It says something about the laid-back nature of Montpelier that taped in a window by a side door to the State House is a sheet of paper listing hours the public may visit. At the bottom are the words: “No firearms or explosives permitted in the building.” And that’s it: no guard, no metal detector. You just stroll into the historic hallways below a gold dome nestled against the gorgeous Green Mountains. Down the street, the Capitol Grounds coffee house (27 State St., 802-223-7800, www.capitolgrounds.com) has no taste for tall, grande, and venti. Customers order a conservative (8 ounces), a moderate (12 ounces), a liberal (16 ounces), or a radical (20 ounces). Regardless of where your politics fall on that drink-size spectrum, Montpelier in the off-legislative season offers a liberal dose of Vermont charm.
The Capitol Plaza Hotel and Conference Center (100 State St., 802-223-5252, www.capitolplaza.com. Rooms start at $137 for two on weekdays and weekends; $123.30 for AAA or senior rate) is conveniently halfway between the State House and downtown’s many shops and restaurants, a short walk from everything. Foliage tourists are beginning to wane, but the hotel will be busy again when the Legislature convenes in January. Chain hotels are largely absent, but the Comfort Inn & Suites at Maplewood (213 Paine Turnpike North, 802-229-2222, www.comfortinnmontpelier.com. Rooms start at $125 for two on weekdays and weekends) offers marginally better prices, not quite five miles from downtown.
Montpelier’s dining choices are as plentiful as lawmakers and lobbyists when the Legislature’s in session. Sample more traditional fare at the Coffee Corner (83 Main St., 802-229-9060, www.coffeecorner.com; breakfast entrees from $3.05 to $11.45; open 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.). For breakfast, an O’Bryan is house-made,corned-beef hash, sautéed green peppers, two eggs any style, and toast, all for $8.65. For lunch, $7.95 gets you a Vermont club of grilled tofu, Cabot cheese, tomato, lettuce, and sprouts. A few doors down, the Skinny Pancake (89 Main St., 802-262-2253, www.skinnypancake.com; crepes $4.95 to $12.95) is crepe heaven for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Try the Déjà vu Crepe with Vermont smoked and cured Italian sausage, tart Vermont apples, and cheddar with a Vermont maple syrup side, all for $8.95. With so much to do within walking distance, you may need a pick-me-up. The New England Culinary Institute’s students prepare goods that are as attractive as they are tasty at La Brioche Bakery (89 Main St., 802-229-0443, www.neci.edu/labrioche/index; prices and menus vary daily). In the evening, if you’re staying at the Capitol Plaza Hotel and don’t want to leave the building, the elegant dining room at the hotel’s J. Morgan’s Steakhouse (100 State St., 802-223-5222, www.capitolplaza.com/jMorgans.php; dinner entrees $17 to $36) transports you back to less contentious political times. A 12-ounce Montreal-seasoned rib-eye steak, grilled and topped with fresh chive compound butter goes for $26, or $32 for the 16-ounce version. At Sarducci’s Restaurant (3 Main St., 802-223-0229, www.sarduccis.com, dinner entrees $12.99 to $19.99), the vitello alla Marsala, at $18.99, is sautéed slices of veal in a mushroom and Marsala wine sauce, served with risotto.
DURING THE DAY
Start out at the State House (115 State St., 802-828-2231, www.leg.state.vt.us/sthouse/sthouse.htm), a granite structure dedicated in 1859 that many believe to be one of the prettiest capitols in the nation. Open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, the ornate hallways are beautiful, empty, and hushed when the lawmakers are away. Through the end of June, schedule a free guided tour via the field trip webpage (www.leg.state.vt.us/FieldTrip/default.htm) or by calling 802-828-1411. The Vermont Historical Society Museum (7 State St., 802-828-2291, vermonthistory.org/visit/vermont-history-museum; adults $5; families $12; students, children, and seniors $3; children under 6 free) has exhibits for all ages, including the current core exhibit “Freedom & Unity,” which lets kids walk through a full-size Abenaki wigwam and shows parents a re-creation of the Catamount Tavern that hosted Ethan Allen’s Green Mountain Boys from Revolutionary War times. As an obituary writer, I must give a shout-out to the Green Mount Cemetery (251 US Route 2, 802-223-5352, www.montpelier-vt.org/page/279.html) and its truly remarkable sculptures and monuments. Not a bad eternal hillside view, either. Children are more likely to like the North Branch Nature Center (713 Elm St., 802-229-6206, www.northbranchnaturecenter.org). It’s open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday; the online calendar lists programs, or just mosey along the trails on its 28 acres along the North Branch of the Winooski River. For a small downtown, Montpelier offers a healthy variety of options for shopping. There are the usual suspects: clothing, hardware, and toy shops (find a comprehensive listing at www.montpelier-vt.org/category-display/501.html). The surprise here is not one but three independent bookstores within a block and a half: Bear Pond Books (77 Main St., 802-229-0774, www.bearpondbooks.com), Rivendell Books (100 Main St., 802-223-3928, www.rivendellbooksvt.com), and The Book Garden (50 State St., 802-229-9999, https://www.facebook.com/thebookgarden ). Clearly America’s smallest capital city knows what it likes.
Live music can be heard at some of the restaurants you’ll consider frequenting for lunch. The events section of the website at Bagitos! (28 Main St., 802-229-9212; www.bagitos.com/events-and-specials.html) lists evening (and daytime) music. Positive Pie (22 State St., 802-229-0453, www.positivepie.com/montpelier/music.php),a great place for pizzas and sandwiches, features all kinds of music on weekend evenings, from brass to salsa to blues.