Odyssey Couleur – Feeling Special at AkwaabaHistoric Cape May Feeling Special at Akwaaba
By Caryl R Lucas Photography by Hosea Johnson
Situated on the western side of the country’s oldest seaside resort, on the southern tip of the Garden State, Akwaaba by the Sea is a charming pastel sage, russet and ivory-colored bed-and-breakfast that matches the city’s timeless mystique. When you step inside Cape May’s first black-owned bed-and-breakfast, you see an array of antique treasures and contemporary African crafts that adorn the five guest rooms, all suites named after some of West Cape May’s most prominent African Americans. This hideaway, built in 1850, is like a journey back in time.
Former Essence Editor-in-Chief Monique Greenwood and her husband, Glenn Pogue, a broadcast engineer, opened Akwaaba in 2001. Like many of its resplendent sister bed-and-breakfasts, known as Painted Ladies, dotting the 2.5 mile scenic stretch of Cape May, Akwaaba by the Sea offers visitors a beautiful change of scenery and unique cultural experience. West Cape May was once home to many African Americans who worked as cooks and maids at the beachfront resort hotels during the 1940s. Local historians say Harriett Tubman visited the one-square mile borough of West Cape May, a stop along the Underground Railroad.
John and Andrea Howell, of Freeport, Long Island discover the town’s rich African-American history when they visit in May, shortly before the start of the Memorial Day weekend tourist season. They fall in love with the quiet tree-lined streets, aligned with neat and colorful Victorian jewels decorated with gingerbread trim, and the beautiful panoramic view of the golden beaches and lulling surfs of the Atlantic Ocean.
Following the three-hour long drive from Long Island, the Howells are welcomed by Greenwood and Akwaaba’s Innkeeper, Brian Evans, who lead the couple on a tour of the facility’s five guest rooms.
“Wow, this is lovely,” say Andrea Howell, a corporate attorney with Keyspan, a New York gas and electric utility, as she marvels at an antique ivory lace gown on display in Dolly’s Boudoir, named after the late West Cape May socialite Dolly Nash. “There’s a lot of history here. I never knew about West Cape May or its African-American community.” Andrea’s husband John is an accountant.
The Howells, who left behind their two children at home with a relative, can’t wait to roam through the lovely rooms, but first they enjoy a scrumptious breakfast prepared by Greenwood, who’s known for her favorite Southern dishes of chicken and waffles, salmon cakes and home-made biscuits.
“What I have created is a relaxing atmosphere and a space where couples reconnect with each other and my solo guests can get attuned with themselves,” say Greenwood, the author of “Having What Matters: The Black Woman’s Guide to Creating the Life you Really Want” (HarperCollins).
“When I purchased this Victorian house and started to learn about the history of African Americans in West Cape May and Cape May, I wanted to celebrate our rich heritage,” adds the entrepreneur, wife and mother, who also runs the Akwaaba bed-and-breakfasts in Brooklyn and Washington, D.C.
After enjoying Greenwood’s warmth and Southern (Jersey) hospitality, Andrea and John stroll the historic streets of Cape May, which boasts picturesque Victorian-era structures, antique stores, five-star restaurants and glossy gift shops. As they hold hands while standing on top of a rock cliff overlooking the Atlantic at sunset, the couple catches a glimpse of a school of frolicking dolphins.
“I had heard a lot of great things about the Jersey Shore, but this is phenomenal,” says John.