Brunswick, Harpswell + Bath
48 HOURS-April 2013
Photographs + stories by Maine magazine staff:
Susan Grisanti, Kevin Thomas + Emily McConnell
I have a one-track mind as I head towards Brunswick, a place I often pass through on my travels to the northern midcoast. I rarely stop to stay for the night, let alone for a whole weekend. I'm thinking about art. From the Fort Andross Mill that houses over 30 artists' studios, to Duane Paluska's Icon Contemporary Art—a gallery of record for minimal art and geometric abstraction, representing major names such as Mark Wethli, Don Voisine, James Marshall, Fred Lynch, Claire Seidl, and Duncan Hewitt—to the venerable Bowdoin College Museum of Art, this town has a lot of art for one to see. I've left my office early in hopes of catching a few artists in their studios before they set out for the weekend.
1:30 p.m. @ The Little Dog Coffee Shop
I have just enough time to grab a cup of soup before my first studio visit at 2 o'clock. I feel a tap on my shoulder and look up to see art curator Alison Ferris. Alison introduces me to Kate Egan, who is working on her laptop at a nearby table. Kate is a children's book author and the editor of the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. My time is up, and I have to leave before I can discover what other remarkable connections might be made among those working at tables or lounging on sofas taking in the sun that streams in through the front windows.
2:00 p.m. @ Fort Andross Mill
Timing has lined up for me to find several of my favorite artists working in their studios. Andrea Sulzer, Richard Keen, and Cassie Jones each welcome me for visits, and I have the pleasure of taking in wonderful finished works of art as well as seeing many pieces in progress. Being in each of their spaces gives me an inside peek into their process and inspirations, which in turn leaves me feeling stirred and open. Next, I find sculptor (and Bowdoin art professor) John Bisbee welding in his workshop. He's "in the zone," working on a new direction in his sculpture. He yells out statements like, "Look what I figured out!" as he describes developments to me. After a bit, we tour the many spaces throughout the mill. Finally we land in a gargantuan unfinished part of the mill where John has carved out space for up-and-coming artists Kyle Downs, Isaac Ardis, Sam Gilbert, and others. It is quite a thriving scene. We sit with a beer, talking and looking out at the Androscoggin River before we leave to meet friends.
5:30 p.m. @ Joshua's Restaurant and Tavern
John are I are joined by one of my best buddies, Krista Stokes, and artist Sam Gilbert for beer and snacks at this tried-and-true town favorite, named after Brunswick native and Civil War hero General Joshua L. Chamberlain. Chamberlain also served as the governor of Maine and president of Bowdoin College. I imagine that he would be quite pleased by the camaraderie and good cheer permeating the place.
7:00 p.m. @ The Brunswick Inn
Krista and I leave John and Sam and head down Maine Street toward the village green and the historic 1848 Federal-style Brunswick Inn. Inside a fire burns in each of the sitting rooms and an impressive art show formed in partnership with Bayview Gallery hangs on the walls. We wander through, admiring the cozy, quintessentially New England design, and learn that we’re part of a full house—all of the 16 rooms at the inn are booked.
7:30 p.m. @ Trattoria Athena
Amidst twinkling light, rustic wood tables, and delicate flowers in jam jars, we order an assortment of Greek spreads and carciofini fritti, lightly battered and fried artichoke hearts and stems with a lemon-garlic aioli, to start. Krista chooses squash and kale risotto, and I order a lamb and pasta dish. We pair our meals with Greek wines. Each dish from the Greek and Italian menu is truly delectable.
7:30 a.m. @ Jen’s Place
We’re both up early. On the recommendation of Maine magazine contributor and Brunswick native Jaed Coffin we head off the beaten path to this unassuming diner, where we sample Jen’s legendary sweet potato biscuits, perfectly cooked eggs, and authentic grits.
9:00 a.m. @ Waterfront Flea Market
Every Saturday and Sunday at the mill over 75 dealers offer thousands of vintage items for treasure-hunting enthusiasts. Krista and I peruse each dealer’s space, seeing everything from vintage photos and books, to 1960s scarves, to antique woodworking tools. The find of the day: a perfect pair of Herman Miller Eames chairs.
9:45 a.m. @ Brunswick Winter Market
In what is perhaps the highlight of the weekend, we meander by table after table of gorgeous farm-fresh produce, gourmet dips and sauces, smokehouse treats, beautiful baked goods, intricate hand-blown glass, and colorful pottery. Mothers and children sit in deep windowsills; members of an art class wander the aisles, sketchpads in hand. The picture of a vibrant community sharpens: progressive, earthy, artsy, and engaged.
10:30 a.m. @ Harpswell Neck Road
We’re visiting on a cold, off-season day that finds most of Harpswell closed up for the winter. We drive past the old church and meetinghouse to the tip of Basin Point. At the Dolphin Marina and Restaurant we take in stunning panoramic views of Casco Bay and the surrounding islands. The biting wind causes us to second-guess our plan to hike the Cliff Trail, a 2.3-mile marked trail that loops from the trailhead behind the town offices to a shore walk along Strawberry Creek and the 150-foot cliffs overlooking Long Reach. Instead we head back to the inn to freshen up for the day.
12:00 p.m. on Brunswick’s Maine Street
We begin our shopping spree at one end and make our way down to the other. At The Mix, A Village Mercantile, I find a great sailor skirt and a vest by a local designer. Next stop is Bayview Gallery, where we take in everything from Barbara Applegate’s lush still life oil paintings to a Neil Welliver lithograph. We linger for some time taking in the fine collection of art in this lovely gallery. At Morning Glory Natural Foods Krista buys an organic flaxseed eye mask and a beeswax candle. We’re famished and drop into Little Tokyo for a sushi lunch. At Timeless Cottage we bond with proprietor Patricia Porell, and admire her wonderful collection of vintage items. We each purchase a gorgeous wool blanket from an estate that Patricia acquired. A few doors down at Nest, a colorful collection of Asian-inspired hand-painted tinware stands out among the abundant collection of home furnishings, jewelry, paper goods, and garden items. Our pace slows at Gulf of Maine Books, where we take our time poring over the excellent selection. I leave with a collection of love stories from StoryCorps. At Wyler’s Krista finds several special items including a wide, etched silver ring. I fall in love with Local, a sister shop to Wyler’s and new addition to Maine Street. Krista remarks that it’s the kind of shop you want to live across the street from—it has all you need in a pinch: fresh produce, wines, cheeses, a gourmet deli counter, special sweets.
5:30 p.m. @ Lion’s Pride Restaurant and Brewery
Behind a rich wood- and copper-topped bar are 35 hand-blown glass taps pouring a collection of brews that rivals the best bars in Belgium. Lisa Belisle and my business partner Kevin Thomas join us. We share stories about our weekends, and it’s too soon time for us to leave for dinner.
7:30 p.m. @ Henry and Marty
John Bisbee, Sam Gilbert, and Isaac Ardis join us for dinner. We all easily sink into the warm and bustling atmosphere of the dining room that is accented by a Bisbee mural and several framed works on paper by Cassie Jones. I thoroughly enjoy both my dinner of Korean tacos with Bisson Farm slow-braised pulled beef short rib, and house-made kimchee, and the captivating company of friends. Sam tells me about summertime Brunswick, when the village green is dotted with food trucks and picnickers.
8:30 a.m. @ The Brunswick Inn
To top off our weekend we are served delicious locally roasted Wicked Joe coffee and a delightful breakfast of fresh berries, yogurt and granola followed by eggs and roasted tomatoes. Krista heads home and I set out on a walk. With the mill behind me, I head towards the Bowdoin College campus—two impressive bookends that make up one remarkable town.
I’ve made dozens of trips to eat at El Camino, Trattoria Athena, and Frontier or to visit Bowdoin College Art Museum but don’t know Brunswick as well as my traveling companion Lisa Belisle. I’m looking forward to her guided tour and the usual bit of accidental discovery.
4:00 p.m. The Inn at Brunswick Station
The Inn at Brunswick Station is a short walk from the Amtrak station, Bowdoin College, and Maine Street. We’re told that the Amtrak service from Boston has brought a number of new visitors to town. We’re immediately impressed with the attentiveness of the inn’s staff and we make plans to stop at the bar for a late night drink and dessert.
4:30 p.m. @ Scarlet Begonias
Happy hour at Scarlet Begonias calls us. The warm, family-friendly restaurant is located within the Brunswick Station. Despite the early hour, the bar is nearly full and the smell of roasting garlic fills the air. We edge into our seats and order an appetizer.
5:45 p.m. @ The College Store
Located close to the hotel, this brightly lit store is filled with Bowdoin merchandise. I settle on two impressive-looking black T-shirts emblazoned with the white Bowdoin logo for my sons.
6:30 p.m. @ El Camino Cantina
Opened in 2004 by Paul and Daphne Comaskey, and Eloise Humphrey, this Mexican cantina with a funky ’70s decor is always filled with good cheer. Cocktails named Turbo Diesel and Horny Saint warm up the setting, as does the standing-room-only crowd.
8:30 p.m. @ No. 10 Water
The Brunswick native and fireman we met at El Camino recommended the bar at the Captain Daniel Stone Inn. We enjoy the two-sided fireplace separating the lounge from the main dining area. A singer/piano player entertains diners.
9:30 p.m. @ Joshua’s Restaurant and Tavern
The three bouncers at the door set an expectation of what this popular Maine Street pub will be like. Tunes jam through the expansive space that includes a dining area, pool tables in the back, and a bar at the epicenter.
7:00 a.m. @ Bohemian Coffee House
The Bohemian Coffee House is the closest coffee shop to our accommodations so it’s the logical first move of the day. Numerous signs let us know that cell phones aren’t cool, credit cards are discouraged (processing fees), and that we should know what we want before we get in line. My coffee and toasted sesame bagel get me off to the right start before we head off to Bailey’s Island.
7:30 a.m. Bath Road
We take Bath Road to Route 24, bound for the Harpswell Pennisula. This takes us past the former Brunswick Naval Air Station and two important Brunswick food landmarks: Fat Boy Drive-In and the Dairy Frost. Both take me back more than 40 years with their unapologetic original look. The sign at Fat Boy says “Lights on for Service.”
7:45 a.m. @ Route 24
Water views appear on both sides of this quintessential Maine drive. Summer homes mix easily with longtime local residences—blue-collar sensibility beside second-home chic. We soon cross the Cribstone Bridge, named for the unique construction method to withstand powerful tides. Connecting Orr’s Island and Bailey Island since 1928, this bridge made with granite from quarries in Yarmouth and Pownal is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
9:45 a.m. @ BIGS General Store
Pickup trucks are parked two deep in the parking lot and a fisherman with a deep baritone voice is holding court at one of the indoor tables. The cashier is exceedingly friendly as a radio crackles in the background and a dog lies curled beside the counter.
10:30 a.m. @ Wild Oats Bakery and Cafe
Go here for the best selection of quality soup in Brunswick as well as prepared foods, beverages, and desserts. This is a popular spot for locals and Bowdoin students with seating spilling out into the Tontine Mall.
10:50 a.m. @ Fascination Station Toys
I can’t resist the slot car racing track that consumes over a third of this toy store. I’m wishing that my sons were young enough for me to bring one home.
11:25 a.m. @ Gulf of Maine Books
Gulf of Maine is another of Maine’s great independent bookstores. Lisa picks up a book about Zen by Shunryu Suzuki. The man at the cash register notices and tells us that he attended Suzuki’s San Francisco Zen Center. He knows much about the center, Suzuki, and the Biddeford native who succeeded Suzuki after his death in 1971. The man we are talking to is Gulf of Maine proprietor and poet Gary Lawless.
1:00 p.m. @ Bowdoin College
This private college, chartered in 1794, is the crown jewel of Brunswick and ranked among the nation’s top 10 liberal arts colleges by U.S. News and World Report. Just under 1800 students attend, and they and the faculty add to the energy in this community. Lisa, a 1991 graduate, will provide my first tour of the campus. We begin with the field house—a sprawling complex that includes a world-class swimming pool, track, and practice fields. It abuts an ice arena and numerous fields. The field house is named for William Farley: Bowdoin alumnus, former CEO of Fruit of the Loom, and Kennebunk summer resident. Next, we walk through the Bowdoin Pines located northeast of the campus quad. These pines, likely planted by a Bowdoin alumnus in the late 1800s, are of mythic importance to the college. They guard the path to a massive metal and brick gate and the home of Bowdoin football, Whittier Field. The historic Hubbard Grandstand, circa 1904, dominates the field.
1:30 p.m. @ Peary–MacMillan Arctic Museum
The Arctic Museum displays Admiral Peary’s ten years exploring the North Pole and the surrounding region . I’m most captivated by a collection of Inuit art donated by one of Maine’s spiritual leaders, Rabbi Harry Z. Sky.
1:45 p.m. @ Bowdoin College Art Museum
Architects Machado and Silvetti Associates of Boston completed a $20.8 million renovation in 2007. A new glass entry structure stands in stark contrast to the 1894 Walker Art Building designed by McKim, Mead, and White. There is no fee for enjoying the diverse collection of work, which includes pieces by personal favorites Marsden Hartley, Fairfield Porter, and Robert Indiana.
2:15 p.m. @ The Bowdoin Chapel
Huge murals of Bible scenes cover the side walls in this former church that is now a non-denominational facility and venue for ceremonies.
2:30 p.m. @ Frontier
A trip to Brunswick would not be complete without a stop at Frontier. This combination cafe, cinema, and art gallery was created by Michael “Gil” Gilroy and their tagline is “going beyond.”
3:45 p.m. @ Mere Point + Wharton Point on Maquoit Bay
A very short drive from downtown with beautiful views, you’d be remiss not to find the time.
5:40 p.m. @ Lion’s Pride Restaurant and Bar
We meet Maine magazine editor Susan Grisanti and our mutual friend, interior designer Krista Stokes, at Lion’s Pride. A huge selection of beer on tap creates the nucleus for this popular Route 1 spot.
7:00 p.m. @ Aki Sushi and Hibachi
Mark Wethli, a professor of art at Bowdoin, recommended Aki and I am pleasantly surprised. The space is more expansive than is apparent from the street, a hardworking waitstaff takes care of everything, and the sake and selection of sushi and maki rolls leave us sated.
8:45 p.m. @ Gelato Fiasco
We finish the evening with a favorite of Lisa’s and chuckle about the unique promotion: one percent off for every degree below freezing outside. We score eight percent off.
10:00 a.m. @ Androscoggin Swinging Pedestrian Bridge
Another bridge listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this one was built in 1892 by the same firm that built the Brooklyn Bridge. Far less grand, mill workers used this to get from Topsham to the Cabot Mill. We cross it on our morning run around Brunswick.
10:25 a.m. @ Pinette’s Landing
We had seen brightly colored ice shacks clustered together at Pinette’s Landing from the bridge and run past on our way to the Androscoggin River Bicycle Path.
12:00 p.m. @ Lemongrass
This Vietnamese restaurant located next to the inn was one of our favorite weekend finds. The window seat provided a fun view of the comings and goings on Maine Street, the food was beyond delicious, and our service extraordinary. We recommend the Goi Salad and delicately seasoned Shrimp Fried Rice.
1:30 p.m. @ Eveningstar Cinema
Located just off Maine Street, Eveningstar is a small, accessible hometown movie theater showing one film at a time. We enjoy a great matinee with a nearly sold-out audience.
4:00 p.m. @ The Little Dog Coffee Shop
Open every day of the week, Little Dog is the place to go for your morning caffeine or to read a book over breakfast or lunch. It’s convenient, welcoming, and the best end to 48 Hours in Brunswick.
11:00 a.m. @ South Portland
They’re calling for more than two feet of snow this weekend, so my boyfriend Sergio and I decide to head to Bath early to avoid the worst of the driving. My phone rings twice on our way north. The first caller is Elizabeth, the innkeeper at the Inn at Bath where we’ll be staying. She suggests we head straight to Front Street—shops are likely to close in anticipation of worsening weather conditions. The second is my coworker Peter Heinz who also lives in Bath. “Everyone wants to know if you’re still coming,” he says. I tell him we wouldn’t have it any other way.
12:00 p.m. on Front Street in downtown Bath
Sergio parks and we bundle up to see which shops haven’t closed for the day. We stop and gaze into the windows of Etc. Finery, a store that I know I could spend hours in. A vintage cake cookbook taunts me from the window. I’ll be back for it. Brick Store Antiques is packed with interesting finds—everything from antique dolls and toys to collections of glass bottles and jewelry.
12:30 p.m. @ Waterfront Park
Sergio and I venture onto a wharf overlooking the Kennebec River, which has a great view of the bridge that connects Bath and Woolwich. The wind is bitterly cold, and my fingers are frozen. We watch as a gigantic ice shelf makes its way down the river and meets obstacles close to shore. The current of the river folds the ice into itself, making thundering cracking noises and shaking the wharf we’re standing on. It’s a remarkable sight, and a reminder of just how powerful the river is.
12:45 p.m. @ Lisa-Marie’s Made in Maine + Renys
We decide to see what else is still open on Front Street, and stop at Lisa-Marie’s, a cornerstone of downtown Bath. Sergio, who still feels as though he’s “from away” despite having lived in Maine for almost five years, buys a humor book by John MacDonald, to help him understand the locals. Further along, we see lights on at Renys. Bath locals often boast that one of the greatest assets of their city is that you really don’t need to go anywhere else to get what you need for everyday living. Renys is a part of what makes that so.
1:15 p.m. @ Ornament Home and Garden Store + House of Logan
It feels like spring in Ornament, which offers a selection of items for entertaining, gardening pieces, and other home goods. I fall in love with a necklace made from repurposed vintage jewelry pieces, and Sergio selects a soy candle made by Seawicks in Edgecomb. Next door is House of Logan. This village store, also found in Boothbay and Camden, recently expanded to Bath, and despite the blizzard we find many others trying on clothes, watches, and bracelets, and chatting with the friendly clerks. A pitcher shaped like a fish catches my eye, and the manager, Kelly, explains that it makes a wonderful gurgle as you pour water from it.
2:00 p.m. @ Now You’re Cooking
Everything and anything you could want for your kitchen, plus an impressive selection of wine and beer, cheeses, and other nibbles can be found here. While Sergio and owner Michael talk about the different models of soda makers, I convince myself that I would make mini-cassoulet if only I had four perfect Le Creuset dishes to make it in.
3:00 p.m. @ Bath Natural Market
This is the place to go in Bath for bulk foods, vitamins, and other natural-food-store staples. Mark, who’s owned the store for eight years now, gives us some ideas for outdoor activities we can do to take advantage of the snowfall. “Did you bring your snowshoes?” he asks. We didn’t, but he has other suggestions for us, including a drive out to Fort Popham.
3:15 p.m. @ Bath Iron Works
We decide to take a closer look at the iconic red and white crane that we saw on our way into town. “Through these gates pass the best shipbuilders in the world,” boasts a sign over an office door. While many coastal towns in Maine have impressive captains’ mansions dotting the main streets, Bath is a city of shipbuilders, with BIW at its heart. We learn that at its peak during World War II, BIW was launching a ship every 17 days.
3:30 p.m. @ Halcyon Yarn
I’ve been looking forward to this stop all afternoon. Skeins of yarn in every color stretch from floor to ceiling. Halcyon Blake, the shop’s owner, comes downstairs to introduce herself and tell us about her business’s history. The building, once home to a shoe-black factory, now contains a yarn empire with fiber art tours stopping in from all over the world. I select the materials to knit a baby sweater for the office’s newest arrival.
4:00 p.m. @ The Inn at Bath
Sergio and I drive over to the inn and are warmly greeted by Elizabeth and her Spanish water dog, Atticus. Elizabeth is everything an innkeeper should be—generous with her space, warm, and extremely knowledgeable about Bath. She offers us tea and shows us to our room. We’re excited about hunkering down in front of the fireplace to ride out the storm.
6:30 p.m. @ Admiral Steakhouse
Admiral has a traditional steakhouse feel, with dark wood and white tablecloths. Memorabilia from owner Joe Byrnes’s time in the Navy lines the walls. Everyone takes great care of us, bringing Sergio an exceptional New York sirloin and me a mammoth-sized braised pork shank. The comfort food is exactly what we need.
9:00 a.m. @ The Inn at Bath
We wake up to find a path already shoveled from our doorway to the inn’s main entrance. As we head into the kitchen, we can hear Elizabeth chatting with other guests about the snowfall. We join them, and eat a superb breakfast that includes perfectly crisp bacon.
11:00 a.m. in downtown Bath
With the help of another couple and their Hummer, we make it out of the inn, and start exploring Bath during a blizzard. Almost nothing is open—handwritten apologies are stuck to most doors. We find one of the few lit spaces—Café Crème—and order hot coffees. A few customers straggle in from time to time, but the streets are mostly abandoned.
1:00 p.m. @ The Inn at Bath
We spend our afternoon reading, napping, and drinking the bottle of champagne we stashed in the snowbank by our doorway.
4:00 p.m. @ Byrnes’ Irish Pub
Sergio and I learn that our dinner reservations at Solo Bistro will have to be rescheduled, so we head to Byrnes’ for some pub food. The bar is almost full and we snag the last two seats. As we enjoy our meal, more people stream through the door, eyes barely visible between layers of scarves and hats. Greetings are shouted, and the mood is jovial. Everyone is eager to share their war stories—how much time they spent shoveling out, how high the snow came, how much they have to do the next day. I can tell this place will be rowdy well into the night.
6:30 p.m. @ The Benjamin F. Packard House
Elizabeth has invited us to a get-together she’s going to, and I can’t resist a party. The living room of this historic inn is full of friends laughing, eating, and drinking in front of a huge fireplace. The inn’s owners, Amy and Mark, are wonderful hosts, and we immediately feel like old friends.
Sunday 9:00 a.m. @ The Inn at Bath
Elizabeth outdoes herself this morning with delicious cornmeal pancakes with blueberries and lemon. We’re sad to say goodbye.
11:00 a.m. @ Fort Popham
Sergio and I decide to make the drive out to Fort Popham. As we head out of Bath, we pass roads with names like Fiddlers Reach and Rogers Neck and we’re tempted to explore each one. When we arrive at the fort, we’re shocked to see only a light dusting of snow. The views are breathtaking.
12:00 p.m. @ David Matero Architecture
We met David last night at the party, and he’s invited us to take a look at his office space. It’s an old fraternal organization’s drinking hall, and the shuffleboard court painted on the floor intrigues me. I’m impressed by his work, and by his commitment to the community. One of the projects he shows us is an upcoming city playground.
1:00 p.m. @ Markings Gallery
Our final stop is an eclectic gallery featuring more than 30 Maine artists. I pine for a terracotta relief sculpture, while Sergio admires clocks made from bicycle gears and other found items.
7:00 p.m. @ Solo Bistro
We return to Bath and have one of the best meals we’ve had in years. Pia Nelson, one of Solo’s owners, greets us and goes through the locally sourced and exceptionally executed menu. The restaurant is dotted with people we recognize from our weekend here, and we feel like we’re among friends. Our steak and duck are heavenly. Warmed by wine and food, we head home, already planning our next trip to Bath.