Column: Getting Back to Nature in Putney, VT

September 29, 2011

Arts & Entertainment

By Avi Kaiser—


It may be lacking extravagance like Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior and Giorgio Armani, or five-star restaurants like chic sushi bar Nobu in Manhattan and Wolfgang Puck’s Spago in Beverly Hills, but the Route 5 drag of real estate from Putney to Brattleboro, VT has no shortage of its own brand of rustic shops and hearty eateries.

Students may look for life’s little luxuries that they are accustomed to back home and seek couture and haute cuisine, but an area with so few people closely related to their demographic, spots like these may seem secret or part of local subculture that is not shared with new outsiders.

Fear not Landmark students, for Putney and Brattleboro have far more than meets the eye. On the following pages, Lukas Martin runs down some of the best the area has to offer. Here, I want to talk about the natural environment.

They don’t just call this the Green Mountain state for nothing; everywhere you look there’s beautiful foliage, rolling hills, lush icy streams, and mountain air that crisps the senses.

If you are into the adventurous and daring, or just looking for the best Monday morning remedy before your 10am class, then I have the perfect invigorating wake-up call north of the Mason- Dixon line.

I was at the local Putney co-op not too long ago, which happens to be the best breakfast spot in town, nursing a wicked hangover, when a kind local man saw my agony and said “looks like you need a dip in the culvert.”

I did not need to muster the energy to ask what that was;  the gentleman was kind enough to tell me all about the vast number of local watering holes that would be a surefire way to bring life back to my legs and icy sensations to all my extremities.

As a native of Hawaii, I never say no to a chance to let soothing water roll over my body and reconnect my intimate relationship with Mother Nature.  I immediately jumped in the car with my friend and headed straight for the nearest hole we could find.  No need for swimsuits: ‘when in Rome’ I said. He returned the same attitude and gave his free -spirited snarl, “F*#K IT!”

The icy spring of the local culvert may be less than 60 degrees, as compared to 85 in Honolulu, so I found out very quickly how wise the local man was.

It is now our goal to go every day ‘till it just gets too cold to go.’  You quickly realize that it is addicting and see why the locals are always so ‘chipper’ in the morning.

I suddenly began to experience euphoric bliss every morning instead of my normal droopy angry bed-head self.  I found that there are enormous benefits to cold water swimming.  The cold water brings fresh blood to all your organs, which is great for keeping your body in proper working order.

Jumping in cold water also strengthens your immune system. Your body burns more calories warming itself, so you don’t have to worry about looking good for potential partners in those retro tight jeans you bought at the thrift store.  And my favorite: cold water helps increase your levels of testosterone, the dominant sex hormone found in men.

Emerging out of the crisp stream you begin to realize why locals wear such rugged fashion, a cross between The North Face and Jim Croce.  Or why you want such a hearty meal prepared with fresh local ingredients, a ‘granola-esque’ cuisine that Mother Nature would enjoy.

The things to do from Putney to Brattleboro bring you back to nature, and invigorate your soul.  You really get a sense of homemade quality that is hard to find in your Metropolis or Gotham.  Read on to find out more.


An Insider’s Practical Field Guide to Brattleboro


Food & Drink

Shin-La Restaurant & Sushi Bar – 57 Main Street. This small, friendly, and comfortable Japanese-Korean fusion spot is on my personal top 3 list in Brattleboro.  The sushi is good, yet nothing amazing, but the spicy tuna and salmon rolls pack a punch.  They have sake, domestic and import beers, and a delectable shu-mai appetizer of six round, soft, shrimp dumplings.  The Korean dinners are the selling point, in my opinion – go for the Soon-doo-boo Chigae, a spicy seafood and tofu stew that I cannot pass up after some warm sake.  7.5/10

Fireworks – 73 Main Street.  This place screams class.  Fantastic food, good beer, good wine, brought to you by a sociable, yet darting staff that is attentive but not overbearing, have people waiting on line for forty-five minutes on the weekends for a table.  High points are the Red Beet Salad (heavenly); the Bianca pizza, a white pizza with chicken and garlic; and the Portuguese Pasta Primavera, with a spicy red sauce and flavorful sausage, a must-have with Portuguese red wine.  9.5/10

Thai Bamboo – 7 High Street.  An authentic Thai cuisine that is, not surprisingly – very good.  I have been here probably five times and each visit was splendid.  The service is always there for you, the portions are just right, and Thai Singha Lager is the perfect complement with – literally anything on the menu.  The different curry stews are each in their own right a splash of different flavors on the palate: rich and creamy, with a lingering spiciness which I distinctly remember.  The Duck Gra Prow is, in my opinion, the best eight slices of cooked, seasoned, glazed quack I have ever tasted.  The decision is really a no-brainer.  Try this place once, and you will return.  9/10

Sarki’s Mideast Feast – 50 Elliot Street.  This small Lebanese restaurant is located directly across the entrance to the Harmony Parking Lot on Elliot Street.  Sarki’s is a nice change from the ordinary sandwich-burger-‘n-fries joint with a bar.  It is, by my knowledge, the only place in all of Brattleboro where you can get a tasty lunch of a falafel or shawarma with baba ghanoush and some hand-rolled stuffed grape leaves at a reasonable fare.  If you like Middle Eastern cuisine, this place is for you.  A little pricey as far as falafel goes, but in Brattleboro, there is one option for Middle Eastern food – and this one left Sarki’s with a satisfied appetite. 7/10

Mocha Joe’s – 82 Main Street.  For those who are perpetually searching for better and stronger caffeinated beverages, look no further.  There is one place in Brattleboro you should go to get your jazz-juice, and it’s called Mocha Joe’s Coffee Roasters.  Maintaining a “high quality, certified Organic, Fair Trade, and Rainforest Alliance coffee,” Mocha Joe’s business in downtown Brattleboro might seem quintessentially Vermont-esque, but that is how Mocha Joe’s has been operating ever since they opened their Café on 82 Main Street.  The coffee is “roasted four times a week…and grown at altitudes above 4,000 feet,” from diverse places such as El Salvador, Cameroon, Sumatra, Ethiopia, and Kenya, to name a few.  I am certain that somewhere, the coffee gods are sipping on Mocha Joe’s. 9.5/10


The Bar Scene

Rocky Top Tavern – 97 Main Street.  This relatively new bar located in the epicenter of Brattleboro is a better-than-average version of your typical New England bar/sandwich staple in the center of town.  Practically top-to-bottom windows lit up with neon lights of beer companies allow for the passer-by to observe the current scene.  The draught beer selection is varied: seasonal Magic Hat, Shock Top Belgian White, Rogue Dead Guy Ale, Dogfish Head 60-Minute IPA, and the recently added BBC Coffeehouse Porter are choice.  Many others options are available by the bottle.  Five stars for interior décor, plus there is pool, karaoke night, and live music on scheduled evenings.  It’s a great place to be on a Friday or Saturday night.  8.5/10

Inferno – 19 Elliot Street.  Inferno is downright awesome.  Great vibes, another craft beer selection, window booths, abstract art hanging on the walls by a monthly featured artist, and even better – a wonderful, wide-open space before a stage for live bands.  Tall ceilings and a “hallway” style bar make for the best live music venue in Brattleboro, hands down.  As promised there is a specialty martini list: seven different martinis, one for each Deadly Sin, and with the blood-red walls and pitchfork shadow eerily creeping across the front wall, it’s hard not to feel somewhat dark-spirited; rest assured, all of this comes from a purely positive point of view behind a white picket fence and wholesome contextual beginnings.  Cheers!  10/10

Kipling’s – 78 Elliot Street.  This is a good bar and restaurant with more of a small-town, home-style feel than the Rocky Top, with more of a basis on quality food and an easy-going atmosphere.  Every time I have been inside for a beer or one of their mammoth-size sandwiches, the barmaids are very pleasant and talk to you casually as if you were at a diner.  7/10

McNeil’s Brewery – 90 Elliot Street.  This is where people go if it’s three elements that will satisfy their evening: excellent house-made craft beers (not for everybody), nightlife conversation, and bar snacks (and I stress snacks).  Selling point is the various brews of McNeil’s porters, ales, IPA, etc.  Not a first-date spot unless she’s cool with it.  Notice the sawdust on the floor like you’re in a 1930s hole-in-the-wall somewhere Greenwich Village, NYC.  6.5/10



Turn It Up! – 2 Elliot Street.  Quite possibly the best record store chain I have set foot in.  Their location in Brattleboro never disappoints, and when they did, they took back the CD and happily gave me store credit; Donnie Darko DVD for $6?!  I’d say 80% of the CDs I’ve purchased there are either $8 or $10, some even $5.  With the increase of downloading off of iTunes and music piracy, tangible “compact discs” (!) are on their way to becoming archaic, which in my humble opinion, really sucks.  But then again, I bought The Best of Van Morrison, Radiohead’s Kid A, and Miles Davis’ Birth of the Cool – for $10 each.  It’s like every time I go into Brattleboro I can walk into dirt-cheap-music-heaven.  10+/10

Maple Leaf Music – 23 Elliot Street.  If you play an instrument, chances are you’re going to want to stroll into Maple Leaf Music Company on Elliot Street, a couple doors down from Inferno.  They have a remarkable selection of new and used guitars, most of them acoustic, an impressive selection of inexpensive, mid-range and high-end ukuleles (my Kala Brand tenor ukulele was purchased there), and not to mention a beautiful selection of vintage banjos and guitars.  Perhaps you are shopping for a mandolin? Well, they carry them, too.  Honer harmonicas in an array of different keys and tones are priced from about $30.  Strings, capos, instruction books and literature to educate yourself on your instrument can also be found in their small but very nice selection of books.  The only downside to their operation is that they close at 5:00 PM on weekdays.  9/10



Everyone’s Books – 25 Elliot Street.  Your one-stop, small-town bookstore with tall ceilings, ladders with wheels on them, and friendly booksellers await you.  That’s about it.  A book exists for everyone – literally.  Get lost on a Sunday afternoon; it’s a thousand times better for your brain than Sunday football is, I’ll tell you that much.  9.5/10


Clothing & Footwear

Sam’s Outdoor Outfitters – 74 Main Street.  Simply put – this place has everything you would need to wear on your body, to deal with life here in the Green Mountain State.  Covering the spectrum from winter coats to watches to plaids to jeans to sporting goods, tents, and even, if you need it,  iodine solution to help prevent getting sick from dirty water.  Just go in and roam.  You’d be surprised what they have in Sam’s.  And, yes – it always smells like fresh popcorn.  8.5/10

Boomerang – 12 Elliot Street.  A fresh and extremely attractive collection of new, used, and vintage clothing at affordable prices.  The ladies who tend the shop are very friendly, casually conversing with shoppers. I am avid browser there, and many favorite garments in my closet were acquired at Boomerang; the selection never ceases to please.   10/10

Miller Bros. & Company – 109 Main Street.  Up the street a few steps from the Rocky Top is this upscale men’s clothing store.  If you buy clothes from here, no doubt you are looking sharp.  I have bought several wonderfully crafted fedora-type hats at this spot, which I now own with the utmost joy, pride, and respect; they are definitely not “everyday” hats.  Sometimes it rains and you don’t want moisture on a very expensive headpiece by Bailey, a fine and recognized hat-maker out of Hollywood since 1922.  I always look at their most colorful selection of ties, along with the extremely comfortable-looking authentic rugby shirts.  If you like this location, try the one in Keene, also on Main Street.  Pricey, yes; that’s obvious.  Timeless fashion, though, is a good look.  10/10



Twice Upon A Time – 63 Main Street.  This is the biggest, densest, and by far the coolest antique shop I’ve ever walked through.  About relative size to a warehouse, its unassuming front on Main Street is deceiving.  You will find the most random little tchotchkes in this museum of sorts.  Just stroll around for about fifteen minutes and see what you find.  You might be surprised…    9.5/10


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