Grand Old House is turning one century old this year and it is celebrating in style.
After all, the House represents Caymanian history in many ways and is much more to Cayman’s society than just a restaurant.
The House was built in 1908 atop ironwood posts, rendering it strong enough to withstand not just one, but two, major force hurricanes. The storm of 1932 and Hurricane Ivan in 2004 barely touched the house.
Boston businessman William Henry Law constructed the great house on a coconut plantation, but it was the Lambert family, who replaced Mr. Law as residents of the house when he left the Islands and started its age-old reputation as a hub of entertainment and elegance.
The Lamberts enjoyed entertaining and frequently held parties at the house. They left in 1925 for Jamaica and put the house in the care of housekeeper Olive Hinds.
Although the house has served multiple functions over the years, including being used as a Sunday school, a hurricane shelter and a hospital in WWII for wounded soldiers, it eventually returned to its entertainment roots in 1969 when it officially opened as a restaurant.
Events and Culture
Rotary Club meetings have been held at the House since 1966 and continue today. The restaurant has also found its place as one of the most popular wedding venues on-island for both residents and tourists.
Weddings are a big industry at Grand Old House.
‘I think we host the most weddings island-wide,’ said Office Manager Denise Farrington. ‘Both for locals and ex-pats and visitors.’
Under the auspices of General Manager Martin Richter, the House has flourished, says Mrs. Farrington.
‘Martin is great at creating unique events that no one else will have seen,’ she says. ‘He has the capability of bringing talent in both locally and from overseas.’
One of the next big parties Mr. Richter is undertaking is the 100th anniversary gala, an invitation-only event being held at the restaurant in early November.
‘The gala will start inside, where decorations will reflect the past,’ explains Mrs. Farrington. ‘Then we will move outside where the focus will be very much on the future.’
The House is a favourite of visitors and residents alike as a cultural nexus, where guests stop by to peruse the artwork on the walls, listen to the live jazz music that is performed every Thursday night, or – of course – tantalise their tastebuds with the latest creations on the menu.
The National Trust Gala Dinner was recently held at Grand Old House and included a champagne reception, dinner with wine and a unique auction of artefacts related to the year of Grand Old House’s establishment – 1908.
Items auctioned included jewellery boxes, silverware, a bottle of 1908 Armagnac, a pocket watch and a 1908 Cayman Islands stamp.
Some documents included the original document of the 1863 Act of Parliament in mint condition and the Complete Works of Robert Burns, a six-volume edition printed in 1909.
Robert Burns, a famous Scottish poet, was also known as Rabbie Burns, the Ploughman Poet, the Bard of Ayrshire, Scotland’s favourite son and a whole host of other fond nicknames.
He is regarded as a pioneer of the Romantic Movement and became a great source of inspiration to the founders of both liberalism and socialism. Burns also revised or adapted folk songs he had collected from across Scotland – one of his most famous, Auld Lang Syne, is sung across the world every New Year.
All proceeds from the event went to the Mission House, an historic site in Bodden Town belonging to the National Trust of the Cayman Islands.
Also in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the restaurant, Morgan’s Gallery has been displaying artwork at the location all year. As the pieces often change, it allows for a never-ending exhibition for all who visit the House.
Titled 100 Years On, the exhibition features work from 14 local artists. The themes include scenes and reflections of Cayman through history and depictions of Grand Old House itself.
All pieces in the exhibitions are for sale and part of the proceeds are donated to the Cayman Islands Crisis Centre and the Veterans and Seaman’s Mission on Cayman Brac.
The exhibition opened last December and had sold eight paintings in its first month alone.
‘We often have people stop by just to peruse the artwork,’ says Mrs. Farrington. ‘Other locals are drawn to the House because of memories of their childhood. They love the history of the building.’
The House itself is certainly impressive enough to warrant a visit.
It has been excellently maintained and many features of the House, including the hardwood flooring and panelling, are original.
‘The House takes a lot of maintenance, but it has a sound structure,’ says Mrs. Farrington.
‘It has been a part of Caymanian culture for 100 years,’ she adds. ‘We give back to the community by fundraising for local charities, displaying art and holding music evenings.’
The Thursday-night jazz evenings feature Leyannes Valdes on piano. Each week a different instrumentalist accompanies her, and past guests have included saxophonists, trumpeters and, recently, accomplished pianist Glen Inaga.
Food and Beverage
‘Our lunch menu changes weekly,’ says Mrs. Farrington. ‘We have certain dishes that will always be on our menu – such as our conch fritters – but we like to continue to change our menu so people are never bored.’
Maitre d’ Lazlo Boros adds that the cuisine served at Grand Old House could be described as ‘international with a Caribbean flair.
‘We have chefs from India, Europe, Jamaica…the inspirations of the head chef guide our menu and the different cultural influences really help,’ says Mr. Boros.
‘We like to keep our kitchen that way,’ adds Mrs. Farrington, agreeing that the multicultural influences only add to their menus.
Their wine list is the cause of much envy as well. ‘We bring in a lot of wines ourselves,’ says Mrs. Farrington. ‘You can purchase a bottle with your dinner that you perhaps couldn’t find elsewhere on the island.’
Indeed, the bottle of vintage 1908 Armagnac that the Grand Old House auctioned off on 25 October is one of only three left in the world.
‘I believe the other two are owned by people in New York and Moscow,’ says Mr. Boros.
Armagnac is actually a French brandy that is made from wine, and tastes similar to cognac. Despite cognac being generally more recognised, Armagnac actually has a much longer history, and has been in existence for around 200 years longer than cognac.
Proud of its wine collection, Grand Old House again integrates the arts by hosting an annual competition for wine label designs.
‘We choose two winners from the entries; one for a house red and the other for champagne,’ explains Mr. Boros.
‘They should represent Grand Old House in some way, but the champagne label can also be wedding-themed,’ says Mrs. Farrington.
Grand Old House is keen to set straight a common misconception.
‘The restaurant is known for its elegance, but people too often think they have to come in a jacket and suit and be very formal…our dress code is smart casual. We maintain our elegance alongside the laid-back lifestyle of the Caribbean. There are definitely no jackets required,’ Mrs. Farrington explains.
‘Our prices are also mainstream in comparison to other restaurants,’ adds Mr. Boros. ‘Even though there is 100 years of tradition in the House, we can have events and decorate the venue and it will feel like modern-day New York City!’
Grand Old House has no intention of slowing down its renowned events, its cultural involvement or its charitable contributions.
‘We have benefited the AIDS foundation, Cancer Society, the National Trust…many different charities,’ says Mrs. Farrington.
With the introduction of new chef, John Pritchard, to its team this November, Grand Old House continues to be influenced by fresh and new ideas.