Kevin O’Neill will turn 60 years old this Saturday. The Northport Hotel co-owner is so mentally invested in the completion of the space that, when he arrived at a surprise birthday party thrown for him by his wife last weekend, he had no idea what he was there for. He had completely forgotten about the arrival of his own personal milestone.
To put things in context, O’Neill and his partner, Richard Dolce, bought the Main Street property where the hotel now stands in January 2016, when O’Neill was 52. They broke ground in 2019. In the summer of 2021, construction emerged aboveground; the foundation was finished and the building’s structure began to appear, finally.
Now, O’Neill is at the tail end of the project, managing finishing touches, and watching from the perimeter what will likely be a very busy day today, April 19, as the hotel starts taking reservations for the very first time.
A massive undertaking
The project had its share of challenges over the years: a pandemic, shutdowns, material and labor shortages and, as O’Neill explained, a job that just grew and grew as time progressed.
“This is a massive project,” O’Neill said. “I found out after I started that it’s a lot bigger than I thought it was going to be. But to do something of this magnitude – take a big, dilapidated concrete building… take it down discreetly, make it go away and then build the infrastructure around it to hold the earth back, and build the foundation and everything else, that’s a very significant project in a small town.”
The result is Northport Village’s very own luxury boutique hotel with 26 rooms on two floors, and a 175-seat casual fine dining restaurant on the ground floor. The hotel’s furnishings are in a nearby warehouse, ready to go. O’Neill secured the storage space four years ago, and has been using it to hold items like chandeliers and furniture ever since. Just two weeks ago, O’Neill, who has become the designated truck driver, delivered toilets to the site for installation.
In a tour of the hotel and restaurant this past Monday, two things became immediately clear: O’Neill is a man of refined detail and consideration, and his commitment to Northport’s charm – and yes, its growth – is unparalleled.
A purist through and through
At the helm of construction is Timothy Cocks of TC3 Construction and Consulting. A lifelong Northporter, Cocks helped O'Neill and Dolce build the Engeman Theater 15 years ago and is right there beside them now, in the homestretch of the Northport Hotel.
“If people understood the total magnitude of what went on to get to this point, and how minimally invasive it was, I think they’d have to tip their caps to Tim,” O’Neill said. “I can’t say enough about him and his commitment to the project, and commitment to being a good neighbor to the residents and merchants in the Village while we make this thing happen.”
Construction of the parking deck, for example, required 45 concrete trucks, work that was planned so well, barely anyone noticed them at the site the morning of delivery. It seemed that no matter what Cocks was dealing with, O’Neill said, he considered it from the perspective of a neighbor, and was mindful and efficient.
“There is a purist side of some Northport residents that you feel from people, and Tim’s got it through and through,” O’Neill said. It’s a sentiment and consideration that translates in the building’s aesthetics as well. Traditional design elements pay homage to the building’s predecessors, and tie into the existing fabric of Northport's historic downtown. Eventually, O’Neill said, he would like the hotel to feel like it’s always been part of the Village, something he and Dolce have already accomplished with the theater across the street – it’s hard to believe it’s only been operating as the Engeman for 15 years.
Your room is waiting…
The scope of the project, and the hotel’s true size, is fully realized as you walk the staircases from floor to floor. With every turn, we lost our bearings a little bit; were we facing Main Street or Woodside Avenue? Is that the harbor behind the trees? Every now and then we had to remind ourselves that we were still in Northport.
O’Neill, however, knew every detail of the hotel as he proudly showcased the seven different guest room styles, telling us where every piece of furniture would go, the televisions, the little tables on which to place champagne. Wainscotting and beadboard paneling make plentiful appearances, and classic black-and-white octagon tiles with a diamond dot (and radiant heat) are in each bathroom.
A few rooms are uniquely special, with individual perks like a Juliet balcony rail or, in the hotel’s stunning second level corner room, a wine bottle chandelier and three Main-Street-facing windows.
O’Neill credits Sharon Dallago Genden of Dallago Associates, Inc. for helping to create and perfect the ambiance he was striving for, in the rooms and the restaurant. “She really gets what we are looking to do here, which is to have a harbor town feel, with a beautiful boutique inn,” he said. “We want to make it feel like it’s 100 years old.”
Seven different guest room styles are available at the Northport Hotel, which just announced August 1 as its opening date. A corner room with a view. One of the hotel’s larger rooms features three windows overlooking Main Street.Seven different guest room styles are available at the Northport Hotel, which just announced August 1 as its opening date. A corner room with a view. One of the hotel’s larger rooms features three windows overlooking Main Street.Seven different guest room styles are available at the Northport Hotel, which just announced August 1 as its opening date.
O’Neill’s excitement about the second floor lounge, available to hotel guests only, is palpable. He described the space as having a real Ralph Lauren country club look with a fireplace, rich wood paneling and a television that displays high-quality artwork when not in use. A coffered ceiling and soon-to-be-installed plaid carpet complement the room’s attractive and upscale energy.
There’s also a coffee machine that “makes everything,” and another machine that serves “beautiful bottles of wine” by the glass. Guests can simply pick up a coffee and a scone to take back to their room in the morning, he said, or use the room as a private space to watch a sporting event and relax as a group.
The way O’Neill describes the refined look and high-end design, the practical touches not just in the lounge but throughout the hotel, makes them seem essential, not excessive.
“Everybody could do the big things well, but it’s the little things that matter,” he said. “The measures we went to… there’s nothing that’s been built like this.”
Many of those measures – the two layers of sheetrock for sound control, the more-than-sufficient hot water system, the extra space in the kitchen so staff have elbow room to work – won’t actually be seen by guests, but they will be felt. “We went overkill on a lot of things, but we had one shot to do this right,” O’Neill said.
Give people what they want
A fireplace, baby grand piano, long bar and high-top tables greet guests as they enter the restaurant, which features a combination of crisp white and dark woods. The front of the restaurant will encompass the casual part of fine dining: “I want it to feel like an old classic place,” O’Neill said, envisioning someone drinking a martini on a 25- degree day, waiting for a friend to come down before they head out together to see a show.
As you pass the bar, dining becomes more formal, and the space more expansive. White cloths line the tables, with circular booths to the right, in a room that can be made private when ceiling-to-floor shades are drawn. The restaurant – and hotel – are also ADA-compliant, with easy access and enough space for patrons with wheelchairs to easily navigate, a rarity in the Village.
The idea of an Italian steakhouse was novel seven years ago, when he first decided on it, O’Neill said; though the concept has since grown in popularity, he’s sticking with it. “I’m Irish, but Italian food is the best on the planet and steak is a close second,” he said. “Put them both together and give people what they want.” What O’Neill wants, his “must-haves,” he said, will be reflected on the menu: a solid chicken parmigiana and porterhouse for two.
O’Neill is acutely aware of the camaraderie that comes with owning a Main Street eatery. His goal is to have one of the best restaurants around, with warm and welcoming touches, something that complements the restaurants down the block, he said, and helps make Northport a dining destination. His front desk concierge will be promoting his neighbors in the food business equally as well. “It makes the Village economically stronger,” he said.
A little TLC goes a long way
After our almost two-hour tour of the hotel property, we walked away a little awestruck, not only because O’Neill and Dolce were able to pull off what can only be described as a megaproject in the middle of small-town Northport, but because they did it with a level of care inherent in communities like this one – being mindful not only of their Northport neighbors, but also of their workforce, employees, and future clientele.
“We built a business based on treating people with extra TLC,” O’Neill said, referencing the theater across the street. “That has always been successful for us and I think it’s the right thing to do.”
“We want to create a great work environment, so people love working here and never want to leave. It means respecting people, doing the right thing by them, taking good care of them, and supporting them. It really comes down to that,” O’Neill said in between short interactions with the dozens of workers on site throughout our tour. “How you making out today?” he asks a man working in a second floor guest room. “It’s looking great!”
The man who brought Broadway and East End luxury to Main Street is just an everyday guy with a focus on doing things right, treating people well and nurturing community connection.
Standing from the upper parking deck, a vast concrete square that overlooks all of Main Street, with views of both the Engeman marquee and Northport Harbor, O’Neill smiled. “There’s something ambient and charming about this Main Street USA, and we have to do everything we can to try to improve and enhance that,” O’Neill said, eagerly anticipating the hotel’s opening day.
“There’s no doubt I’ll be up here with an Irish whiskey,” he said.