Recently, I had the opportunity to take a quick day trip to Newport, Rhode Island. As a resident of Cape Cod, I usually don’t seek out other beach towns during the summer months, but like much of my travels, I had to go there for work purposes. It had been a few years since I had last visited Newport, and with the ravages of COVID-19 on the travel and tourism industry in full effect, the streets and wharf areas had a rather pleasant reduction in congestion than what I remembered. That being said, all of downtown Newport was open for business and making the best of this strange summer.
Every seaside town has a shopping district where visitors can pick up T-shirts, local works of art, and other assorted dust-collectors. In Newport, Thames Street is the place to go to satisfy your shopping urges. Women can take advantage of Newport's Haute culture and find contemporary fashions at a number of boutiques on Thames including the Pink Pineapple, where you can purchase a sweatshirt for a mere $128. No big deal. For those a bit more budget-conscious, Rochelle’s of Newport has some more affordable options. I was able to pick up a knit top for my seventeen-year-old daughter for under $50. Being a dude, I don’t want to belabor the point. There are plenty of clothing shops on Thames Street.
Thames Street also is home to numerous restaurants and lunch joints, some of which break the usual custom of decorating the place with hanging lobster traps, old anchors, and sailing rope. Even being only one block from the wharf areas allows the restaurants on Thames Street to be a bit more creative with the decor and menu. For instance, Tin Can Crab Shake tags itself as a Cajun-style restaurant with an Asian twist. That’s interesting, no?. A bit further up the road is O’Briens, which might sound like a traditional Irish pub, but in fact, has a menu that pulls from several continents. Of course, O’Brien’s serves traditional pub fare like burgers, fries, sandwiches, and pizza, but gets a bit more creative as the menu advances. Chicken curry might satisfy your palate if you are in the mood for Indian fare, or Jamaican jerk chicken could be what hits the spot, bringing you back to your last Caribbean vacation. Or, maybe it’s straight comfort food like the Mac ’n Cheese with smoked Portuguese sausage. O'Brien's has ample outdoor seating as well, an important consideration in the crazy summer of 2020.
One additional note about Thames Street. It’s great for walking, but also has several parking lots and garages located just off of the street, so feel free to drive down and see if you can find some parking close to this fun little section of Newport.
Bannister's and Bowen's Wharfs
Just around the corner from Thames Street are the wharf areas, another highly walkable section of downtown Newport. These waterfront locations are where to go for the classic experiences of waterfront dining, grabbing ice cream with the kids, or a drink at an open-air bar. There are also many merchant shops located in these commercial areas, selling nautical-themed clothing and jewelry to those passing through the brick-lined walkways. Although Bannister’s Wharf and Bowen’s Wharf are two distinct commercial properties, they flow into each other and the casual pedestrian probably won’t realize where one ends and the other begins, so they can be thought of as fairly synonymous.
For those who like to stroll the waterfront in relative quiet, mornings are a great time to grab a cup of coffee and enjoy the outside prior to the crowds and intense summer heat. Coffee Grinder is a small, take-out style shop that serves coffee, espresso drinks, tea, and baked goods. Located at the end of Bannister’s Wharf, you can enjoy your drink while relaxing in one of their Adirondack chairs or take it on a walk of the waterfront areas.
But after drinking coffee comes the urge to get rid of it, and during my visit, I found out that the public restrooms in downtown Newport are not open until 10:00 am. After driving nearly two hours to get to Newport from home and being on my third cup of coffee, the situation was dire. I scrambled around the wharf areas, searching for an open restroom, googling other coffee shops that might be open. Panera was closed until 10:00 due to COVID-19 and Liberty Donuts was converted to a take-out window only. Starbucks was open but had a sign posted on the door, stating their bathrooms were closed in accordance with CDC guidelines. I’ve never hated this damned virus more than right now. I finally found a port-a-potty in a parking lot behind the liquor store. It was disgusting, but I couldn’t afford to be picky.
I left the wharf for a little while to take care of work and returned closer to lunchtime. Newport has quite a few restaurants offering outdoor seating and menus flush with seafood items. Being a resident of Cape Cod, I get my fill of nautical themed eateries and like a change of scenery when I visit other places. I settled on the Wharf Pub, also branded as the Southern Kitchen and Whiskey Bar. This is a cool, little place on Bowen’s Wharf that stands in contrast to the many nautical themed restaurants that pepper the wharf. The Southern Kitchen has an outdoor bar and seating, and features a post and beam decor with rustic planks making up the walls. It's a little slice of...somewhere else...that felt comfortable as I sat at the bar, appropriately distanced from the other customers. The lights hanging from the bar are enclosed in mason jars, and to some degree gave the feeling that I was eating in a bootlegger’s hideaway. I ordered the BBQ Bourbon Burger, which was excellent if a bit messy. These days, licking your fingers is considered hazardous to society, so be sure to grab some extra napkins with your order.
Brick Marketplace & Long Wharf Mall
Located just across the street on America’s Cup Avenue is the Brick Marketplace, a collection of small shops and restaurants that resembles a quaint village with brick-lined pedestrian walkways and courtyards. The selection of shops is typical - clothing, souvenirs, and the like. It is for those that like to walk around and shop in search of new and novel items. There are also a few places to grab a bite, including Mori Sushi and Cupcake Charlie’s.
Nobody visits a new area looking for a shopping mall, but Long Wharf is a bit different in that it flows from the Brick Marketplace and you might walk right into it without any intention. This outdoor shopping area has a few major retailers including Gap, White House Black Market, Francesca’s, and Sephora, along with several smaller shops woven in throughout the anchor stores. It’s certainly not the reason you are visiting Newport, but maybe you have been wanting to grab some new clothes for work, and why not grab it now. It certainly beats driving to an actual shopping mall, which is truly horrible.