Known to many as “the city of ships,” Bath has a newer, hipper slogan: “Maine’s cool little city.” Adding street cred to its coolness factor: Bath’s main drag, Front Street, was named one of the country’s Top 10 Great Streets by the American Planning Association, an honor also bestowed on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue. But you’ll definitely feel the maritime vibe. This midcoast hamlet launched its first ship more than 400 years ago, and shipbuilding continues to define its culture, thanks to its sprawling shipyard, Bath Iron Works, and the 50-year-old Maine Maritime Museum, located downstream on the Kennebec River. Downtown shops and restaurants hug the riverfront along Front Street, and they include three must-haves to achieve “cool city” status, in our book: good eats, bookstores, and independent shops.
The Galen C. Moses House (1009 Washington St., 888-442-8771, www.galenmoses.com, $119-$259) is hard to miss — this circa 1874 Italianate Victorian is painted salmon pink, with accents in plum and teal. Innkeepers Jim Haught and Larry Kieft have filled the house with antiques and collectibles, but it’s comfortable, not museum-like. The six guest rooms have different themes, like Victorian and Vintage. There are no TVs in guest rooms, but there’s one in the parlor downstairs. Live the life of an 18th-century shipbuilder, if only for one night, at the Benjamin F. Packard House (45 Pearl St., 207-443-6004, www.benjaminfpackardhouse.com, from $100). Located on a quiet side street downtown, this elegant period home offers four guest rooms, with three sitting rooms downstairs where visitors can lounge, socialize, or watch TV. Breakfast (included) is wonderful, especially the house-made granola. The Kismet Inn (44
Summer St., 207-443-3399, www.kismetinnmaine.com, $180-$290) is a circa 1860 Queen Anne Victorian bed-and-breakfast designed as an oasis of serenity, where unplugged guests can enjoy Japanese-style soaking tubs and a wellness center with yoga and massage. Innkeeper Shadi Towfighi is a devotee of healthy living, and her homemade teas and organic treats reflect that. Each of five guest rooms is unique.
Without a doubt, The Cabin (552 Washington St., 207-443-6224, www.cabinpizza.com, pizza $10-$23) is one of the best pizza places in Maine. It’s a classic pizza joint, with Plain-Jane looks. Those in the know order the (very garlicky) white pizza or the shrimp scampi pie. It’s a long way from Memphis, but the slow-cooked fare at Beale Street BBQ (215 Water St., 207-442-9514, www.mainebbq.com, $10.99-$25.99) will surely hit the spot. The pulled pork pairs nicely with spiced fries and slaw, and the jalapeno cornbread is the perfect companion to, well, everything. The jambalaya is made with Maine shrimp and crab, washed down with Russian lemonade made with raspberry vodka. Snug and homey, the Starlight Café (15 Lambard St., 207-443-3005, www.starlightcafe.me, most items $6.95-
$8.50) is downstairs from a kitchen shop. Quiz your companion using the Trivial Pursuit cards at the table as you wait for the crunchy winter salad with cashews and cranberries, or the bumbleberry pancakes filled with blueberries, raspberries, and chunks of apple. At the high end, Solo Bistro (128 Front St., 207-443-3373, www.solobistro.com, entrees $19-$26) is the
go-to spot, especially on Friday nights, when it offers live jazz. The grilled Faroe Island salmon with vanilla balsamic glaze wins high marks, while the mussels Viognier make an elegant meal starter.
The Maine Maritime Museum (243 Washington St., 207-443-1316, www.mainemaritimemuseum.org, $15) is Bath’s prime attraction, a 20-acre complex of historic 19th-century shipyards and exhibits. The museum is home to New England’s largest “sculpture,” a full-size replica of the largest wooden sailing vessel ever built, the Wyoming. The city also boasts an array of architectural gems, especially along Washington Street. To get acquainted, take a walking tour of the Bath historic district with a guide from Sagadahoc Preservation Inc., or make it a self-guided walk (pick up a map at the visitor center in Bath’s renovated train station). As you’re knocking around downtown, pop into artsy shops like Lisa-Marie’s Made in Maine (207-443-2225, 170 Front St., www.lisamariesmadeinmaine.com) and Coastal Art Glass (207-522-0888, 233 Water St., www.coastalartglass.com). Bath’s galleries host Third Friday Art Walks from May through September. Treat yourself to a preview of summer beach days at nearby Popham Beach State Park (10 Perkins Lane, Phippsburg, www.maine.gov ), one of the broadest and most beautiful sandy stretches in the state. Starting in May, hop aboard the Seguin ferry (207-841-7977; www.fishntripsmaine.com) to Seguin Island Lighthouse, located off the mouth of the Kennebec River. Climb up into the 53-foot-tall granite lighthouse for 360-degree views.
Much of the city’s cultural action centers on the Chocolate Church Arts Center (804 Washington St., 207-442-8455, www.chocolatechurcharts.org), a converted church that’s the scene of plays and a series of Saturday night concerts. Upcoming acts include Dan Hicks & the Hot Licks (May 11). The new Front Street Public House pub (207-442-6700, 102 Front St.) hosts live music most nights. You never know who will pop in for open mike night Wednesdays at 7. When summer arrives, there’s no place better to be than an outdoor concert at the gazebo by the Patten Free Library at 33 Summer St. Stop at Dot’s Ice Cream (207-443-2468, 160 Front St.) for a cone and then sit on the lawn and enjoy the music.
Bath is about 140 miles north of Boston, about 2½ hours by car. For information, visit www.VisitBath.com.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at bairwright