The Surf, reinvented
For the past several months, the sights and sounds coming out of the Surf Hotel have been those of table saws, hammering, along with a boatload of carpenters, electricians and assorted craftspeople working overtime to get ready for the scheduled opening on Monday, July 1.
The morning of July 1 broke beautifully clear and warm, and the building that had been more of a work site than a hotel was suddenly filled with visitors, the smell of coffee and bacon, and the transformation was seemingly complete.
The journey from the old Surf to the new one started on an August day back in 2012 when Lark Hotels Chief Operating Officer Rob Blood took a day trip to Block Island. He said he wasn’t scouting for locations, but when he walked by the Surf, which was closed at the time, “the tiniest seed was planted,” he said. A signature of Lark Hotels, Blood said, was that they try to find the best buildings in the best locations in the nicest towns, and that was what he saw in the Surf. “Lark Hotels are in iconic locations,” he said.
That seed having been planted, Blood said that the process of turning a location into a Lark Hotel was “to get to know the town and the building” and to build out an idea from that. Blood said the company wanted to create a space that felt like Block Island. “You want to feel like you’re here,” he said.
The hotel has a teal and beige theme, with more than 50 vintage surfboards — old fiberglass models from the 1950s and 60s — adorning the hallways and the rooms. Blood’s own company — Elder & Ash, which he runs with his partner and creative director, Meg Kennedy — furnished the collateral items in the rooms.
Blood said Lark Hotels is also trying to use as few plastic products as possible in their island location.
“Everything we choose has to tie into the story,” he said.
In refurbishing the iconic hotel, Blood said they only lost one room, down from 32 to 31, but gained two Americans With Disabilities Act-compliant rooms, as well as a bathroom for each room. There is now a lift out on the porch for those that cannot navigate the stairs.
Blood said that he’s aware of the controversy that first surrounded what sounded like a name change of the old hotel, from the Surf to the Block Island Beach House. He wanted to emphasize that the main hotel was still named the Surf and it, as well as the Gables Inn and the Surfside, will be operating under the umbrella of the Block Island Beach House. He recognizes that generations of families have stayed here before, and hopes that tradition will continue. Blood said the original Surf Cottage was built in 1874 for one of the island’s first doctors, Dr. Mann, and that Dr. Mann’s great-grandson was one of the first guests of the hotel on the morning of July 1.
“We’re not trying to be disruptive, but rather be supportive and to be good stewards of the building,” he said. He told the story of how his mother was dining at the National Hotel across the street and someone was complaining about the changes being made to the Surf. The bartender introduced Eileen Blood to the patron, who took a tour the next day and then said he intended to be a guest.
When asked what the name Lark Hotels meant, he said it was the brainchild of a former partner, who said it conjured images of a morning bird, or the phrase “going on a lark,” words and images that connote a happy, stress-free time.
Indeed, the motto of the newly-opened hotel is “No bad days.”