A weekend in Newport usually includes lobster rolls, waterfront mansions, and more lobster rolls. Our pals Laura House and Kate Thorman, lovely editors at the boutique hotel site Mr & Mrs Smith, spent a night in the coastal Rhode Island town and found a few spots that break the mold. Add them to your Newport list. No need to drop the lobster rolls.
NEWPORT, Rhode Island – Team kicked off summer with a good old-fashioned road trip. (Maybe you caught the on Popupla?) We capped off a whirlwind New England tour with a night in Newport. And more than one strong latte in the morning. Here's what we found.
Newport is well known for its stately Gilded Age manors and mansions. Why settle for taking a tour when you can bunk in one? Built in 1909 for Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, The Vanderbilt Grace is a red-brick manse that's been revamped as a boutique hotel and spa.
Set down a cobblestone alleyway an easy stroll from the harbor, the style is a mix of the traditional (there's a clubby billiard room and a drawing room hung with Norman Rockwell prints) and the modern (rooms are bright and contemporary). Service is top-notch, and even if you are not a guest, you can still experience the glam of a bygone era with a drink at the bar or dinner at Muse, the elegant in-house restaurant.
We ducked into the storefront at Bowen's Warf just before it started to pour. The amazing, rainy-day find combines an I-want-one-of-everything gift shop, a home design bazaar, and an art gallery. We had meant to pop by, until we got to chatting with the engaging owners, Kristen Coates (who grew up in Newport) and Chris Wyllie, artists and former New Yorkers.
Beyond selling well-chosen decorative pieces and books, the store also serves as a showcase for Wyllie's large-scale paintings on found objects and for Coates' ceramics. So, yeah, it's personal. The homey, intimate vibe made it easy for us to spend nearly an hour with the couple gabbing about travel, their , and following your heart. And we picked up souvenirs, too. It was just the thing to brighten up an otherwise gloomy day.
At its port-town peak in the mid-1800s, Newport had 22 rum distilleries. So where has the rum gone? Award-winning bartender Jason Kindness, the bar manager at the Revolving Door, returned to his native Newport passionate about its rum-runner past and intent on reviving this potent history, one rum cocktail at a time. He was drawn to Revolving Door for the eatery's rotating chef concept, where guest chefs are invited to workshop dishes and set menus for a few weeks at a time.
Taking a seat at the bar, we were suspicious about the late 90s-inspired décor of dark wood and faux-Chihuly lighting, as well as a menu that screamed at diners in bold, block-face font. But one taste of chef Ezra Lewis' artistic and delicate dishes was all it took to win us over. We started with tasty bites of king crab and yucca drizzled with avocado puree and crowned with herbs, then moved on to roasted Cornish hen and lobster-filled tortellini. It all paired perfectly with a smoky, spice-inflected rum cocktail Kindness whipped up for us. Chefs rotate in and out, so you never do know what you'll get, but it's worth perusing the menu (the style-sensitive should put on blinders) over an inventive cocktail at the bar.
We can't quite get our bearings unless we have a strong cup of coffee in hand — preferably one from a locally owned shop that's buzzing with characters and the local scoop. Crammed in like a good stowaway at the end of Bannister's Wharf, Coffee Grinder fits the bill. Grab a homemade vanilla raisin scone or chocolate chip muffin along with a strong latte, and perch in one of the harbor-facing Adirondack chairs to watch the boats drift by and the crews unload. Hello, sailor.
Sure, the burger-and-fries combo is standard American fare, but truly exceptional burgers and fries are a rare find. The good people at Mission, a hip, hole-in-the-wall burger and hot dog joint (and falafel, if you're feeling vegetarian) have a perfect, if simple, formula down. The fries are hand-cut, the meat is ground in-house, and the burgers are topped with a savory house sauce that blends aioli, ketchup, cornichon, capers, herbs, and brandy. A juicy, expertly grilled burger and thick fries was our parting meal in Newport. It left us craving more, for sure.