THE PERFECT NEW ENGLAND VILLAGE
If Hollywood were casting for the perfect New England village, it could do no better than tiny Washington (pop. 3,121), a spotless, white-framed, green-shuttered memento of early America. And if the script called for a quaint country inn, what better place than the 23-room Mayflower, nestled in a hollow on the edge of town? As for an innkeeper, the Mayflower's Jan Myslik - puckish, prankish, and never at a loss for words - could simply play himself.
Early America is the dominant theme in these parts. The village of Washington , a two-hour drive up the pike from New York City, in the heart of historic Litchfield County, was named after Gen. George Washington in 1779, although he probably never set foot in town and certainly didn't sleep at the Mayflower, built more than a century later. The naming was actually a renaming. Before 1779 the town had been part of Woodbury, Conn., but the local patriots wanted to show the local Tories where their hearts were.
The Mayflower Inn's design suggests the colonial period, and its snug little dining room is a copy of the dining saloon of the good ship Mayflower. There is nothing, of course, early American about Jan Myslik and his wife Pedja Mary. They are Czech emigres, and their kitchen - fast winning favor in the land of Yankee pot roast - is strongly Czech-inspired.
How, you ask, did a couple from Prague find their way up the lane of towering rhododendrons on state route 199 in northwest Connecticut? Mr. Myslik laid out the whole saga for me during a quiet moment on New Year's morning in a corner of the dining room. Around us, spent helium-filled balloons lay on the plank floor. In Czechoslovakia, Mr. Myslik was a state librarian and sometime playwright whose parents owned a restaurant; Mrs. Myslik ran a cooking school. They fled the country after the Russians moved into Prague in 1968 and, arriving in the United States, set about learning the American hotel and restaurant business from the ground up.
''It was necessary to know everything about the business,'' Mr. Myslik said, ''so I tried every job - waiter, busboy, dishwasher, and sous-chefm.''
They put their earnings into a Connecticut restaurant called the Semafor, named for one of the best small theaters in Prague; later took over the dining operation of a Wilton, Conn., country club; and three years ago came to the somewhat sagging Mayflower. They found that the rambling clapboard building - once a school and then an obscure inn - had been relieved of much of its antique furnishings by a previous owner.
The Mysliks, having built up a faithful clientele without advertising or joining country-inn associations, have slowly turned the guest rooms and public spaces into comfortable, if not highly stylish, accommodations.
''I am not satisfied with the quality of some of the rooms, so I am always buying things at thrift shops,'' said Mr. Myslik, who has the main building and one of two shingle-sided outbuildings looking shipshape.
While there's nothing fancy about the first-floor lounge in the main house - the couches and easy chairs are tattered in spots - the well-stoked fireplace, dark wood paneling, corner writing desk, and grandfather clocks make you want to sit down, warm your feet, and get acquainted with whoever is about. Mr. Myslik seems to attract an intelligent, independent clientele, including some actors and authors. Northwest Connecticut is after all a magnet for such types. Anne Baxter, Arthur Miller, and Milos Foreman are occasional visitors to the Mayflower.
Nine guest rooms are scattered on the floors above the lounge and dining room , some with shared baths; there are 14 rooms in two neighboring buildings. A night at the inn costs just $40 to $52 for two, including a continental breakfast along with a glass of juice.
The Myslik cuisine, a fairly well-kept secret even in Litchfield County, combines the best of Middle Europe and Yankee New England. The chef is Ed Gagnon , a recent graduate of the Culinary Institute in Hyde Park, N.Y., who not only can turn out a flawless French toast, but has learned the art of the Czech kitchen. Two of the house specialties are roast duck, served with potato pancakes and sauerkraut with caraway seeds, and a filet of beef, smothered with olives and mushrooms.
When you are not lounging by the fire or slicing into a roast duck, the Mysliks can recommend a variety of things to do within striking distance of the Mayflower. For starters, there is the village of Washington, a short stroll up a steep hill on route 199. On either side of the road are the buildings and playing fields of the Gunnery School, a boys' preparatory school founded by Frederick W. Gunn in 1850 and still stressing - as the founder had intended - physical, moral, and social development as much as book learning.
At the center of the Washington green stands the quintessential New England village church: the Meeting House of the First Congregational Church, built in 1801, massive but graceful, with a resounding set of Westminster chimes. On one side of the green stand a white clapboard post office and a general store with a row of red soda-fountain stools. On the other side stands the Gunn Memorial Library and the Gunn Historical Museum, containing letters of Thomas Jefferson and, of course, George Washington along with artifacts from the Revolutionary War down to World War I. Skiing, horseback riding, and antiquing can also be done close by, and Lake Waramaug is waiting only a few miles away for the return of the swimming season. There are a lot of other colonial towns and country inns to be discovered in Litchfield County, but perhaps nothing quite like Washington and the Czech-flavored Mayflower down the hill.
Practical information: For reservations, write to the Mayflower Inn, Washington, Conn. 06793, or phone (203) 868-0515. For further Connecticut information, write Travel, Department of Economic Development, 210 Washington Street, Hartford, Conn. 06106.