Essex, Connecticut | Could You Live Here?
First Impression: The Griswold Inn’s Tap Room is like the inside of a dark whiskey barrel, but lively and crowded, with live music. The Wine Bar serves goose mousse pâté on grilled crostini and a signature fondue, with a wine selection that gets kudos from the New York Times and Wine Spectator. Colonial classics, like chicken potpie, are served in the historic dining room, where they feel right at home.
The Reality: Mostly the sidewalks roll up at 8:00 p.m., but “The Gris” stays up late (since 1776), along with the pub at The Black Seal seafood restaurant, catty-corner across Main Street. Dining options are limited in the village proper, but the Copper Beech Inn (Ivoryton), The Red House (Deep River), and Liv’s Oyster Bar (Old Saybrook) are minutes away. Olive Oyl’s in town does creative take-out; Essex
Coffee & Tea pours the lattes.
First Impression: It’s pretty cool having your own museum right in town. The Connecticut River Museum, at Steamboat Dock, sits within a historic 1878 warehouse. Besides sheltering artifacts and manuscripts, it’s busy with eagle watches, workshops, and special exhibits. During the Holiday Train Show, the third floor whistles and chugs with a mind-blowing model town that’ll thrill your kids and revive your inner child. Owner Steven Cryan is on hand to buzz the young crowd with a remote-controlled helicopter.
The Reality: The history scene gets livelier the deeper you dig. The active Essex Historical Society keeps its fingers on the pulse of the town’s heritage. Rail buffs can ride the vintage Essex Steam Train through the Connecticut River Valley, then hop on the Becky Thatcher riverboat. In May, the Loser’s Day Parade presents a fife-and-drum extravaganza to commemorate the 1814 British raid on Essex and the burning of American ships in the harbor. (The Museum of Fife and Drum is a just a drumbeat away in Ivoryton.)
Overheard: “Fweaky!” exclaimed a 6-year-old, from inside a 1775 submarine at the Connecticut River Museum.
COULD YOU SHOP HERE?
First Impression: Put “French” on your shop sign, and I’m happy; thus the jazzy little French Hen and its faux treasures fit the bill. If you’re gift shopping, you can probably cover all the bases in Essex, from kids (Toys Ahoy!) to chocolate (Truffle Shots) to teapots (Weekend Kitchen) to reproduction antique games (Goods & Curiosities).
The Reality: If you want to put food on your table, you’ll have to travel a few miles to Centerbrook, where all amenities—supermarket, pharmacy, gas stations—are tucked away.
GETTING YOUR BEARINGS
Essex Board of Trade
Town of Essex
Middlesex Chamber of Commerce
393 Main St., Middletown. 860-347-6924; middlesexchamber.com
Essex Steam Train
1 Railroad Ave. 860-767-0103; essexsteamtrain.com