complete with an ocean-view library and 20 guest rooms named after noted writers. (Gin bottles sit on the dresser in the Fitzgerald room.)
"It's a trap for interesting people," says Portlander Goody Cable, who opened the hotel with her childhood friend Sally Ford 20 years ago. "People who read are fun to be around."
The rambling, four-story wooden structure, built circa 1912, is perched on a bluff that provides a panorama of sand and surf curving gracefully north to the gleaming white lighthouse at the tip of Yaquina Head, about three miles away. Ever since John Nye homesteaded the area in the 1860s, this has been the beach that Newport residents and "summer people" have flocked to for exploring tide pools, flying kites, watching whales, baking clams, romping in the crashing surf, or simply strolling arm in arm.
With a relaxed, bohemian atmosphere, the Nye Beach district sits three blocks east of the water. In the neighborhood, centered on Beach Drive, you'll find quirky shops, three bookstores, an authentic teahouse, a wine bar, and a variety of cultural offerings. Newport's visual arts center, the city's performing arts center, and a gallery for the Yaquina Art Association housed in a former bathhouse are all located here. And at various places, you can catch the Nye Beach Writers' Series, which has hosted such authors as the late Ken Kesey and scores of other award-winning poets, musicians, dramatists, and filmmakers.
All of this is just steps from the hotel's front door. So is April's restaurant, where the menu standouts are Mediterranean-inspired seafood and pasta. The grilled chinook salmon is a work of art in itself—served over saffron rice pilaf, laced with a complex carrot-curry broth, and accompanied by crisply sautéed asparagus and Broccolini. Pair your entrée with a bottle of Andrew Will merlot and a Belgian chocolate torte—then stroll back to the hotel (just across the street) and crawl into bed with a good book, lulled into dreamland by the sighing surf.
Photography by Kurt Hettle
This article was first published in March 2008. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.