The Gifford House Inn is an astonishing stalwart — at least 145 years old — and a hub of gay life, in Club Purgatory and at the Porchside Lounge. Commanding the crest of Mill Hill, and generous vistas of town and harbor, it may have been open as early as 1858 and was surely running by 1870. The oldest section is the wing behind the parking court, with its deep porch and Greek Revival-style pilasters. James Gifford owned his namesake hotel until 1903. George Merrill and his son Daniel Merrill ran it for the next 60 years, adding the big wing along Bradford in 1910. They sold it in 1963 to a group including Francis and Ruth Rogers, of the Norse Wall House.
The Gifford’s cultural apogee was in the late ’60s, when the Act IV Café Experimental Theater operated in the cellar (where Club Purgatory is now), under Robert Costa, Doug Ross, and Eric Krebs. Its 1966 production of Dutchman by Amiri Baraka (then known as LeRoi Jones) starred Beverly Bentley, who was married to Norman Mailer, and Charles Gordone, an actor and playwright who won a Pulitzer for No Place to be Somebody. Next year, the 27-year-old Al Pacino appeared in The Indian Wants the Bronx. Jean Frottier, who perished at sea in 2012, owned the hotel from 1976 to 1988. The Gifford’s current proprietor, James Foss, also owns the Watership Inn. Its Thai Sushi Café closed not long ago.
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