It’s not very far to Great Barrington, as most of you know. In the hot summer, I much prefer to go north for the appearance of possible coolness. Great Barrington wasn’t cool temperature wise, but it sure is a “cool” spot these days.
Like most people, I have favorite places in the Berkshires, but every time I go there, I find something else wonderful.
Something I have never heard or read about, however, is the history of Great Barrington. A few questions and a few clicks of the mouse revealed some unusual connections.
Great Barrington is named for Lord Barrington, a British War Minister, so says one site, though I could find nothing more about the Lord himself. Wikipedia says it was named for Barrington, a town at the edge of the Cotswolds. In that area of Gloucestershire there is a “Barrington”, a “Little Barrington” and a “Great Barrington.” (I wouldn’t be surprised if there were also an “Upper Barrington” and a “Lower Barrington.”) (and maybe a “Middle Barrington?”)
I also discovered that the famous African-American writer and activist W.E.B. Du Bois was born in Great Barrington, went on to graduate from Harvard, and was descended from “free people of color” including Dr. James Du Bois , a medical doctor in Poughkeepsie, New York.
Driving up to Great Barrington can be accomplished in several ways from central Dutchess County. You could easily go up the Taconic to Route 23 East. But, there is another route that is to me much more bucolic and offers several charming stops. Need I say more than Sharon, Lakeville, and Salisbury? So go to Sharon or take Route 199 to Lakeville, then take Route 41 to South Egremont, then Route 23 into Great Barrington. It may take longer, as you will be tempted to stop a few times, but what else is summer for?
There are several chic restaurants once you get to Great Barrington itself, and two or three very nice galleries, to say nothing of the clothing shops, and some of the old standards spots, like the Yellow Bookstore.
We never fail to stop at this repository of used books of all kinds, or should I say, “previously owned”? This well-organized establishment is hard to resist. For example, there is a large display of Travel Books, several shelves of Photography Books, lots of Garden, Psychology, Occult, First Editions, and a room full of kid’s books. What more could you ask?
Two banks in Great Barrington have been turned in to very interesting retail spaces. There is a gallery in one, called The Vault. Therein one can find the haunting work of a marvelous 20th century photographer, Clemens Kalischer, who is worth spending some time with. His photographs are historic, moving and very human. The images remain with one.
The other bank is now an aroma filled cheese shop, called Rubiner’s Cheesemongers. This is no ordinary cheese shop. The selections are voluminous, and they ripen the fabulous cheeses in the former vault. Just behind this destination shop for cheese lovers is a handsome little café, with outdoor tables, and indoor air-conditioning, together with cool drinks and very tasty light food and splendid pastries.
How’s that for re-cycling? A pretty good re-use of old banks, I’d say.
Up the street called “Railroad” is an art gallery which I particularly like, called Sanford Smith Fine Art, which shares space with Jill Bokor Jewelry, both worth a look-see. The gallery has several Wolf Kahn works, one of my all time favorite painters. (I’m lucky enough to own one.) There will soon be a special showing of Wolf Kahn’s work at the gallery, so keep it in mind.
Railroad Street has something for everyone. There is a super toy shop, where some of the most fascinatingly clever children’s learning toys can be found, as well as all sorts of unique things which will appeal to children of all ages.
There is also an “irresistible” ice-cream shop, which we resisted only because we had an early dinner date. Everyone we met told us to go there. I do not think I shall resist SoCo Creamery’s micro-batch ice cream next time.
A couple of clothing shops are also located on this street, including a very up-market one where you could find your one luxurious item of the season, and another where you can’t help but find a great T-shirt, sweater, purse, or perfect sandals, all in the latest styles, but a lot less pricey.
But our minds were on food.
We had trouble choosing between Verdura and Pearl’s, two restaurants up at the top of Railroad Street. Pearl’s looks awfully inviting, and I would probably try it the next time. However, we all really enjoyed our meal at Verdura, which features Tuscan food. Nicely cool, this restaurant also has a more casual venue right next door, for lighter meals. We thoroughly enjoyed some wonderful menu specials, a grilled bronzino and a melt in your mouth light summer ravioli, among other things. A warning: the main restaurant is a bit pricey, so you might try the more casual fare.
It was hard to leave the cool environs of Verdura, but we were headed a couple of miles north, to the Guthrie Center for a reading of a Spaulding Gray monologue by several accomplished actors, including Sam Waterston and Maria Tucci, two favorites of mine. Despite lack of air conditioning, this evocative reading transported us to other times and other places, and made me almost forget the sweltering evening sky.
This is the sort of thing you can find in the area of Great Barrington – where summer and culture go hand in hand.