Oh, the trip that got us in the Map & Menu mindset. In the spirit of full disclosure, I knew little about the Berkshires when Meredith suggested that we take a short detour there on our drive back from a talk she was giving in Syracuse right after the new year, but as is the case with almost all of Meredith’s travel suggestions, she found something truly special.
Whether it was the stories of celebrity homes in the mountains, or knowing that it was a popular retreat for the big-city folk from New York, I entered the Berkshires with something completely different in mind – an Aspen-like reprieve for the rich and famous – but the progressive, artist-based community of North Adams that we ended up in turned out to be the perfect location for our own mini getaway.
The town of North Adams, nestled in the north-east corner of the Berkshires seems to be a unique case study of a great idea on how to fight the devastation a small mill town can face when its manufacturing leaves the area. I think we’d be hard-pressed to find a single reader out there who hasn’t passed through, or experienced first-hand, Small Town, USA – where it’s biggest industry, whether manufacturing or agriculture has long since gone, leaving empty windows on Main Street and that eerie ghost-town like feel. This seemed to be the fate of North Adams when its largest business, the Sprague Electric Company, closed its doors and took its operation elsewhere in 1985, but then, utilizing the gigantic mill complex left behind, an idea to protect the city was born. I can only quote Wikipedia and the brochures I’ve read about the town so much, but long story short, through the resilience of both the public and private sectors, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (or much cooler, MASS MoCA) was opened in the mill space, establishing itself as the largest contemporary art museum in the United States. I’d love to think that the transformation of downtown North Adams, from “ghost-town on the verge” to “progressive artist haven”, that followed happened overnight, but in all reality, it took close to 15 years of planning and development, and the revival of the town just now seems to be hitting its stride – shops, galleries, and restaurants popping up all over the place, and let’s not forget the spectacular cornerstone it all seems to center around.
Located adjacent to the MASS MoCA mill complex, in a row of renovated Victorian-style mill worker homes, Porches offers a delightfully comfortable place to relax after a day of gallery browsing and delicious dining. Read our full post about The Porches Inn here.
Since we were only in town for one evening (a mini getaway, remember?), the decision of where to eat for dinner ended up being a tough one. There were a number of restaurants recommended by our hotel, but in the end, we followed our gut instinct from the branding, look, and feel of a new place in town – Public. Our decision payed off, as we had a great meal (Shrimp salad for her, cornish hen under a brick for me. Baked brie with brown sugar, walnuts, and apples to start, and an ice cream sandwich to finish.), and some delicious cocktails and beers (Public would function as an exceptional bar even if the meals weren’t so great.). The atmosphere felt like a great new spot in the Old Port, hardly what I expected for the smallest city in Massachusetts.
As I mentioned above, it’s what many consider to be the foundation that North Adams’s ‘revitalization’ is built upon. MASS MoCA is truly a museum unlike any other, and you’d be doing yourself a serious injustice to not get lost in it for a few hours on your next trip to the area. Read our full post about MASS MoCA here.