The whales have decamped for warmer waters, the beaches are deserted, and Rocky Neck looks more like a ghost town than an art colony. So why go to Gloucester now? How about good music, great food, cool winter walks, and the chance to get to know this unpretentious Cape Ann city stripped of the summertime crowds? As befits its role as a fishing port, Gloucester sports a rough-and-tumble charm that’s softened around the edges by the presence of artists and plenty of local pride. Local folk are quick to remind you that Gloucester is an island — connected to the mainland by two bridges, but an island nonetheless. Adds a certain cachet, don’t you think?
Sure, it’s the off-season, but a room with an ocean view is always a plus. The 117-year-old Blue Shutters Beachside Inn (1 Nautilus Road, 978-283-1198, www.blueshuttersbeachside.com, rates $80-$225 off-season), at Good Harbor Beach, offers 12 uniquely decorated rooms and small apartments. They vary in size, and all but two have private baths. The Nautilus room has good views and the most privacy. Across the street from the harbor and the Man at the Wheel, the 200-year-old Harborview Inn (71 Western Ave., 978-283-2277, www.harbor
viewinn.com, $99-$169 off-season) has a handsome living room with a welcoming fireplace and décor that runs to antiques and reproductions and floral wallpaper in six rooms and suites. Each has a private bath.
Gloucester is a star of the North Shore dining scene. When it comes to good and cheap, the Causeway Restaurant (78 Essex Ave., 978-281-5256, entrees $9-$19) has no peers. This plain-Jane establishment dishes up mounds of mussels and golden masses of fish ’n’ chips, coconut-rum haddock, fried scallops, and other glories of the deep, plus hearty fish chowder ($6.25 bowl). Unless you’ve got a fisherman-size appetite, you’ll be toting a doggie bag home. Take note: The restaurant is BYOB so go classy, and pick up a decent bottle of white wine at the liquor store next door. On the fine-dining side, tiny Duckworth’s Bistrot (197 E. Main St., 978-282-4426, www.duckworths
bistrot.com, entrees from $13-$30) is beloved by local foodies. Diners can order half- or full-size portions of entrees, so you can sample more of chef Ken Duckworth’s inspired cookery. Perfect on a wintry night: duck leg confit with cognac demi-glace ($14/$26) and grilled eggplant roulade stuffed with scallops, shrimp, and monkfish ($12/$22), followed by Nicole Duckworth’s “very chocolate cake” ($8). And it’s always fun to mix and match tapas at the casual, upscale Alchemy Café (3 Duncan St., 978-281-3997, www.alchemybistro.com, $14-$26). The locally sourced menu runs the gamut from rabbit pot pie to cornmeal-crusted flounder. They also offer better-than-average vegetarian options (try the coconut and curry tofu with fruit salsa) and gluten-free items. And if the last time you’ve tucked in to some Azorean cuisine was, like, never, you owe it to yourself to try the Azorean (133 Washington St., 978-283-5500, www.azoreanrestaurant.com, $14.95-$21.95). A bowl of clams with chorizo in wine-garlic broth is a sure cure for winter blues.
Alas, Beauport and Hammond Castle are closed for the season, but the Cape Ann Museum (27 Pleasant St., 978-283-0455, www.capeannmuseum.org, Tue-Sun, tours at 11 a.m., $10; closed Feb.) is a delight. Exhibits feature maritime art, including a strong collection of work by Gloucester-born Fitz Henry Lane and a look at Cape Ann’s granite quarries and fishing industry. The shops along Main Street are an interesting collection, too, a mix that includes books, toys, earthy boutiques, and galleries — don’t miss Menage (134 Main St., 978-283-6030). Pay your respects to the Man at the Wheel statue on Stacy Boulevard and take the obligatory photo, but if the weather’s not brutal, keep going — follow the new Gloucester HarborWalk (www.ghwalk
.org), a self-guided walking tour with 42 “story moments” (signs) with snippets of the seaport’s history. Scan the QR codes with your phone for more info, songs, and videos. If it’s really nice out — or you’re made of really tough stuff — check out the stark, wintry beauty of Good Harbor Beach on Thatcher Road. Or head into the woodlands at Ravenswood Park (481 Western Ave., 978-526-8687, www.the
trustees.org) and explore the trails and carriage roads — 10 miles’ worth — on snowshoes or cross-country skis. The park’s Cape Ann Discovery Center, open weekends, offers hands-on activities for kids, including live animal demonstrations. (Check the website for upcoming events.) Finally, if you’re a fan of the National Geographic Channel’s “Wicked Tuna” series, you can snap a photo at Cape Ann Marina (75 Essex Ave., 978-283-2116, www.capeannmarina.com/), where three of the featured fishing boats tie up, and there will be no pesky tourists ruining your shot.
Every town should have a down-and-dirty place to knock back a brew and groove to some local music. In Gloucester, that would be the Rhumb Line (40 Railroad Ave., 978-283-9732, www.the
rhumbline.com). Don’t dress up — “posh” is not a word you’d associate with the circa 1970s, just-this-side-of-dive-y bar and restaurant — but get ready to be blown away by some of the best bands on the North Shore and beyond. Given the brick walls and the red-checked tablecloths, Guiseppe’s Ristorante & Piano Bar (2 Main St., 978-879-4622, www.guiseppesma.com) is a real throwback, but in a good way. You never know who will jump up and play the piano (or sing). On Friday and Saturday nights, the piano bench is reserved for an actual piano player, Joe Thomas. You can hear some good talent here when they host the North Shore voice competition, beginning March 21. If you’re a beer connoisseur, plan your evening around the Cape Ann Brewing Co. (11 Rogers St., 978-282-7399, www.capeannbrewing
.com), where they brew and serve Fisherman’s Ale, Fisherman’s Brew, and other artisan adult beverages.