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Rhode Island takes a back seat to few other places where restaurant superlatives are concerned. One of the latest additions to the list soon will be a display of almost 100 bottles of whiskey.
This collection will be on shelves behind the new whiskey bar at the refurbished Carriage Inn and Saloon in North Kingstown. You guessed it. There will actually be “99 bottles of whiskey on the wall” of this dining landmark tucked away on Tower Hill Road near the terminus of Route 4.
The inn had been closed since 2010, but the building has been part of the local landscape for over 200 years. The name is a throwback. Carriage Inn and Saloon pays tribute to the eatery’s heritage as one of the state’s longstanding fine-dining and special occasion spots. Predating the restaurant boom and the era of the celebrity chef, the Carriage Inn was one of the places to see and be seen in South County. It was one of the few true dining destinations when the choices between East Greenwich and Narragansett consisted of the likes of The Red Rooster, the South Shore Grill and some of the early efforts of a couple of young chefs named Ralph Conte and Walter Potenza who had begun making their mark in local culinary circles back in the day.
But if you were celebrating a wedding anniversary or other life moment from the late 1950s through the 1980s, one of the venues at the top of the list was the Carriage Inn. It was as good as it got. Mother’s Day reservations were a must if they could be gotten at all. Baby boomers who grew up in the postwar suburbs of East Greenwich and Navy families residing in North Kingstown have fond memories of the large, white stagecoach that greeted them and gave a storybook dimension to family gatherings held at the inn. Like other successful restaurants of the day, it seated hundreds.
The Carriage Inn’s dining rooms were spacious, in addition to the large, stone barn that took care of the overflow and served as a function room for everything from local business-group gatherings to proms.
Newspaper accounts of the history of the building from its earliest days as a homestead recalled the original structure dating back to the middle of the 19th century was destroyed in a fire in 1957. (Other accounts list the building’s construction date a century earlier.)
The stone barn survived the blaze and became the centerpiece of the famous Carriage Inn. In the 1990s under new ownership it was known as “Hoof-Fin-Feathers Carriage Inn.” It then changed hands again in the early 2000s and became the Rhode Island Quahog Co. until it closed in 2010.