48 Hours in Brunswick + Bath
Brunswick and Bath provide a weekend escape filled with museums, galleries, and antiques.
Downtown walks and dining
It’s a beautiful clear night, and the drive to Brunswick from Portland takes only 30 minutes. This weekend I’m staying at The Brunswick Inn in the heart of the downtown. As I pull up, I notice the inn’s large wraparound porch and make a mental note that it will be the perfect spot to sit with my morning coffee. After a lovely tour of the Federal-style main building built in 1848, the innkeeper takes me to my room in the Carriage House around the corner.
Tonight I’m on my own, and I decide it’s the perfect opportunity to try the local sushi. Several coworkers recommended Little Tokyo, a short walk from the inn. Along the way I pass the town’s green, where there’s a farmers’ market on Saturday mornings in May through November. I sit down at the sushi bar and start with crispy shumai dumplings and a seaweed salad. Since I don’t want to go overboard, I decide on shrimp tempura with an eel sauce drizzle and a spicy tuna roll for my entree. The spicy tuna has just the right amount of spice not to overpower the taste of the fresh tuna.
After dinner I walk by the Eveningstar Cinema, which has been playing movies since 1979 in the Tontine Mall. I see that The Dead Don’t Die is playing, but a horror movie might not be the best idea tonight, so I do a little window-shopping then stop for a glass of wine at Vessel and Vine. The signage has an Alice-in-Wonderland vibe. Half of the space is filled with vintage objects for sale, with an emphasis on midcentury modern and Art Deco serving pieces. After resisting the urge to buy a silver penguin ice bucket with brown Bakelite handles shaped like wings, I find a seat on a velvet couch and take in the peaceful atmosphere. There’s a nice selection of small-plate dishes, including oysters, but I settle on a glass of white wine the server recommends.
Hash and Legos
I go for an early run then pick up my eight-year-old daughter to join me for breakfast at Broadway Delicatessen. There’s a big booth in the back available, available, and we order right away. I decide on a veggie omelet, potatoes, and toast, and Eva orders the homemade corned beef hash. While waiting for our food, we notice the walls are lined with clocks. The clock directly across from me is made from an old Kodak Carousel slide wheel, and the one next to it is made of recycled bicycle parts. Once the food arrives, the hash steals the show and is gone within minutes.
We have a couple of hours before we meet my husband, Ryan, and my youngest daughter in Bath, so we check out some of the shops on Maine Street. The front of Wylers is filled with a variety of home goods, including a display of kitschy pastel cake stands, mixed with local goods such as soaps, honey, and candy. There’s a section of toys and an entire wall of Legos. Eva is mesmerized by the selection and uses her allowance to buy a small Lego set.
Ships, lighthouses, and art
We meet the rest of family at Maine Maritime Museum, a quick 15-minute drive away in Bath, for a Shipyards and Lighthouses Cruise down the Kennebec River. It’s a beautiful day, but we notice some dark clouds when we go on the deck. The guide gives us a brief history of the shipbuilding industry, which began in the region over 400 years ago and continues today. We pass Doubling Point Light and the Doubling Point Range Lights. Just as we reach Bath Iron Works and see some of the navy’s most advanced ships taking shape, we notice lightning in the distance. The captain announces we need to head back to the museum for safety reasons. Back on shore in the museum, the kids love the replicas of old ships and cabins (including a set of bunk beds they both play in). Hartley, our three-year-old, is fascinated by a 12-bolt helmet dive suit from 1952. I’m pulled in by a display of scrimshaw and learn that historians often date the pieces by the magazine illustration used by the sailor, who transferred its image to the tooth by pricking through the paper with a needle.
After the rain stops, we head to the recently opened Bruno’s Wood-Fired Pizzeria on Front Street in Bath. We go with a traditional margarita to appease the children, along with the Bruno, which has a ranch base topped with shredded mozzarella, chicken, bacon, tomatoes, and pepperoncini. The pizza is cooked to perfection and reminds me of Italy. Hartley and Ryan go back to Portland for naptime, while Eva stays with me.
We both love to visit galleries and museums, so we stop at ICON Contemporary Art in a converted colonial house in Brunswick. The exhibition is a special one, since gallery owners Ellen Golden and Duane Paluska are showing their own work. Paluska greets us at the door before going to work in his studio in the adjoining building. We take our time going through the two floors filled with Golden’s geometric ink-on-paper prints and Paluska’s wooden furniture and abstract sculptures. The pieces blend well together, creating a peaceful dialogue.
Our next stop is the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, which was designed by the architectural firm McKim, Mead, and White. There are over 20,000 objects in the collection, including paintings, sculptures, works on paper, decorative arts, and artifacts. We walk through the exhibition spaces, then make our way to see a much-talked-about black-and-white drawing called Let’s Get Lost. This is not an ordinary drawing, though: it is an optical, physical, and sonic experience created by Rebecca Bray, James Bigbee Garver, Josh Knowles, and linn meyers. Using the drawing as a score, visitors interact with the work using a mobile app to generate sounds inside the gallery.
Pad thai and gelato
After debating between Indian food at Bombay Mahal and Thai food at Little Saigon, we decide we want pad thai. Our dinner includes fresh spring rolls with a decadent peanut dipping sauce, tofu pad thai, and chicken basil fried rice. After dinner we walk down Maine Street toward the inn and stop at Gelato Fiasco’s flagship store. It is packed, and we each order a small cookies-and-cream gelato.
Breakfast and off to the bridge we go
The day starts with breakfast at the inn: homemade blueberry crisp and banana bread, then a breakfast burrito for me and scrambled eggs and bacon for Eva. Our first stop is the Androscoggin Swinging Bridge, which was built in 1892 to enable mill workers to cross the river from new housing in Topsham to the Cabot textile mill in Brunswick. We explore the area a bit before we get back in the car.
Coffee, antiquing, and chowder
Eva has always enjoyed going antiquing with me. She loves looking at makers’ marks, guessing the designer, and above all going through the vintage toys. We grab a coffee and lemonade along with two cookies at the Little Dog Coffee Shop before we hit the stores on Maine Street. Our favorite pieces at Timeless Cottage include a blue painted mirror, glass bottles and insulators, and a well-loved banjo. At Hatch, we contemplate buying an old wooden school desk with an attached chair for Hartley. It’s a beauty, but the writing surface is a bit narrow and would need some modifications. Our last stop is Nest; although the store doesn’t carry any antiques, it does have the biggest selection of British designer Orla Kiely’s products I have seen in Maine. I adore her prints and have multiple pieces by Kiely in my wardrobe and home.
The Waterfront Flea Market in Fort Andross (the former Cabot Mill) is open every Saturday and Sunday from 9 to 5. There are over 75 dealers in the market. After sifting through a lot of booths our favorite finds include a piece of Wheeler pottery, a nice set of Garbage Pail Kids cards from the 1980s, and a vintage Fisher Price music box television. Next, we explore a more curated selection of antiques at Cabot Mill Antiques. We find Fiesta dinnerware, two blue chests from the 1960s, and a duck decoy.
We can’t end our trip to Bath and Brunswick without seafood. At the newly opened Pepper’s Landing Lobster Company, we sit down in a big leather booth and admire the vintage decor and neon signage. Eva goes over to check out the live lobsters while I order for us. The standouts included the crab and corn fritters (Jonah crab, sweet corn, bell peppers, and red onion) and some of the best clam chowder we have ever tasted. With full bellies and minds, we get in the car to head home to Portland.