Port Aransas, Texas in May 2021
Don and I have had our eyes on the old Tarpon Inn, for years. We've also been curious about the island community that once revolved around tarpon fishing. In fact the gulf coast town was named Tarpon, until 1911.
This little 4-day road trip was our first "fully vaccinated, travel for the sake of travel" adventure. We've done a couple of pandemic road trips, but they were focused on seeing family. Carefully planned, Covid-safe travels, that involved no curious hotel or dining adventures.
I've read about Tarpon Inn, in a few travel books over the years. The hotel's history began in 1886, when Civil War barracks were renovated into hotel accommodations.
The hotel initially stood pretty much alone. In 1900, it burned down and was rebuilt. Hurricanes and tidal-waves caused major damage, in the 2 decades that followed. In 1925 the main building was rebuilt/reinforced, using pine logs anchored into twenty feet of concrete.
This is how the hotel looked when we arrived on an afternoon in May. The long barracks-style building sat back on Cotter Street, behind a tangle of palms and power/phone lines.
More than a dozen palms filled the grassy space between the porches and white fence. I wonder how many times these palms have been replaced in 100 years?
Vintage Book Image
This illustration shows how an artist saw the the hotel and palms, 70 years ago. The drawing accompanies a recipe, in our 1950 Ford Motor Cookbook. This book is what inspired us the most, to put the historic Tarpon Inn on our visit list.
The palms today don't look quite as tidy as they did in the mid-century image. That's mostly due to the huge freeze that Texas endured this past February. I was glad to spot signs of life in those palms, as we headed up the stairs to the lobby.
The lobby had a fun seaside feel to it. Glossy pine floors and wicker furniture.
There was a giant tarpon mounted behind the desk and over 7,000 fish scales, nailed to the opposite wall.
Samantha greeted us from behind the desk. Even with her mask on, she was as cheery and chatty as she'd been on the phone when I made reservations. I've missed our travel "people encounters". It's not the same with masks, but I'm glad to know it's possible!
Samantha pulled our room key, from one of the boxes below the tarpon. I asked if those boxes were original and she believed they were. Then she made sure we took a look all those "signed" tarpon scales, on the wall.
Well, we didn't look at all. There were thousands. I asked if she knew which one was the oldest.
Samantha came out from behind the desk and pointed to the oldest scale, from 1892. The words were a little smudged, but I could read the date. It was fun looking at all the signed scales from the 1920's to the 1940's, when tarpon fishing was at its peak.
Samantha went over to another wall and pointed out photos of FDR, when he visited Port Aransas in 1937.
Then she pointed to a tarpon scale in a frame. It had FDR's signature and the recorded length and weight. 5 ft and 1 inch & 77 pounds! President Roosevelt didn't stay at the Tarpon Inn on that visit. He had his own yacht. But a year before, Duncan Hines (as in the cake mix!) and his bride, spent their honeymoon at Tarpon Inn.
After checking in, Don and I peeked out back to the courtyard. There was a shady corner with a stage and a long deck leading towards the Roosevelt Restaurant.
I'm not sure where meals were served back in 1950, when the hotel shared their recipe for Cocktail Sauce in the Ford cookbook. But I was glad to learn that this little building was original and survived the 1919 hurricane.
I was excited to check out our room on the second floor. All the rooms (except the FDR Suite) are off the front porches. Oh how I love a porch!
I'm glad I was prepared for a small room, because it really was tiny. It barely held a queen size bed, one bedside table, one wooden chair and a sink.
So Much Wood
I loved being surrounded by wood. Painted wood walls and ceiling! Polished pine floors. I think the pine logs (that were added for support in 1925) were hidden behind the angled wood pieces in the corners. Interesting.
And displayed on the painted wood wall behind our bed, was a photo image of some sweet summertime gals. I had a fun time imagining my Grandma Meyer posing for a picture like this. Grandma Daw, would never...
The size of our room was just plain cute and comical. The tiny bathroom was a reminder of why they were once called water closets. Next morning, when I stepped through the framed opening to the shower, I was reminded of the raised thresholds in China, that keep the spirits out. Since I'd heard about Tarpon Inn's ghosts, I hoped this would at least keep them out of the shower.
Our sink was in the room. We had a tidy shelf and mirror, but they weren't too helpful. No worries about that, or lack of TV or coffee maker. We were there for one night and loved our cozy space.
We had a few hours before dinner, so we explored. Luckily the big storm that was expected, held off a while. We spent a little time at the pool, under the palapa. We chatted with a couple who had just returned from kayak fishing.
Then we drove down to the beach and enjoyed the view. After a bit, the winds began to pick up. Visitors got battered with blasts of sand. Seagulls seemed to fly in place.
We headed back to the hotel for our own happy hour. There was no room to lounge inside the room, but the porch was wind-free!
We made a toast to Road Trips, then took in the view while we rocked. Golf carts passes by below. (That seems to be a thing in P.A.) We couldn't see exactly see the bay, but could see some ship movement through the cluster of buildings. The dry palm fronds also kept us entertained. They were taking a beating from the wind and making quite a racket.
We had reservations at 7:30. There were only 4 other couples in the hotel, but we'd heard the restaurant was popular with locals.
We were glad to read positive reviews about the food. Since this was our first inside dining experience since the pandemic, we wanted it to be a good memory. We headed over in our masks.
Tarpon and Knotty Pine
We stepped into the cozy space and felt a little jolted to see not a single mask in the whole restaurant. Odd, since the hotel seemed strict.
We were seated right beneath a tarpon, hanging on a knotty pine wall. I was pretty happy about that. I've been ready to make use of our vaccinated state and focus on the things we enjoy. The decor was retro charming. The service and menu seemed upscale for such a casual community. And the oysters and salmon were delicious! It felt wonderful to be back enjoying a dining adventure, while traveling!
Sharing the Book
I (of course) had the cookbook tucked into my bag. I waited until the dining rush was over, before I pulled it out to show our waiter. He had only been on the job 6 days, so my hopes weren't high. He seemed a little perplexed about why I was showing him the page. "Oh we don't serve cocktail sauce."
I refused to stop there. I caught the eye of another waiter and shared the book. He gave me the fun response I'd hoped for. "What? Where did you get this?" He snapped some a photo of the 70-year-old recipe and chuckled with the others. Next thing you know other waiters were looking on and then it was photo time! I love cookbook adventures.
We lucked out since the hotel's owner was dining across the room. The waiter tipped him off and he stopped by on his way out. Lee Roy Haskins introduced himself and I told him we were enjoying our stay in the hotel and I raved about our meal. Then I asked, "Can you guess how we learned about this hotel?" He said he had no idea.
I pulled out the book and he pulled up a chair. He definitely appreciated the curious history behind this crazy book. He seemed impressed that it had guided us to Tarpon Inn and on other adventures. He got it. But he was equally enthused about the fact that we loved historic hotels. We spent nearly 30 minutes sharing a few stories back and forth.
After dinner, Don and I rocked on the porch before the storms came. It was fun to see some other couples doing the same. The skies let loose in the wee hours and in the morning we drove through flooded streets to find coffee and donuts. We enjoyed the (soggy) porch, one more time.
Then we headed for the lobby to check out. The storms picked up and Samantha encouraged us to stay put a while. We enjoyed more photos and memorabilia. I decided the fishing family photo, was my favorite. We chatted with Samantha about curious ghosts and guests. After 20 minutes we were on our way, only to turn back when Samantha called and said we'd dropped a wad of money on the floor. Oops! We navigated floods to get back and I thanked Samantha with some dessert cash. She'd raved the night before about her favorites at Roosevelt's. I told her she deserved many!
Our stay at Tarpon Inn gave us a successful return to hotel and dining adventures! I didn't expect to talk to as many people as we did. We've avoided people for so long, I thought it might feel odd. Personally, I wish Texas would keep wearing masks until more are vaccinated, but I'm glad I could put that aside. It felt nice to explore and experience, knowing that Don and I feel safe. We'll still wear masks for now, while we begin to wander and enjoy travel. It feels like it's time to stop cringing and worrying and judging.
My New Year's Resolution for 2014 was to start documenting some of the memorable overnights I've had in some very odd and curious motels and hotels. Like the adventures in my Dining Blog, I have learned to enjoy the surprises that happen when you step out of the comfort zone, far away from the well-known chains.
I began with a few entries recalling my very first home away from home memories from my youth. Then, I started sharing about some of the quirky and unforgettable motels, hotels and inns that my husband and I have discovered in recent years.
The best part about this challenge was making some lists with Don and getting on the road in search of new overnight adventures. I gave myself a 2-year goal to write up 90 stories and the goal was met. Now we just keep on adding!