|photo by Chris Lee||Sisters Ash Weeks Cart & Kimmy Ulmer of Green Eyed Monster® (a shop filled with all handmade, independent, and earth-friendly goods) are sharing their collegiate motherland of Williamstown, Massachusetts for a long overdue Indie City Guide. Actually, the pair use the term “city” loosely, as Williamstown is more of a farming village than urban hub. But this Northern Berkshire town features famous art museums, a top-ranked liberal arts college and internationally acclaimed theater, dance, and music festivals. Sounds more like a city now, eh? Read more below. If you are interested in writing an Indie City Guide or sharing what is indie happening about your city, then shoot me an email. xoxo – jenby guest contributors Ash Weeks Cart & Kimmy Ulmer|
The very mountains that reminded Herman Melville of the hump of a whale’s back, inspiring him to write Moby Dick, are the very mountains that silhouette the quaint, college town of Williamstown, Massachusetts, home of the Williams College Ephs. Often referred to as the Purple Valley, Williamstown and the surrounding area are tucked up in the northern Berkshires, minutes away from the Vermont and New York borders.
|On the surface, Williamstown appears to be a middle-of-no-where-farm village, perfect for cow tipping and buckling down as a college student with little to do besides study, study and study; however, this tiny town of 8,500 is like a mountained city in disguise. With its dozens of delicious restaurants, a handful of world famous art museums, relaxing spas and deluxe lodging, renowned cultural performance venues and unique boutique and antique shopping, Williamstown is a perfect retreat for a person in need of an urban escape. Just two and a half hours away from Boston and New York City, the Northern Berkshires offer the extra perk of picturesque outdoorsy activities for the crunchy-granola type in us all.||Williams College – photo by Chris Lee|
Start your adventure with a night at The Porches Inn (231 River Street, North Adams; 413.664.0400), a series of six renovated Victorian-era row houses that once provided housing for North Adams’s mill workers. Located behind MassMoca (Massachusetts Museum of Modern Art), the Inn stays true to the town’s industrial history while incorporating the contemporary, artistic flair of the museum, giving it, as our mother describes, a “retro-chic aesthetic.” After a steam in the sauna and night sleeping under the delicious European, down duvets, a complimentary breakfast is delivered in a big, steel lunch bucket with deliciously strong coffee in thermoses.
If you’re in need of some protein to supplement your continental breakfast, head down the road to BrewHaHa (20 Marshall Street, North Adams; 413.664.2020) for a banging breakfast wrap or frittata to gear up energy for some serious museum hopping. Cross the street to begin your excursion at MassMoCA (87 Marshall Street in North Adams; 413.662.2111), the largest museum for contemporary arts in the United States. Housed in a 19th century factory building, MassMoCA provides vast, non-conventional museum spaces to present and display work in both the visual and performing arts. MassMoCA is currently home to the 3-floor retrospective of Sol LeWitt’s work (read more in Ash’s post on the Etsy Blog), complete with 105 wall drawings that dazzle, delight, and awe inspire. Be sure to see it in person, although you have over twenty-two years before the exhibit is dismantled, so no rush.
Sol LeWitt Exhibit – MASSMoCA
While in North Adams, cruise through Hardware, the museum gift shop, and behold the crazy, funky accessories and gifts reflective of the museum’s exhibits. And if you have a beloved wee-one in your life, don’t miss Shima Boutique (105 Main Street, North Adams; 413-346-1055) , filled with lovely wooden toys, organic baby clothing, and natural products for your little one.
After your jaunt in North Adams, drive over to the college utopia of Williamstown, MA and check out the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) (15 Lawrence Hall Dr., Williamstown; 413.597.2429), with its famous works such as Edward Hopper’s Morning in a City and the permanent outdoors sculptural installation by the late Louise Bourgeois’ called Eyes. Be sure to see it in the evening when the eyes are lit up with multicolored streams of light emitting from the pupils. It is particularly magical and creepy during a snowstorm.
If you’re in need of some nourishment, Spring Street is the main strip to grab a bite or a cup o’joe.
Pappa Charlie’s – photo by janeymoffat
For some delicious ethnic food, Spice Root (23 Spring Street, Williamstown; 413.458.5200) fulfills your desire for Indian eats, and Sushi Thai Garden (27 Spring Street, Williamstown; 413.458.0004) is located next door with, surprise, delicious Thai cuisine and sushi. As a testament to its quality, I once spotted Gary Sinise and Sir Anthony Hopkins inside eating Pad Thai (with some fava beans and a nice Chianti). For a caffeinated-pick-me-up, head down to the end of Spring Street to Tunnel City (100 Spring Street, Williamstown; 413.458.5010) where all the studious Ephs (Williams College students) dwell with their laptops and espressos.
And speaking of the theater festival, if you visit Williamstown during the summer months, do not miss a show on the stages of the Williams College ’62 Center for Theater and Dance. Arguably the most famous theater festival in the country, the Williamstown Theater Festival (WTF) is over 55 years old and boasts some of the best creative talent in the performing arts. Similarly, check out Jacob’s Pillow for dance and Tanglewood for music, both a quick drive away from Williamstown and also teaming with raw, live talent in the summer.
Returning to Spring Street, this small downtown is also home to Images Cinema (55 Spring Street, Williamstown; 413.458.5612), a one-screen movie theater that plays the latest indie flicks in a relaxed, non-pretentious setting. In fact, Tony Goldwyn requested special permission to premiere the film, Last Kiss, at this quiet locale.
The BrownsGoldwyn, the film’s director, and Blyth Danner (momma to Gwyneth Paltrow and an actress in the movie) both launched their careers at the Williamstown Theater Festival and wanted to screen the movie in the town where they got their start. Before the premiere, Goldwyn was spotted shopping at The Browns
(16 Water Street, Williamstown; 413.458.1618), a high-end boutique with beautiful clothing and accessories in an even more beautiful storefront. For shoppers on a budget, stick to Spring Street where you can check out vintage goods at HUDSONS (37 Spring Street, Williamstown; 413-458-4230), or antique options at Library Antiques (70 Spring Street, Williamstown; 413.458.3436) For eccentric gifts, gizmos and gadgets, visit Ken and Michele Gietz, the friendly, bubbly owners of Where’d You Get That?!(100 Spring Street, Williamstown; 413.458.2206
|If you’re recharged for more artistic musings, head over to the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute (225 South Street, Williamstown; 413.458.2303) that holds a plethora of French impressionist artwork including pieces by Renoir, Degas, Pissaro, Manet, Monet and Gauguin. This summer, the museum is home to the ground-breaking exhibit, Picasso Looks at Degas.|
If you are in an active mood, hike Stone Hill trail located behind the museum for breathtaking views of the Purple Valley and check out the brand new Stone Hill Center built by the museum. For those more ambitious, hike Mount Greylockfor 360-degree views of the area.
The fall is the optimal time to experience a hike up Stony Ledge where the foliage and outrageous autumn colors will rock your socks off while looking across to Mt. Greylock. The Mountain Goat (130 Water Street, Williamstown; 413.458.3044) will equip you with any and all fleecy, camping paraphernalia you may need for these adventures. Go to here for trail maps and more detailed information. If you visit during the chilly winter months, Jiminy Peak (37 Corey Road, Hancock; 413.738.5500) is a small, local mountain to fulfill the skiing bug. In the summer, definitely indulge in a dip in the Green River (Water Street, Williamstown), a favorite late-night skinny-dipping spot of many a tipsy college student.
View from Mt. Greylock – photo from IICD
If you’re more the sit back and relax type of traveler, you too can enjoy the Green River from the comfort of the InTouch Massage and Day Spa (84 Water Street, Williamstown; 413-458-3235). Seated directly on the west bank of the river, you can listen to the water flow by as you indulge in a massage or body wrap.
By this time, you’re ready for a drink and some quality dining. Williamstown is not known for its wild and crazy nightlife, unless you’re interested in attending a Williams College party with the local coeds. For a casual pint, sit outside at the Red Herring (46 Spring Street, Williamstown; 413.458.2808). For a more romantic, dimly lit by candlelight experience, head over to Mezze (16 Water Street, Williamstown; 413.458.0123) for delicious dining or a swank cosmopolitan.
Those who love a solid brew and are willing to drive outside of the Purple Bubble, will not be disappointed by a stop at Ye Olde Forge (125 North Main Street, Lanesboro; 413.442.6797). Drink fifty of their different beers in a year and you will receive a free pewter mug with your name engraved on it, and don’t forget to try their wings. Continue just a bit farther and you will arrive at Elizabeth’s (1264 East Street, Pittsfield; 413.448.8244), a word-of-mouth, mom-and-pop shop Italian restaurant, where Tom and Lizzy, a husband/wife team, cook up a storm. Located in an inconspicuous local house, this hole in the wall has an open kitchen, making for an intimate, friendly dining experience. Tom’s Caribbean Tomato soup is to die for! And you can never go wrong with the mushroom appetizer, gorgonzola pasta, lasagna, or Lizzy’s Brownie. I usually fast for at least 24 hours before embarking upon a meal at this locale. Bring check or cash, as they do not accept credit cards. If you forget, they will allow for IOUs. Seriously. If you are not up to driving back into Williamstown, have an extravagant evening and spa experience at The Cranwell (55 Lee Road, Lenox; 413.637.1364).
View from The Cranwell
Before heading home, it is always critical to bring back New England delicacies to your friends and family who weren’t fortunate enough to experience this bucolic, cultural haven in the Purple Valley. The Store at Five Corners (U.S. 7 and Rte. 43, Williamstown; 413.458.3176) will supply you with all the apple cider, pies and maple sugar you could possibly need for a delicious trip home. Just a sweet, sweet taste of all the Northern Berkshires has to offer.
About the contributors: Ash and Kimmy are the sisters behind Green Eyed Monster® totes, an arty little biz bringing you the most unique reusable bags on the block. They also run the Green Eyed Monster® shop , which is curated with an eye for enviable living. Each designer and handmade product in the shop promote a sustainable and earth-friendly lifestyle.