Chef Manuel Perez stands in the main dining room at the Peacock Inn. Perez’s gnocchi recipe is one of the restaurant’s signature dishes, and a customer favorite on the menu. (Staff photo by Alexandra Yearly.)

The Peacock Inn is a place where guests can enjoy a signature Peacock Fizz cocktail at the modernized bar, sit down for dinner at the award-winning restaurant and retire to a room with a bed with down pillows and a bathroom with a heated floor.

But the comforts of the inn are only a part of the its allure.

The Inn had functioned as a hotel since 1911 but reopened in January 2010 after three and a half years’ worth of renovations.

Four months later in May 2010, the Inn opened its restaurant, which was met with rave reviews and has since earned several honors, including being voted Best New Restaurant 2010 by the Star-Ledger and recognized by New Jersey Monthly as one of the top 25 restaurants in the state.

Chef Manuel Perez said the hotel’s three most popular dishes since the restaurant’s opening are the ricotta gnocchi, organic scottish salmon “en croute” and the mojo braised suckling pig.

“Now, 15, 16 months later, if I take those items off the menu, we’re going to have a problem … there have been people that have the salmon four out of five times they’ve been here,” he said.

What’s most noteworthy about the gnocchi is its texture. Manuel sautés the gnocchi with asparagus and tomato confit, drizzling portobello-parmesan butter over top before serving.

Manuel said when someone orders the suckling pig, he sears the skin on the flat top, and serves it with a guava gastrique—a guava sweet-and-sour type reduction—some of the braising liquid, a papaya salad flavored with scallions, cilantro and lime juice, and fried yucca.

“People really dig that one, too,” Perez said. “It’s got kind of a Cuban, kind of a Latin [flavor].”

Co-owner Barry Sussman said the dining rooms, which hold a total of 95 guests, are modeled somewhat similarly to their previous design.

“What we wanted to do was open them up but yet make them private so the rooms can be used for private functions,” Sussman said.

The result was three open dining rooms, each able to be closed off using sliding doors.

The building was actually constructed in the late 1700s and was said to have housed some members of the Continental Congress before it became an inn, Sussman said. An addition was added in the mid 1800s, when the building was moved to its current location on Bayard Lane. The building first opened as an inn in 1911.

Just before entering the dining area, guests may notice the framed menu hanging on the wall, featuring $4 lobster. The menu and wine list, left over from the 1930s, was one of a few pieces of historical memorabilia found in the Inn’s basement, known as Peacock Alley.

Peacock Alley is believed to have been a speakeasy during the time of Prohibition, complete with a hidden side door entrance (now a fire exit), and frequented by Albert Einstein and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Renovations uncovered three drawings by John Held, Jr. depicting scenes of the 1920s on the concrete walls of the basement. The scenes included an old gin still, women in flapper attire and Princeton professor and mathematician John von Neumann driving while reading a book.

Upon their discovery, the artwork was cut out of the concrete wall, and now hangs over the fireplace in each dining room.

The basement, still named Peacock Alley, is now used for private meetings and dinners, whose walls were hand-painted with scenes of Princeton and Nassau Street by Princetonian Lisa Walsh.

The three-floor hotel has 16 rooms, each with its own private bathroom. No two rooms are identical, Sussman said, because they each encompass different attributes that are part of the building. Sussman said prices vary, but a night’s stay costs roughly $200–500.

Hotel manager Melissa Darpino said the Inn’s clientele hails from all over the world. The Inn’s busiest season is Reunion Weekend, a three-day event before the University’s graduation.

“The guests that come in here during reunions are the best of the best,” Darpino said. “It’s amazing to see who has graduated from Princeton and how much affinity they have to the town.”

The Inn currently has a wait list for Reunion Weekend extending until 2015.

Guests have been known to stay for a night or weekend, or even a few months at a time, Sussman said.

“It’s a mix of leisure travelers, people wanting to get away for the weekend. We’ve had parents and students visiting the University. It’s some of the ‘who’s who’ of America have stayed here already … it’s exciting,” Sussman said. “We’re meeting people who are very interesting people and we get to talk to everybody.”

The Inn will be hosting an Italian wine dinner Oct. 17, where guests may taste and purchase the wine.

The Peacock Inn is located at 20 Bayard Lane in Princeton. For more information, call (609) 924-1707. Email: info@thepeacockinn.com. On the Web: peacockinn.com.