A little more than 100 years ago, when the last century was still quite young, Watch Hill’s Olympia Tea Room came to be. To this day it is a place that visitors love to put on their travel itinerary and it remains a frequented restaurant for those who live in the area.
Sitting prominently at 74 Bay Street with great views of Little Narragansett Bay, the Olympia Tea Room is easy to find. The classy black and gold “Olympia Tea Room” signs often gleam in the late afternoon summer sun. Nestled under a front awning, the outdoor seating area provides spectacular sunset views, relaxing breezes, and helps to make this historic restaurant an anchor presence in the prestigious yet casual ocean-side village called Watch Hill.
For those who prefer indoor dining, the welcoming staff will offer you a choice of comfortable booths or tables. You’ll sit in a cozy atmosphere surrounded by antique mahogany wood, an art gallery of stately paintings, a well-stocked bar area specializing in fine wines from around the world, and sublimely perfect lighting. Background music helps to calm spirits and provides a nice backdrop for dinner conversations. It is a casual space with an upscale flare and homey atmosphere where both shorts and suits are welcome.
Olympia’s tagline, “Famous not Fancy since 1916.” is truthful and welcoming. The restaurant gained a following with the original owners, three brothers named Teddy, Spiro, and Mike Tramis. Although locally known as a Greek establishment, the brothers were Albanian. “The Greeks,” as they were known, ran the popular restaurant until the mid to late 1970’s when it was sold to someone who kept it going until the Felbers came into ownership.
In the late autumn of 1980, Jack and Marcia Felber were searching the shoreline areas of southern New England to find the right place to buy a restaurant.
Jack was a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and was already experienced in the restaurant business. The couple, already with one young daughter, wanted to find a restaurant by the ocean with an attached residence. Family life was central to their vision of career and life happiness and a good part of that was being able to run a good restaurant without sacrificing family life.
According to Jack, when Marcia was a child her family would camp at Burlingame campground in Charlestown, so she was already familiar with the Olympia Tea Room. In that late autumn of ’80 they stopped into the tea room.
Jack remembers that he sat at the table and “jotted down some numbers” on a napkin. The owner at the time came to their table and Jack asked if, by chance, the restaurant was for sale. The owner said yes. Jack asked for a price and the price the owner stated just happened to match the number Jack had written on the napkin. That providential coincidence started a negotiation that resulted in the Felbers ultimately purchasing the Olympia Tea Room in early 1981. Their dream to own a restaurant by the ocean where they could live, work, and raise a family had become a reality.
Since its inception, the Olympia Tea Room has survived brutal coastal storms including the hurricane of ‘38 and Storm Sandy where the water stopped only about six inches from the sandbags in front of Olympia’s front doors. The restaurant has also welcomed some very famous people. Some of them have been actors Douglas Fairbanks, James Cagney, Meryl Streep, singers Mary Travers from the Peter, Paul and Mary trio and Frank Sinatra. Multi-faceted TV personality Regis Philbin has eaten here as has the world-renowned and brilliant Albert Einstein, among others.
Under the leadership of Jack and Chef Kyle Lydick, a Johnson and Wales alum, the kitchen crew, and bar staff work together tirelessly to provide a delicious menu with weekly specials and great customer service. Patrons are encouraged to read the back of the menu for a more expansive history of the Olympia Tea Room and the very entertaining “We Were Here Before” section.
Jack describes their menu as bistro-style. The restaurant offers a variety of dishes such as Portuguese baked cod (“roasted with spicy crushed tomatoes and onions, topped with buttered breadcrumbs”), Scallop and Corn Stew, and Grilled Sausage Bruno (“sweet local Italian sausage with roasted potatoes, broccolini and shaved parmesan”), a variety of pastas, sandwiches, salads, and delicious appetizers.
Also of note are their award-winning wine selections from around the world and “the best cocktails in Watch Hill”. From their extensive wine collection, housed in two wine cellars, there are over 300 wine choices available. Jack shared that their special bistro-style menu is largely wine-driven, serving foods that go great with specific wines.
During the 38 years that they’ve owned the Olympia, the Felbers have welcomed a second daughter and they now have four grandchildren. Marcia has become a fairly successful artist. Her paintings are on display in the restaurant, next door in their daughter’s shop WH20, and are also for sale privately. Their youngest daughter, Georgia, is a sommelier and her expertise is of great value in the business.
If you haven’t done so already, take a drive down to the village of Watch Hill and indulge in some culinary delights, perhaps a glass of wine, and great conversation at the Olympia Tea Room. The initial opening was the last Friday of April and they are open seven days a week for lunch and dinner through Labor Day. After that they are closed on Tuesdays until Columbus Day, then they are open Thursdays through Sundays until Thanksgiving weekend, or perhaps a little longer this year, and then they close for the season.