Rhode Island in the winter can sometimes present challenges for those looking to be outside for any length of time. Winters are often cold and wet with regular snowfall that usually makes for slow going when you’re on foot. After all, we’re known as the Ocean State and this moniker inherently lends itself to warm weather-based activities. I have to admit, I had mixed feelings about a wintertime Neighborhood Walk, but I’m a Rhode Islander and we don’t let a little cold weather slow us down. The question now was, what neighborhood would offer the winning combination of social activity, shopping, and sight seeing enough to make for an interesting story? Look no further than the gem of Rhode Island, the City by the Sea, and playground to people from all over the world: Newport - more precisely, Lower Thames in the Waterfront District.
Newport, like Providence, is a city that has many pockets of activity and is best experienced when it’s broken up into several smaller adventures. I feel that focusing on one neighborhood at a time allows for a deeper, richer experience. There is simply too much to do, even in the winter. Our walk, (my wife Melissa always joins me), started down by Scales & Shells on Lower Thames, which unfortunately is closed until January 20th for seasonal maintenance. It’s billed as “Newport’s Only ‘Only Fish’ Restaurant” and I’ve made a mental note to return this spring once they’ve gotten back into the swing of things.
Heading North along Thames, we passed door after door of restaurants, pubs, souvenir shops, and clothing and accessory stores. More importantly, Melissa’s eyes were drawn to the beautifully styled jewelry shop, Sequin. It’s a New York-based jewelry company owned by sisters Kim and Linda Renk, who founded it back in 2000. They now have several locations, including Illinois and Florida, with their line of jewelry appearing in many high-end retailers across the country. I’m not one to shy away from a good history lesson so my ears perked up when Samantha, the shop attendant, mentioned that the building had been there since the early 1900’s - back then it was a tailor shop. She even mentioned that the black and white tiled floor and gigantic wall mirror had been there since the building was erected. Needless to say, this was my favorite shop of the day, purely based on the history lesson.
After thanking Samantha for her knowledge and hospitality we said our goodbyes but not without Melissa leaving with a newly-purchased (on sale) bangle bracelet. On Samantha’s recommendation, we popped across the street to a wonderful little antique shop run by two of the most hospitable folks we’ve ever encountered. I found myself wondering if the crystal glasses I was admiring had been used by some of the old world Newport elite, like the Vanderbilts or Rockerfellers in their “summer cottages” as they liked to refer to them - we know them as the Newport Mansions.
Heading on down the road, Melissa noticed an alley that gave us access to the waterfront. It was a gorgeous scene with a long wharf on the left jutting out into the frigid Newport Harbor waters, and a wider dock to the right. It reminded me of an old boat launch but then I realized it was the back of the Newport Armory building and served as such from 1894 all the way into the 1980’s, and now houses Newport Armory Antiques. After snapping a few water-level shots of the tranquil chilly water, we headed into the Armory to warm up a bit and to do a little antiquing. Thousands of heirlooms lined the aisles and again I wondered what magnificent stories the items might hold.
With a rumble in our tummies we headed to one of Melissa’s favorite spots, The Red Parrot. Admittedly it can be a little touristy, but in the slow season of winter it was exactly what we needed. A couple of seats at the bar gave us the opportunity to socialize and take the damp chill out of our bodies. We knew we wanted something to munch on and perhaps a drink. We were beyond delighted with our decadent and delicious lobster nachos. It wouldn’t be a visit to the “City by the Sea” if we hadn’t had lobster in some form, and what better way than piled high on a bed of crispy, cheesy nachos. The lobster was sautéed in a rich butter sauce then layered into the salty chips. Nothing could have brought our day in Newport to a close any better than feasting on seafood and enjoying each other’s company as we discussed our next adventure.
I’m looking forward to heading back to Newport in the coming months to experience the other neighborhoods that I’m sure hold lots of secrets and interesting stories. The next time we’re in town we’ll be venturing down Bellevue Avenue to look at the many upscale shops, the International Tennis Hall of Fame, and what was once considered the wealthiest stretch of real estate in the country - the Newport Mansions.