Have you ever visited the City by the Sea? According to Wikipedia, this is a nickname for Newport, Rhode Island. Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of visiting this small city and I had some interesting takeaways from my experience. Before I share my observations and impressions, it is important to note that I visited Newport in the dead of winter and all of my commentary is written about the city during this time of year.
Small-Town Winter City
In America, settlements with as little as 1,500 to 5,000 people can be considered a city. Newport boasts a population of about 25,000 residents. Coming from Boston, which has 23 neighborhoods and a population of just under 700,000, Newport seemed a bit more like a small town than a city. Newport is not only a small city but is also a seasonal one. In June, July, and August business booms, yachts speckle the shimmering ocean, and vacationers crowd the sidewalks. Now, in mid-February, the city has entered a state of hibernation.
Newport is made up of just 7.7 square miles of land. In this area, commerce is concentrated in the west coast along the main shopping strip and along the waterfront. Eateries are mostly pubs and quick bites with a smattering of upscale restaurants. Newport does not seem to have much of a café culture with just one Starbucks, a local chain called Empire Tea & Coffee, and a few other establishments that all seem to open late and close early. In February, we see that many businesses have transitioned to off-season hours and others have totally shut their doors for the season. On more than one occasion when my boyfriend and I tried to find a coffee shop, we learned that many closed by 3pm, most by 4pm, and (to my knowledge) only Starbucks and two Empire Tea & Coffee locations by 6pm. We got our hopes up and then crushed when we found a quirky café called Kaffeology on Google Maps and arrived in person only to discover that the store was closed for business.
Founded in 1639, Newport is a colonial city and preserves its New England charm. If your only experience with New England is Boston, Massachusetts, it would be as if your only experience with cheese is Kraft singles. Newport oozes “New England” with its architecture. Many structures are adorned with colored wood, some windows have artificial shutters, and the roofs are slanted giving attics vaulted ceilings. One quirky architectural feature is the rounded towers and pointy roofs on some walls (this description is terrible, please see the photo above for detail).
As a Bostonian, I found Newport’s small-town vibe to be a nice change of pace. The people greeted me with “good mornings,” and “hellos.” On one occasion I even mumbled “what?” because I did not think that a stranger would speak to me unless they had some small request.
Even in this slow time, the city had made an effort to drum up enthusiasm within the community. I learned when I arrived that Newport was in the midst of celebrating its “Winter Festival.” During this time, special events are put on in the city including a chili cook off, specialty cocktail offerings at select restaurants, live music, and other small activities. The Winter Festival ends on February 23rd (2020) with Beach Polo. As a finale, people of all ages gather on the sand to enjoy horsemanship up-close with the beautiful views of Aquidneck Island as the backdrop.
Empire Tea & Coffee
I love cafes and visited Empire Tea & Coffee on multiple occasions at both of its Newport locations. Although my initial visit was driven by a scarcity of options, my repeated stays were a testament to the quality of this establishment. This café has plenty of seating, yet maintains a quaint and cozy vibe. In addition to standard coffees and teas, the café also serves specialty drinks like bubble tea and an assortment of tea and coffee lattes. More than once I ordered the Red Velvet Latte, which is a rooibos tea mixed with milk, vanilla, and white chocolate. To me, this tasted like an upscale spin on a traditional “white hot chocolate.”
P.S. For those of you who follow my blog, this cafe was the location of breakfast number 2 mentioned in a previous post (more here).
Newport is a lovely city, and a nice place to visit for the weekend. In the winter, the expansive and untouchable ocean, green pastures, and gated mansions are colorful backdrops for the still city. Newport is the sort of place where I imagine a writer could hole up in an inn for a few weeks and spend the quiet mornings strolling, the days writing, and the evenings, imbibing at the tavern. Although activity within the city seems to drop with the declining temperatures, there is still much to do if you are curious and open-minded. During my stay, I enjoyed visiting The Breakers mansion (more here), a trip to Fort Adams (the inside is closed during the winter), as well as nightly appearances at bars and restaurants.
Even in the winter, Newport is welcoming and charming. If you can get past the cold and the wind, Dear Reader, you are sure to enjoy a low-key weekend in the City by the Sea.