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Ten years ago, if you rowed down the Pawcatuck River on a lazy Sunday afternoon through the heart of downtown Westerly, the only company you would encounter might be a sea gull or two. But today the river side of downtown is a happening place. With water-side seating at places like The Malted Barley and the Bridge restaurant, and seasonal concerts in Pawcatuck's Donahue Park, both sides of the state line have rediscovered their water view.
On a recent Sunday the street side of downtown was bustling, too, as couples peered into shop windows, ducked into a bar for a quick drink or strolled through Wilcox Park. A train whistled its way over Canal Street, and inside the Artists' Cooperative Gallery of Westerly at 7 Canal St., photographer Ardie Harrison began taking down one show and hanging another.
Westerly is a haven for the arts, home to the Granite Theatre (1 Granite St.), the world-renowned Chorus of Westerly, and a fabulous library at the head of Wilcox Park. Downtown is an artist enterprise zone, so you won't have to pay sales tax on your purchases.
Art Stroll Night takes place every first Wednesday night, when galleries open their doors to the public from 5 to 8 p.m. The Westerly Learning Community joins the mix on Wednesday mornings this fall, as it presents a series of talks, "The Arts and the Environment," at the Westerly Land Trust (10 High St.) from Sept. 18 to Oct. 16.
Where to walk: Westerly has one of the most walk-able downtowns in New England, the center of which is Wilcox Park, designed by an associate of Frederick Law Olmstead. The elegantly laid-out park, built in 1898 and expanded in 1905, includes specimen trees, perennial gardens, and a fish pond. One of its most popular features is the statue of "The Runaway Bunny," from the children's book by Margaret Wise Brown - suitable for climbing, it's a favorite of families.
Where to shop: Years ago, Westerly's streets were lined with clothing and shoe stores, jewelry stores and pharmacies. While not all of these remain, downtown still offers an amazing variety of goods, from a bridal salon to lingerie store. We popped into Woodmansee's Gift Shop & Boutique (27 Broad St.), where I found a stunning Anju bracelet for $14. The store also features fall clothing and scarves. At Repurposed Consign & Design (36 High St.), you'll find everything from vintage mirrors and furnishings to handmade soaps and whimsical cards. A trip to Westerly is not complete without a visit to the Other Tiger bookstore, one of the best independent bookstores in the region. Owner Robert Utter has a keen eye, and the shelves always contain a few surprises. Especially notable is Other Tiger's collection of children's books.
Where to eat: Downtown Westerly has a lively restaurant scene. Some of the newer eateries are within footsteps of each other: Twisted Vine (3 Canal St.), with its large bar and small plates menu; Brazen Hen (4 Canal St.), an Irish pub; Amigos Taqueria Y Tequila, (2 Canal St.), a Mexican restaurant; and Trattoria Longo Meatballs & Martinis, which opened last year at 12 Canal St. Among the old favorites are the former 84 High St., which moved to 15 Canal St. and now calls itself 84 Tavern on Canal; and the Bridge (37 Main St.), which seems to float over the Pawcatuck River and specializes in seafood.
We drove slightly out of downtown to eat dinner at the Mermaid Café, where we enjoyed Parmesan-crusted chicken and striped bass and tomato. The restaurant (19 Margin St., off Main) has a great river view and uses locally sourced vegetables; meals are BYOB, with no corking fee.
Where to drink: Perks & Corks (62 High St.) has a funky feel, with a full bar and a menu of coffee drinks. When we stopped by, a book signing was going on, and the bar offers frequent live music. We had a nightcap at The Malted Barley (42 High St.), one of the area's best beer bars; it offers a cask-conditioned ale and local brews from Grey Sail and Cottrell. Its signature pretzels can be enjoyed as sandwiches, snacks or even dessert; we tried the waffle pretzel with cinnamon, sugar and Nutella - scrumptious, and generous enough to share.