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A Tank Away

Past, present converge in Putnam, Conn.

Visitors to Putnam will find no shortage of places to shop for antiques and to dine outdoors.
Visitors to Putnam will find no shortage of places to shop for antiques and to dine outdoors. ERTD/Mystic Country

From a central point in Putnam’s downtown — a sliver of land between the railroad tracks and the Quinebaug River — you can see the town’s past and present converge. Antiques still beckon through the deep windows of former warehouses, but they share the road with trendy new shops. Old mill buildings house contemporary art galleries. And there are more good restaurants than any town of 9,500 people has a right to claim. Business owners are proud of Putnam and of each other; once they’ve regaled you with their stories, they are likely to recommend that you visit their neighbors, too.


You can visit Putnam, but you can’t stay there — unless you can snag one of two rooms at Thurber House (78 Liberty Highway, 860-928-6776, $100 double), a Colonial home overlooking the village green. There are two lovely inns in nearby Woodstock. The Mansion at Bald Hill (29 Plaine Hill Road, 860-974-3456. www.mansionatbaldhill.com, $140-$230) is an imposing, four-story gem, topped with three massive chimneys. The interior features rich hazelwood paneling and 10-foot ceilings accented by plaster cornices and crown molding. The Inn at Woodstock Hill (94 Plaine Hill Road, 860-928-0528, www.woodstock
hill.net, $160-$260) offers 18 guest rooms in a mansion dating from 1816; six are furnished with four-poster beds, and eight rooms have working gas fireplaces. Both inns are also known for their fine-dining restaurants. The Comfort Inn, Dayville (16 Tracy Road, Dayville, 860-779-3200, www.comfortinn.com/hotel-dayville-connecticut-CT141, $131-$146) is about 10 minutes from downtown Putnam and has an indoor pool.


Alfresco dining is de rigueur in downtown Putnam. Three restaurants have abutting outdoor spaces on Main Street, each area delineated by the restaurant’s theme. Bella’s Bistro & Lounge (75 Main St., 860-928-7343, www.bellasbistromarket.com, lunch $11-$15, pizza $16-$22, dinner $18-$29) is known for its meatballs, which appear in sandwiches, entrees, and atop pizza; outdoor diners eat at tables covered with red-checked tablecloths and listen to Italian music. 85 Main
(85 Main St., 860-928-1660, www.85main.com, lunch $10-$15, dinner $12-$32) focuses on fresh seafood, steaks, and local produce; outdoor tables are sleek and contemporary, and a busker was playing when we visited. At V ictoria Station Cafe (91 Main St., 860-928-2600, www.victoriastationcafe.com), it’s all about dessert — eclairs, cream puffs, lemon bars, cupcakes, and other decadent pastries all made on the premises; here, customers sit at black wrought-iron bistro tables on the outdoor patio. The Crossings Restaurant and Brew Pub (45 Main St., 860-928-3663, www.thecrossingsbrewpub.com, $6-$23) opened in November in the 1904 Putnam train station, a lovely space with exposed brick, a tin ceiling, warm woods, and a trackside patio. Beer, ale, and root beer are brewed on site. There are lots of vegetarian and gluten-free choices, and head chef Ben Williamson tells us kale chips outsell french fries. Jessica Tuesday’s (35 Main St., 860-928-5118, www.jessica
tuesdays.com, lunch $8-$15, dinner Thursday-Saturday $15-$20) has two outdoor dining areas, a deck overlooking the tracks and a flower-filled patio out front. Inside we found fresh flowers on the table and wonderfully fresh salads and sandwiches, such as “so sweet spring,” whole wheat bread filled with burrata cheese, cantaloupe, shaved prosciutto, greens, and local honey.



String Tinkers (130 Main St., 860-928-4158, www.stringtinkers.com) could be the most unusual craft shop we’ve ever seen. George Brin and Don Spaeth make one-of-a-kind cigar box guitars, ukuleles, and other musical instruments. Among the bestsellers are “canjos” — banjos made from old cookie tins. Brin does a lot of his work in the shop, so it’s worth stopping by to watch. Other creative shops to check out are Flying Carpet Studio (112 Main St., 860-928-0625), offering women’s clothing, jewelry, gifts, and a large bead shop; Silver Circle Gallery (75 Main St., 860-928-2900, www.silvercirclegallery.com), which stocks art, photography, jewelry, textiles, pottery, woodwork, and ceramics, many by local artists; and Sawmill Pottery (112 Main St., 860-963-7807, www.sawmillpottery.com), showcasing the work of owner Dot Burns and other artisans. Antiques Marketplace (109 Main St., 860-928-0442, www.antiquesmarketplace.com) is seeing more and more savvy brides-to-be and their betrothed checking out the bargains in vintage and estate jewelry, said owner Jerry Cohen. The sprawling 1880 building, formerly the Bugbee Department Store, houses 325 showcases. Power past the floor-to-ceiling displays in Jeremiah’s Antiques & Collectables (26 Front St., 860-928-0666) and you’ll come upon the surprising and slightly bizarre Celebrity Museum, featuring items of clothing worn by Princess Diana, Cher, and Barbra Streisand; a jump rope signed by Muhammad Ali; props from the set of the movie “Titanic”; and a series of life masks of Hollywood celebrities, among other curiosities. Owner Paul Vincequere used to run Paul’s Hollywood Cafe in Westborough, and collected the items from Hollywood studios and costumers. Rotary Park (196 Kennedy Drive) on the Putnam River Trail (www.putnamct.us/others/
putnamrivertrail/rivertrail.htm) is the site of many community events in summer, including River Fires, which will be held at dusk on July 19, Aug. 9, and Sept. 6.



Merchants and artists participate in First Fridays, a street festival presented once a month from May through October.
Merchants and artists participate in First Fridays, a street festival presented once a month from May through October.ERTD/Mystic Country/Mystic Country

The Bradley Playhouse (30 Front St., 860-928-7887, www.thebradleyplayhouse.org), which originally opened in 1901, presents live theater year round. It’s a lovely old building with a deep blue ceiling studded with gold stars and trimmed with crown molding. “The Wizard of Oz” opens Aug. 1. There’s live music Wednesday through Saturday evenings and open mike on Sunday at The Stomping Ground (132 Main St., 860-928-7900, www.the-stomping-ground.com). Along with music, you can enjoy gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches and a large selection of craft beers. On the first Friday of each month from May through October, from
6 to 9 p.m., merchants and artists combine forces to present First Fridays, a downtown street festival with art installations, live music, dance performances, children’s activities, food, and drink. Information on these and other events is available at www.discoverputnam.com.


Ellen Albanese can be reached at ellen.albanese@gmail.com.