In the News: For a change of scenery minus the hassle, think Gloucester

April 09, 2022 / Art and Music, Food and Drink, Good to Know, History/Maritime, In The News, Outdoor Adventures, Things to Do & See

Permission to post Boston Globe article | Written by Diane Bair and Pamela Wright  | Updated April 7, 2022, 12:00 pm

Read the article in the Boston Globe HERE.

First in a series of occasional stories looking at closer-to-home destinations with fresh eyes.

It’s hard to get excited about a spring break staycation when you’ve done every jigsaw puzzle, baked every pastry, and binge-watched every show imaginable (including the “Saved by the Bell” reboot and the 9,000th version of “Star Trek.”). You’re picking fights with family members just for some excitement. Please. Stop.

May we suggest … a visit to Gloucester? “Gloucester is one of those places you think you know well, but it’s a very multi-layered city, with a long history as a working fishing port and as one of America’s oldest art colonies,” says Elizabeth Carey, executive director for Discover Gloucester. This seaport city is having a moment right now; it was the backdrop and primary location for the Academy Award-winning best picture, “CODA.” Local residents worked on the film, and local watering hole Pratty’s Bar and Grill (sure to be a popular stop on tourist itineraries this summer) was the location for a climactic scene in the movie.

Eager for a blast of color after a long winter, we set off for Gloucester to see some vibrant art and devour some golden-brown seafood (because what’s a trip to the home of TV’s “Wicked Tuna” without fish?). Minus our usual Gloucester go-to — splashing in the sea at Good Harbor Beach — would this seaport city still be beguiling — or boring? We put on our tourist goggles, and approached it as wide-eyed tourists from Dubuque, Iowa, as opposed to kinda-locals who’ve lived a mere 20 miles away. Here’s what we found.

Saturday morning
No need to get up at 3 a.m. to get to the airport when you’re heading to Gloucester! By 10 a.m., we were already in the city, eager to get breakfast at local favorite Sugar Magnolias (112 Main St.) Would we get The Lucy, a breakfast sandwich featuring peanut butter, banana, bacon, and honey, or crab cakes and eggs, and maybe split an order of pineapple fritters? None of the above — Sugar Mags is closed until April 15, alas. So, we opted for another Gloucester standby, Virgilio’s Italian Bakery & Deli (29 Main St.), the self-proclaimed “bread of the fishermen” since 1961. The cannoli and lobster tails (the pastry kind) tasted as good as they looked. Brushing off a dusting of pastry crumbs and snowflakes, we decided to hit some of Main Street’s art galleries and shops.
“Looks like a ghost town,” our companion, Paul, said, as we surveyed the scene. Yep, there wasn’t much action on the city’s main drag, probably because the weather was an unpleasant trifecta of gray/wet/cold. But we got a warm welcome at Local Colors (121 Main Street), an artists’ cooperative that currently displays the work of 13 members. This engaging space features original artwork by Cape Ann makers, all reasonably priced, with 100 percent of the retail price going directly to the artist. From jewelry and greeting cards to larger fine art paintings, there are some real treasures here. We left with a set of ceramic candle holders by Gloucester artist Peter Black.

Need a wooden octopus, or a one-of-a-kind bench carved from teak? The Menage Gallery offers an array of functional-meets-whimsical finds. DIANE BAIR

We found more temptation across the street at the Menage Gallery (134 Main St.). With painted wooden fish dangling from the ceiling, and art in every nook and cranny, this place is a fiesta for the senses. Gallery owner/woodworker Ed Soucy features his own pieces in the space, along with other artists who share his vision of functional-meets-whimsical. We fell hard for the one-of-a-kind benches carved from Indonesian teak.

Since some of the galleries on our hit list were still closed for the season, we meandered into several inviting-looking shops. Adding to its authentic vibe, downtown Gloucester is home to independent shops, not chains, including two bookstores and a shoe store, Mark Adrian’s (Cute Bootie Alert). One of our favorite boutiques was Floating Lotus (169 Main St.), a husband-and-wife endeavor (they have another shop in Rockport), featuring fair-trade crafts, jewelry, and clothing, including some pieces designed by owner Karin Antanaitis. And if you’re in the market for singing bowls and gongs, this is the place.

Hard to believe that Glo ucester’s sleek upscale Beauport Hotel was once a Birds Eye processing plant. Guest rooms have a nautical vibe; no industrial look at all. Plus — fireplaces. DIANE BAIR

Saturday afternoon

We could’ve returned to Virgilio’s for one of their famous St. Joseph sandwiches, stuffed with Italian meats, but we opted for another local institution, The Causeway Restaurant (78 Essex Ave.). Known for its heaping portions of seafood and homey dishes like chicken parm, the low-key Causeway was full of diners. Given the stormy weather, a steaming bowl of chowder was a perfect choice. No wonder this place landed a spot in our ‘best chowder’ roundup — the haddock chowder was one of the best bowls we’ve ever had. “It looks like there’s an entire fish in there,” Paul marveled.

For more art immersion, we headed back to town and Cape Ann Museum (27 Pleasant St.; adults $12.) This four-level museum, founded in 1875, houses the world’s largest collection of work by Gloucester native and renowned marine artist, Fitz Henry Lane, as well as other painters and sculptors who lived here or were inspired by Cape Ann. The museum also collects and exhibits the work of contemporary Cape Ann artists, and artifacts from local fisheries and granite quarries. This museum is just the right size; you can see it all without being overwhelmed. Our inner tourists wanted to do more, but the promise of a warm, comfy hotel room was too strong to resist.

Gloucester has gorgeous views aplenty, and you’ll definitely want to take a walk or a drive along the ocean. The Oscar-winning film, “CODA,” was shot here. DIANE BAIR

Saturday night

Entering the Beauport Hotel (55 Commercial St.; off-season rates from $199) is like stepping into a tub with one of those fizzy bath bombs; you know it’s going to be buzzy and pleasant. Built on a site that once held an old Birds Eye processing plant, this luxury boutique hotel was abustle with guests, thanks to two weddings that weekend. Pint-size flower girls in velvet dresses huddled around the fireplace, and gussied-up adults clustered around the bar. The hotel has subtle nautical touches, like marine-themed art (and ‘do not disturb’ signs that read ‘no wake’) and hues of cream and blue, plus pleasing amenities like gas fireplaces and L’Occitane bath products. The best feature: shuttles to Good Harbor Beach (in season) and to their sister property, the Seaport Grille. That restaurant is one of the top-rated dinner spots in Gloucester, so we were lucky to snag seats at the bar. We ordered — need you ask — seafood, and local brews. The bar was fun, but the best room in the house is the enclosed heated deck, enhanced with a galaxy of fairy lights. We considered crashing one of the weddings, if only to dance (can’t remember the last time we did that in public!) but we crashed instead, lulled to sleep by the faint bass-y thump of the wedding band.

It may not be quite warm enough to eat outdoors, but the deck at the Seaport Grille is the next best thing. Great food + fairy lights. DIANE BAIR


Sunday morning

It’s worth rising early to see this salty city’s morning light, so gorgeously golden, it has inspired centuries of painters. After eating breakfast in the hotel’s oceanside 1606 Restaurant & Oyster Bar, we considered our day. Although some major attractions were still closed for the season during our visit, including Hammond Castle Museum (now open) and Beauport, the Sleeper-McCann House (late May), the outdoors is always open. Given the weather, we skipped a seaside walk and headed inland to Ravenswood Park. The property has 10 miles of woodland paths and trails, dotted with jumbo-size boulders. The property is popular with dog-walkers and folks who appreciate woodsy, easy-going rambles.

Back in the car, we drove along Gloucester’s Eastern Point, agog at the beautiful homes rising along the coastline, and headed back toward Rocky Neck Art Colony to end our visit with more art. The jumble of colorful cottages that make up one of America’s oldest continuously operating art colonies looked pretty sleepy, but we found an open door at the Cultural Center at Rocky Neck (6 Wonson St.). The official heart of the colony, this c.1877 carpenter-gothic style meetinghouse is a unique space for art shows, and we knew it was a winner when we saw a piece by one of our favorite painters, Rob Diebboll of Rockport. Sadly, we’d busted our art budget (and our food budget), so it was time to depart.

Our artsy Gloucester getaway was short, but we’d made the most of it: cushy hotel, great food, wonderful art, a walk in the woods, and the chance to meet a few local folks at the galleries and shops. Wait until our friends in Dubuque hear about this.