Great Expectations for Cohasset Harbor

Cohasset Hospitality Partners is aiming to breathe new life into the town’s waterfront district by restoring the glory to several seaside restaurants and enhancing harbor access for tourists and locals alike.

Written by Moira McCarthy

Like any classic beauty, Cohasset has great bones. Its quaint downtown lends itself to browsing through shops, sipping lattes at cozy cafes and saying hello to friends and neighbors at the general store. In quintessential New England fashion, the town’s harbor is dotted with lobster boats and recreational crafts, and offers a peek at the craggy coastline beyond.

For generations, the town has been home to two iconic institutions: The Red Lion Inn, which has welcomed guests since the early 1700s, and Atlantica, a fine dining successor to the famed Hugo’s Lighthouse Restaurant, once known around the world.

“Everybody has a memory,” says Ted Lubitz, Principal at Harbor Run Development and one of four partners who make up Cohasset Hospitality Partners (CHP). Lubitz teamed up with George McGoldrick of Black Rock Development, and brothers Alex and Andrew Marconi of The Catered Affair to form the joint venture in 2019. CHP now owns and plans to revitalize The Red Lion Inn, Atlantica, The Olde Salt House, The Cohasset Harbor Inn and the former Roy property building across the street. The team plans to not only update existing dining and lodging establishments--they also hope to link the center of town with the waterfront in a seamless way. 

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First up: Amp Up the History

While the long-term goal is to bring innovation and change to the area, CHP is first focusing on what is already there. In becoming guardians of both The Red Lion Inn and Atlantica (along with its attached Olde Salt House), the group is now both developer and conservator. Memories awash both sites, but so does opportunity.

Atlantica sits on the lip of Cohasset Harbor, just north of the Border Street Bridge. Born as Hugo’s Lighthouse, it was the grandest of three food establishments founded by a Hungarian immigrant named Hugo in the 1930s (and the only of the three to survive). The building’s history is storied. It’s not unusual, says Lubitz, to meet folks in countries around the world who have memories of a special visit to Hugo’s Lighthouse.

In its heyday, the establishment was frequented by A-list celebrities, including members of the Kennedy family, and entertainers who were in town for gigs at South Shore Music Circus. The restaurant was so popular that lines of customers often stretched through the bar, down the hall, past the “choose-your-own lobster pool,” and all the way outside.

A ubiquitous choice for special moments in life, it’s hard to find a South Shore family who didn’t host at least one wedding there. The launch (a dock attached to the building), was a dramatic arrival spot for both brides (whose reception guests could watch from the sun-drenched function rooms) and those arriving by boat for a meal.

 

Unfortunately, the establishment fell on tough times for a period, with shifting owners who did not always give the mature seaside spot the love it demanded. The launch, for example, fell into disrepair and was removed. In the first weeks of CHP’s ownership, the team discovered that the roof at Atlantica had sprung multiple leaks, and it was clear that more updates were sorely needed. “It was like a sinking boat with 100 holes,” says Lubitz. Now freshly restored, with its new roof,  kitchen updates and a fresh coat of paint, the restaurant is once again ready to sail.

Known for its seaside elegance, Atlantica’s dining areas include Yacht Landing and The Point Room, which give guests the feeling of being surrounded by the sea. The largest function room, now called Grand Atlantica, also offers spectacular water views. While the vibe at Atlantica is seaside-formal—think Lilly dresses and seersucker---—the attached Olde Salt House offers more casual fare in an outdoor dining setting.

Not far down the road stands The Red Lion Inn, circa 1703. Steeped in historic charm, the inn features modern amenities and dramatic function spaces. Many a wedding proposal has occurred in front of a crackling fire at the Red Lion Tavern and the two-story Barn event space, with its rough-hewn beams and dramatic staircase, is a top spot for weddings. Thanks to the inn’s 15 beautiful guest rooms and its private pool oasis, guests can feel a world away right at the center of downtown Cohasset. Upgrades have been quietly incorporated into The Red Lion Inn, to maintain the historic feel.

Newly renovated and renamed, the Hillside House, which echoes the coastal rustic feel of The Red Lion while embracing soft seaside colors in its decor.

CHP is proud of the work they’ve accomplished so far on the town’s iconic buildings. “We’re breathing life into all of them,” says Lubitz. It’s a responsibility that he, as a lifelong Cohasset resident, does not take lightly. “They are so iconic. We are inspired not just to save them but to guide them into this new time.”

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The Bigger Plan

CHP’s long-term goal is even more grand--they hope to “reclaim the harbor for all” and  envision a new and improved waterfront that provides more public access to the harbor and a seamless connection to the downtown.

For starters, the developers plan to raze the aged and boxy Cohasset Harbor Inn that currently hugs one side of the harbor and replace it with 29 townhomes and a public park. Inspired by spots like Christopher Columbus Park in the North End of Boston, their vision includes green space, a walking path, pop-up shops, kayak rentals and more. The current parking area for the Cohasset Harbor Inn and the small building across the street is where the new housing will sit. This will open up a view to the water. Design is still in process, but plans depict townhomes with a coastal New England feel.

 

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CHP has already held two years of public meetings to shape the vision for the waterfront with the input of the town. “We want to create more opportunities for people to visit Cohasset,” he says.  Now, CHP is working to make their vision happen.

Lubitz and another partner live just down the street from Atlantica, past the Border Street Bridge, and they all have close ties to the town. In other words, they care.

They have bigger dreams too: bike shares to help people explore the town; festivals using the new space and more shops to invigorate the town. The group has already begun to attract new business. The Anchor & Sail General Store recently opened right next to The Red Lion Inn. A classic country store with a modern twist, they carry everything from classic candy and toys to delicious baked goods and coffee. The front porch of the general store is the perfect spot to nosh and people watch and its classy-yet-simple vibe is exactly what they CHP team is going for.

While some locals are still weighing their feelings on the redevelopment plans, there is a distinct excitement and community buzz about the project. Stephanie Burke, owner of the town’s hip new Mexican restaurant, Lenny’s Hideaway, says she feels confident CHP is on the right path.

“I’m really excited about it,” says Burke. “To be a place where people venture to? Now that’s ideal.” She also feels CHP is handling it the right way. “One of the things I like about what they are doing is they are holding lots of community forums on this, where they allow people to voice their concerns, and they really listen to them,” says Burke. “This is not a situation of them bringing in only people who support it. They truly want to hear from everyone. I respect and commend them for that.”

“This is our project and by that I mean all of us in Cohasset,” says Lubitz. “That’s what drives us.”

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