This month - Bay Town Inn bookings are cooking with new guests and returning ones. Find out how owner Nikki Moon is turning them all into devoted fans.
Owner Nikki Moon at the new Bay Town Inn
The Happy Epilogue story and photography by Ellis Anderson
Nikki at the site of the first Bay Town Inn next to the tree that saved her life. photo by Joe Tomasovsky
Savvy travelers around the South have heard the news – through the grapevine, in feature articles, from friends on Facebook:the Bay Town Inn is back.
As a result, Inn owner Nikki Moon, is booking corporate retreats and wedding parties months in advance and most weekends, every room is filled.Her former guests are returning by the dozens, while newbies just discovering the inn are becoming loyal and frequent visitors.Newcomers are sometimes curious:Back from WHAT?
Are you sitting down?
Of the thousands of stories of survival that have been told about Hurricane Katrina, the story of the Bay Town Inn is one of the most compelling.Readers gasp when they come to the part about the relentless surge tearing away rooms of the historic building one by one.They stay up way past their normal bedtimes to see how on earth the seven people who had taken refuge in the house will survive.They tear-up at the bravery of those people, who helped each other at the risks of their own lives.They even laugh at the quips that were exchanged in the most harrowing moments, lines that helped beat back the paralyzing fear.
The inn’s owner, Nikki was a major player in that story.She wound up hugging the limb of an oak tree, her little dog Maddy beneath her, while the waves threatened to tear them from the precarious perch.
When the surge abated, nothing remained of her glorious beachfront bed and breakfast.Not a wall stood.Pieces of it had been sucked into the sea or hurled across the town.But like most people along the coast in those dark hours, she understood that things could be replaced.Lives could not.The fact she and her companions had survived seemed more than enough.
Although Nikki knew from day one that she wanted to rebuild eventually, the storm had utterly demolished the beach road and the infrastructure beneath. The actual landscape had changed.A seawall project made a construction zone of the formerly peaceful beachfront.Years passed before she could even consider rebuilding on her lot.
And when it came to designing the new building, she wondered how to replace one of the most elegant homes on the Gulf Coast, an historic gem that had welcomed visitors from around the world and been featured in dozens of national magazines as an icon of hospitality.
Nikki married John Moon in 2010and the two of them began working with local architect Ed Wikoff to design the new inn. The new inn would pay homage to the original building, but offer more modern amenities and accessibility.The couple’s wish list for a dream bed and breakfast grew as they planned.They wanted more rooms.Each would be a suite – with a sitting room, kitchen area and a spacious bedrooms.The list kept expanding:a pool with a courtyard large enough to host gatherings, a view of the waterfront, a meeting/conference room for business guests, a room that was built to luxuruiosly accommodate disabled guests.A separate house for the Moons, with an office facing the pool.
Ed Wikoff managed to tick off every box and deliver plans for a complex that meshed seamlessly into the surrounding historic district.Construction began in October 2012 and the inn opened in September 2013.
John Moon never got to see the inn. He passed away suddenly from melanoma in May 2013. Nikki sees him everywhere though, his kind presence infuses the hotel.Even the Inn’s logo reflects his serene nature.
Lanny and Susan Robinson are two diehard fans of the new Bay Town Inn.They’d enjoyed several stays at the historic inn before the storm and were saddened to learn of its demise in Katrina.Earlier this year, when they’d heard that the inn had reopened, they immediately made reservations.Their November visit was the couples' third stay in six months.
During their interview for this article, they named dozens of things they loved about the Inn itself and Old Town Bay St. Louis.A few days later, they emailed in more positive comments they’d forgotten to mention the first time around.Topping their “Best Of” list is the way “Nikki will take time to get to know a guest and answer questions.”Other favorites include all the restaurants and shops within walking distance, the harbor, events like Cruisin' the Coast, biking down the beach, and the inn’s peaceful ambiance.Susan thinks of the entire Bay Town Inn experience as “sophisticated beach.”
“We love to walk in the afternoon, exploring the streets and lanes,” says Lanny.“It’s a treat to see all the different types of historic architecture, from the bungalows to the grander homes… and the beach is just stunning.”
Lanny and Susan Richardson, with Nikki's dog Stella
Susan says that after Katrina, when the couple first heard about the tragedy of the Bay Town Inn, they “felt like a part of us, too, was destroyed in the storm.When we came back for the first time this year, we just fell in love with the Inn…again.”
“We can’t not tell our friends about this place,” says Lanny.“We’re blown away by how well Bay St. Louis has come back.”
Sam Burkett is another loyal BTI guest who first visited Bay St. Louis this year.He’s starting a new job at Stennis Space Center and lives in Fort Walton beach.Right now he’s traveling back to Florida each weekend.The BTI won him over with “great service, great food, and the wonderful, friendly smiles” of Nikki and her staff.
“The rooms are more like condos than hotel rooms, so it’s my home away from home,” says Burkett."I would definitely recommend it to anyone wanting a roomy, clean and wonderfully located B&B with an enthusiastic and charming owner."
Nikki thinks of the Robinsons and Sam Burkett as representatives of the two types of guests who are keeping her "bookings cooking."
“Those who loved the town before the storm and haven’t been back recently, feel good again when they see what the whole community has done.Coming back is heart-warming and reassuring and healing.”
Other types of guests that are frequenting the inn are boaters from the harbor, wedding parties and girlfriend groups.With ten full suites, everyone has room to spread out, but the intimate setting, the fresh-baked treats delivered to the room daily (with gourmet specialties on weekends!) and the convivial hostess offer an experience no chain hotel can match.
Nikki is thrilled when her guests report back to her after exploring the town. The reviewers all rave.
"This community is driven by small businesses, not big corporations with backing.These businesses live and breathe by who comes into their shop everyday.Every day it keeps getting better here,” says Nikki.
“I love the fact I’m surrounded by people who kept their lives going after the storm. I can’t say enough about them, about how strong they are.I don’t know how they did it.”
The Bay St. Louis Shoofly is published by Ellis Anderson Media. Website design by Ellis Anderson Media. Unless otherwise attributed, all written content and photography copyright 2011 - 2017 by Ellis Anderson.