The Mainstay Inn

635 Columbia Avenue, Cape May, New Jersey 08204
Innkeeper(s): Pete & Esther Scalone
  • Introduction

    The Mainstay Inn Front View

    A pair of wealthy gamblers pooled their resources in 1872 and built an elegant, exclusive clubhouse where their friends could devote themselves to gambling and other gentlemanly amusements. They spared no expense and hired a famous architect to design a grand villa with fourteen foot ceilings, elaborate chandeliers, a sweeping veranda, and a cupola to top it all off.

    Select Registry Innkeepers of the Year Award in 2002!

    This beautiful building is now The Mainstay Inn. It looks much as it did when the gamblers were there, except for a few concessions to 20th century comfort. Our guests can enjoy great variety in accommodations in the three buildings that comprise The Mainstay Inn. Rooms and suites range from ostentatious Victorian splendor to contemporary elegance. All have private baths and most have off-street parking.

    The Mainstay Inn Breakfast

    "I don't believe I have ever seen a historic house so painstakingly and lovingly restored and preserved. Nor have I seen an Inn more inviting and attractive." Richard Moe, President National Trust for Historic Preservation

    The Mainstay Inn was originally known as "The Clubhouse," a 19th century pleasure palace, where gentlemen gathered in an elegant setting for gambling and other amusements. Since 1976, visitors have been able to enjoy the same grand spaces, with fourteen foot ceilings, and museum quality antiques. The six spacious guestrooms are furnished with splendid antiques, much as they were in the 19th century, but now all have private bathrooms with tub and shower. All guest rooms have central air conditioning and most have designated parking spaces.

    The Mainstay Inn Parlor

    The building known as The Cottage became part of the Mainstay in 1981. Built as a private summer home in 1870, the Cottage is joined to the Inn by a brick walkway transversing a lovely garden with a Victorian fountain. The six rooms in the Cottage, all with queen or king sized beds, have private baths, and central air conditioning, and most have designated parking spaces. Two rooms have private porches overlooking the garden.

    The Mainstay Inn has been featured in Americana, New York, Country Magazine, Victorian Homes, Insider, Conde Nast Traveler, Smithsonian, Travel and Leisure, Architectural Digest's Classic Country Inns, The Washington Post, National Geographic Traveler, Philadelphia Magazine, Offshore Magazine, Washington Times, Travel and Leisure Golf, General Store, Washington, Coastal Living, and 1000 Places to See Before You Die.

    The Mainstay Inn AAA 3 diamondGuest in the Inn and Cottage enjoy breakfast served family style in our lovely dining room in the spring and fall. In summer a generous buffet is provided, allowing guests to take their plates onto the wide veranda or into the garden. All guests are invited to partake of the famous Mainstay afternoon tea, served each afternoon from 4 until 5 pm. A vast array of beverages, homemade sweets, and savories are presented each day.

    Also provided for all guests are lush beach towels, and beach chairs with umbrellas. A shower and changing room are available for those who wish to extend their beach time beyond checkout.

  • Breakfast & Afternoon Tea

    The Mainstay Inn breakfastBreakfast is served family style around the original walnut dining table from mid-September to mid-June. Strangers are no more after enjoying a Mainstay breakfast featuring great food and conversation.

    A typical morning breakfast might include:

    • Orange Juice or Cranapple Juice
    • Fresh Fruit Course
    • Strawberry French Toast
    • Baked Ham
    • Angel Biscuits with preserves
    • Mainstay Coffee and Tea Blends
    • (cereal with fresh fruit may be substituted)

    From mid-June to mid-September, a summer breakfast buffet is provided for indoor or veranda dining. Bathing suits and tennis clothes are okay too. Our selections include:

    • Choice of juice
    • Selection of cereals, fresh fruit, yogurt, meats and cheese, hot egg or french toast dish
    • Home made coffee cake of the day
    • Home made breads, English muffins
    • Fresh bagels from local bakery with cream cheese and jams
    • Mainstay Coffee and Tea Blends

    We have been told that the gentlemen gamblers did not permit ladies inside The Clubhouse, but they invited them to enjoy tea on the veranda in the afternoon. We have changed the rules a little and serve everybody tea inside and outside depending on the season. From 4 to 5 p.m. daily hot or iced tea, home made sweets, fresh fruit and tea sandwiches or specialty cheese spreads will refresh you after a fun day in old Cape May.

  • Common Rooms

    The Mainstay Inn Living Room

    The Mainstay Inn Foyer

    The Mainstay Inn Dining Room

    The Mainstay Inn antique Mirror in Parlor

  • Media Reviews

    The Mainstay Inn white columned veranda


    "Today the Mainstay remains the most beautiful conservative Victorian home in a town full of lovely old high-style places, and passers-by still stop and stare at it."

    New York

    "To see and be seen is the point of the white columned veranda, which extends around three sides of the house and is furnished with rockers and swings. This is a corner house and while most Cape May yards range from perfunctory to tiny, this one is ample and lush and always in flower, especially around the iron fountain."

    Country Magazine

    "Surely it would be impossible not to unwind here, not to feel as if one had found, at long last, that perfect summer getaway where every care in the world is swept away by the pull of the tides."

    Victorian Homes

    "The pristine appearance of The Mainstay Inn belies a racy past. This Italianate Villa was built in 1872 by a group of well-heeled gentlemen for use as a private gambling and entertainment club. These gentlemen spared nothing in the construction and decoration of their club, which boasts a sweeping veranda, high ceilings, and luxurious interiors."


    "The parlors and other rooms of the Mainstay are filled with period furniture that has been restored so that it doesn't seem "antique," but new."

    The Mainstay Inn Lovely Garden

    Paul Grimes, Condé Nast Traveler

    "Architecturally, no inn, anywhere, quite matches the Mainstay, an Italianate villa with a broad veranda, built in 1872 as a gambling and entertainment club for gentlemen."


    "The Mainstay Inn was once Jackson's Clubhouse in the days when it was popular with gamblers. Grand parlor of the Mainstay Inn today looks much as it did in the 1870's. So do other rooms in the inn."

    Travel and Leisure
    "If you can get a reservation at the Mainstay, by all means take it. In a town of charming B&B's, this Italianate Villa seems to float dreamily above the rest."

    Architectural Digest's Classic Country Inns

    "Today the interiors and exteriors of the Mainstay sparkle like the sea by which it sits, testimony to a lively recycling of the past."

    The Washington Post

    "The jewel of them all has got to be the Mainstay. If you're lucky enough to pick up a cancellation there, you're in for a treat."

    National Geographic Traveler

    "Behind its picket fence, a broad veranda and porch swings beckon. I had passed the Mainstay many times before, but had never actually gone in. Now I found that beyond its narrow, 13-foot-high windows lies Victorian luxury, probably the most successful rendition of it to be had at any of Cape May's Inns."

    Philadelphia Magazine

    "Despite the Mainstay's tendency to be written about by virtually all travel writers (not always a good sign), its reputation is well deserved."

    Offshore Magazine

    "The Antiques Road Show could camp out here for a week and barely dent its treasures."

    Washington Times

    "Cape May will forever dispel the image of crowded, concrete and asphalt New Jersey. The town is cool, clean and jolly. There are no fast food places, no boom boxes. Ancient hotels with swaying front porch rockers hold court here."

    Travel and Leisure Golf

    "In a town devoted to its Victorian homes and inns, The Mainstay is the undisputed grande dame."

    General Store

    "The Mainstay, with its intricate Italianate architecture and opulent parlors and guestrooms, positively oozes Victorian charm."


    "The Mainstay is Cape May's most elegant inn."

    Coastal Living

    "In 1971 The Mainstay Inn, Cape May's first bed-breakfast, opened. It's still probably the best - and that's saying something. The historic district is filled with good ones."

    1000 Places to See Before You Die

    "The Mainstay Inn was among the town's first bed-and-breakfasts, and remains one of its undisputed gems. A dignified Italianate manor one block from the ocean, it was built in 1872 as a gentlemen's exclusive gambling club."

  • Guest Accolades

    The Mainstay Inn porch"Your staff is extremely helpful, in our case above and beyond. I do not know how you could improve upon anything. Everything was delicious at breakfast and afternoon tea. The presentation was excellent. We were in three different rooms and all were just lovely...beautiful decor!" ~ Isabel & Carlos Gaviria

    "Great as always! We have come to Cape May for years and would not stay anywhere else. The staff is the best - really go a out of their way for their guests." ~ Roseann & Lou Biscando

    "You were all wonderful. We enjoyed our stay because of your great hospitality and warmth. We will spread the word about your Inn and look forward to returning soon."~ The Payton Family

    "Diane made us feel like welcome guests, but also old friends. Thank you, Diane, for the wonderful special treatment you gave us." ~ Lisa Spring

    "Beyond great!" ~ Mr. & Mrs. F. Lombardi

    "Everything was wonderful. The Inn and grounds are absolutely beautiful. We really enjoyed our stay and will definitely be back!" ~ Stacy & Alan Embrey

    The Mainstay Inn Victorian Fountain

    "Thank you so much for making our engagement memorable with your extra special touches. This weekend will forever be in our hearts." ~ Chayna & Peter

    "Most considerate in helping us to set up the CPAP machine, very surprised & pleased that a bottle of champagne was in room to celebrate our 50th. We will be telling all our friends how terrific the food & variety of food was. We loved the decor. Everything was very well kept, the grounds were lovely. How did you manage such perfect wreaths?" ~ Robert & Margaret Noppenberger

    "The staff was lovely! Everything was beautifully clean and the entire property is gorgeous. The choices of food were great." ~ Christina DiGiacomo

    "Thank you for a most perfect stay, it was soul nourishing!!" ~ Dr. & Mrs. Murray M. Cohen

    "Thanks for a great time. Your hospitality by everyone was the best!" ~ Mr. & Mrs. Joe Gregory

    "Thank you! Even the light fixtures in the bed and bathrooms are that! The observatory tower is very neat to see, everything is beautiful. Keep preserving! Delicious, nice variety of food. Good quantity of everything...very plentiful." ~ Walter & Michelle Piechowski

    "The Mainstay's attention to details is to be applauded. Bravo!

    What a lovely overnight treat. Thank you!" ~ Linda & John Beazley

  • History

    Of the three buildings which comprise The Mainstay Inn, the most interesting history belongs to the Inn. Designed by famous Philadelphia architect, Stephen Decatur Button, and built in 1872 as a private gambling club, the building was recognized as important by a writer for the Cape May Ocean Wave as early as June, 1872. "The New Club House - In the design on this model building which now adds to the attractiveness of Columbia Avenue, Mr. S.D. Button, the architect, has won himself additional honors...It is symmetrical in its proportions, airy and cheerful in its appointments, and finished in that unpretentious elegance so foreign to mansions of the shoddy order."

    The Clubhouse operated until the late 1890's when gambling was made illegal and Cape May was losing ground to Atlantic City, Asbury Park and Coney Island. It was then sold to the Scotts, who used it as a summer home for many years and again to the O'Briens, who had wonderful parties that Cape May's old timers still remember. In 1949, Rev. and Mrs. John Pemberton bought the building and converted it to a guest house, called The Victorian Mansion, which they operated summer only until 1976.

    In 1972 when the entire City of Cape May was placed on the National Register of Historic Sites, The Mainstay was one of sixteen buildings in the City selected to be recorded by The Historic American Buildings Survey. Architectural plans of the building and important historic details where carefully prepared and are now stored in the Library of Congress.

    In 1977, Tom and Sue Carroll purchased the building and began an extensive restoration project and opened a bed-and-breakfast, which they called The Mainstay Inn. In 1980, the Carrolls purchased a neighboring property, the Cottage, which was also designed by Stephen D. Button.

    It had always been a private summer home, but after months of labor, it was converted to a six room B&B, operated in conjunction with The Mainstay Inn.

    The two properties were purchased by Pete and Esther Scalone. Today, The Mainstay Inn is run by long time Mainstay assistant innkeeper, Diane Clark with the same level of commitment to hospitality and historic preservation as before.

  • Area Website Links

  • How To Find Us

    From New York and North Jersey: Follow the Garden State Pwky to mile Zero. At the end bear left on Route 109 over the bridge and into Cape May City. As you cross the small bridge with boats on either side, stay to the right on Lafayette Street. At the first light in town, turn left onto Madison. Go 3 blocks to the water tower and turn right on Columbia. Proceed 3 blocks to the Mainstay Inn on the right corner. Park in the fifteen-minute loading zone while checking in.

    From Philadelphia and West: Follow Interstate 76 East and cross the Walt Whitman Bridge. Stay on Route 42 towards Atlantic City. Bear right on Route 55 South. After 40 minutes this will put you on Route 47 south, then 347 south and back to 47 south. Follow 47 south to the Garden State Parkway south. (see directions above). From Lancaster area, you may want to use the Commodore Barry Bridge and follow Route 322 east to Route 55 south.

    From Baltimore and Washington: Follow Interstate 95 North towards Wilmington. Below Wilmington follow signs to the Delaware Memorial Bridge and the New Jersey Turnpike. Just after crossing the bridge, follow Route 40 east towards Atlantic City. After the town of Elmer, watch for Route 55 south. (see directions above). From Washington and points south You may want to consider the Cape May Lewes Ferry. From the Washington beltway (495), take Route 50 east across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. In the Wye Mills area, take Route 404 east, Route 16 east, Route 1 south and follow signs to the Ferry Terminal in Lewes, Delaware. If you are early, the historic district of Lewes is great! Good shops, museums and places for lunch. You can make reservations on the ferry ($5 extra) by calling 1-800-643-3779 or visit their web site. It is a nice 70-minute cruise across the bay.