Wider horizons

Expand your cultural repertoire in the Berkshires

Email|Print| Text size + By Bess Hochstein
Globe Correspondent / July 2, 2003


Let's say that a dance performance Jacob's Pillow takes you through Lee. Since you're in the neighborhood, stop for dinner at The Bombay Bar & Grill, attached to the Best Western Black Swan Inn. Don't let the motel setting deter you; this two-year-old restaurant, with sister establishments in New York and Connecticut, is a magnet for Indian-food lovers. Along with well-executed curries and tandooris, Bombay Bar & Grill offers regional specialties, such as dosa (rice crepe) and ragara (chick pea and potato appetizer in a tamarind sauce).

A few dishes have intriguing subtitles. Chicken malai kebab is "a Martha Stewart favorite." "She used to order it at our Westport restaurant, which was featured on her television show," says Xavier. "When people see this name, they say, `I'd like that.' It's very mild and you get many flavors. Even the kids like it."

Chicken makmura is "a Calcutta Jewish specialty." "There have been Jewish settlements in Calcutta for more than 450 years. The oldest Jewish temple in India is in my home state, Kerala," says assistant manager Clarence Xavier. Bombay's Lunch Box is perfect for picnic at the Pillow, where you'll find copious tables in sublime settings. (Bring mosquito repellents.)

You'll find many other picnic purveyors in Lenox and Lee, but drive through Otis and you can't miss The Other Brother Darryl's for "still floppin' fresh" seafood, from fried clams to poached salmon to sushi, prepared to take out or enjoy at Darryl's outdoor tables.

"They have the most fabulous seafood," says Monterey summer resident Judith Friedman, who has been coming to the Berkshires for more than 40 years. "Once a summer we have a clambake and they do it all. You can even pick your own lobsters."

The market also satisfies landlubbers with grilled marinated chicken, salads, baked goods, and a broad selection of gourmet cheese and crackers.

If your picnic plans include wine and beer, continue north to the willfully tacky Otis Poultry Farm Store, or call ahead for takeout chicken as you like it. The fresh fruit pies make for a fine dessert, and the chicken pot pie is renowned.

If you're attending a matinee, afterward head farther into Beckett's hills to dine at Dream Away Lodge, a ramshackle mountaintop roadhouse with a colorful past. During the Rolling Thunder tour in 1975, Bob Dylan stopped by with Joan Baez, Jack Elliott, and a film crew for dinner, drinks, and tunes. Daniel Osman has owned the Lodge since 1997 and has created a community gathering spot for folks from all walks of life, locals and weekenders alike.

"Artists love this place," says Osman. "They've been coming ever since Ted Shawn founded Jacob's Pillow and started bringing dancers here. Then the Tanglewood people came. Leonard Bernstein's been here. There are fairly credible Elvis stories and Frank Sinatra stories, and fairly noncredible Janis Joplin stories."

Previously an actor with Shakespeare & Company, Osman's theater connections bolster the tradition of celebrity sightings; more recently Dream Away has hosted Polly Bergen, Raquel Welch, and Carol Channing. "Rex Reed comes fairly regularly," says Osman. So does Hollywood dancer/choreographer and local resident Marge Champion. Dancers from Jacob's Pillow -- Mark Morris, David Parsons, and Bill T. Jones -- frequent Dream Away.

"You name it, they've been here," says Osman. "People who don't know us say we're in the middle of nowhere, but to me it's the center of the world. I compare it to Brigadoon; it appears out of the mist. There's a magical energy to it all."

You don't have to be famous to tuck into an enormous home-style Dream Away dinner served on unmatched, high-kitsch dinnerware. The funky backwoods-but-hip environment and laid-back attitude make this a memorable meal in the Berkshires.

"I want people to feel like they're eating at my house," says Osman. Order the four-course prix fixe or the Blue Plate -- smaller tables only -- or choose lighter fare from the bar menu. It's a bargain but bring cash since Osman won't take credit cards and there's no ATM for miles.

On the weekend, settle into a timeworn couch in the Music Room and catch a casual performance. There's rarely a cover charge, but Osman periodically, and insistently, reminds you to tip the band. It's typically local folk, blues or bluegrass (The Mammals, a popular local band, makes frequent appearances), but the Dream Away's allure draws major acts, such as alternative-cabaret-vixen-with-political-edge Phoebe Legere's special dinner theater performance this Sunday.

Osman says he's getting more calls from musicians across the country who want to play the Dream Away. "The soul of the house is roots music, but if someone turns up with something interesting, I don't blink an eye; I put them on stage." On Wednesdays, locals gather for "Music Night" to share songs, originals or covers. Sing and play along, or sit back and take it all in. Thursday features a community "Knitting Circle," then "Nearly Midnight Movies." End with a campfire on the lawn (BYO marshmallows).

More healthful fare leads many pilgrims to the Kushi Institute, a well-known macrobiotic educational center set on 600 bucolic Beckett acres. Reserve a spot at its buffet for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or Sunday brunch. After your meal, stock up on macrobiotic cookbooks and kitchen supplies, or register for an idyllic "Relax and Renew" retreat for one night ($85, meals included) or longer. A weeklong "Way to Health" program covers the macrobiotic approach to healing diseases through diet and lifestyle (from $2,050-plus accommodations). Monthlong "Macrobiotic Career Training" programs (from $3,395-plus accommodations) cover cooking, counseling, diagnosis, macrobiotic shiatsu, and more. Or sign up for a private 2-hour consultation ($325) for a review of your dietary history and recommendations for a healthful lifestyle.

Since its debut last summer, Rouge in West Stockbridge has filled its seats with fans of "contemporary French cuisine," as described by chef William Merelle, formerly of the venerable Wheatleigh Inn, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Maggie, whom you'll find running the front of the house.

"It's my hometown hangout," says Robin Schmitt, West Stockbridge resident and co-owner of Housatonic's Tokonoma Gallery. "I like the ambience; it's kind of sophisticated but cozy and comfortable. I took my mother there for Mother's Day, and she's still going on about it." "I love the food," says Schmitt's business partner, Housatonic resident Lauren Clark. "It's French -- William is French -- but it's not all about creamy sauces; there's lots of fresh veggies, and he grows his own herbs in a beautiful terraced garden he built next to the restaurant."

Celebrate Rouge's first anniversary on Bastille Day with petanque, dinner or tapas at the bar, or attend one of the occasional wine dinners.


If you're avoiding Tanglewood's crowds, consider classical music alternatives. The Aston Magna Festival offers Baroque to early Romantic music on period instruments at Great Barrington's St. James Church. Tannery Pond Concerts features chamber music at historic Mount Lebanon Shaker Village, just across the New York border. The Berkshire Opera Company's fully staged production of "The Secret Marriage," featuring younger artists, begins a two-week run on July 22 at the Lee High School Auditorium.

The Shaker Mountain Performing Arts Festival presents four fully staged operas (Bellini's "Norma," Donizetti's "L'Elisir d'Amore," Massenet's "Manon," and Mozart's "Le Nozze di Figaro," a concert performance of Puccini's "Tosca," solo recitals and performances of Broadway hits, plus a full production of Sondheim's "A Little Night Music") on two stages on Berkshire Community College's Pittsfield campus. The group's schedule also includes "Shaker for Kids!" productions of "Little Red Riding Hood" and "Hansel and Gretel." In August, these children's operas will move to the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield. The museum also houses a small aquarium and interactive exhibits for children, should the little ones get antsy, as well two stunning exhibits of contemporary glass, should the adults need a diversion. Check the museum's website for special family programs.

Nostalgic for Woodstock? Camp out on-site and groove during two popular open-air festivals. Falcon Ridge Folk Festival in nearby Hillsdale, N.Y., celebrates its 15th anniversary with more than 40 musical acts, including Holly Near, Richard Thompson, Dar Williams, and Tom Paxton, from July 24-27. The Berkshire Mountain Music Festival (a.k.a. Berkfest) at Great Barrington's Ski Butternut Basin presents three days of global music starting Aug. 15. Jazz lovers also flock to Butternut for the Berkshire Jazz Festival July 25-27.

Great Barrington's diminutive Club Helsinki, an offshoot of the seven-year-old Helsinki Cafe, rocks all year long. "From the moment we opened the cafe, people walked in the door offering to play music or read poems," says owner Deborah McDowell. "We got the idea for the club and the room next door became available so we did it. And it took on a momentum of its own." McDowell books an eclectic mix, including folk, rock, jazz, blues, zydeco, Klezmer, hip-hop, punk, and Afro-pop. Major acts such as Tom Tom Club, Janis Ian, Olu Dara, Michelle Shocked, and Leo Kottke have played the tiny stage; local bands are also featured.

"I book music that I like; I can't even put it into a category," says McDowell. "We're so lucky we get so many great artists because they like the room; the musicians get turned on by being so close to the people; they're dancing right in their faces. The acoustics are fantastic; the room has a really nice sound. And the musicians come back here for the food, we feed them very well." The secret to getting good seats is to make dinner reservations at the club when you book your tickets. Folkies on the trail of Arlo Guthrie nostalgia frequent Theresa's Stockbridge Cafe (formerly Alice's Restaurant), but just a few miles down the railroad track in Housatonic is the church where Alice lived. It's now The Guthrie Center, and Arlo is slated for its summer concert schedule.HOMES AND GARDENS

Literary-minded tourists visit The Mount, Edith Wharton's recently restored grand estate, but many overlook Arrowhead, the humble 1780s farmhouse in Pittsfield where Herman Melville penned "Moby-Dick," some say inspired by a whale-shaped view of Mt. Greylock from his study. Go further back in time to the meticulously restored Bidwell House. This Georgian saltbox, originally a parsonage circa 1750, features authentic period furnishings, heirloom vegetable and herb gardens, terraced perennial beds, and wooded trails on over 190 acres. Stockbridge resident Mary Balle, a fan of the Bidwell House, says: "It's very much off the beaten path, although the road it's on used to be the main route from Albany to Boston. The place was refurbished to the nines, with tremendous attention to details. It's special because as a parsonage it was a working person's house; it gives you an idea of how people without servants lived at that time, as opposed to the higher-profile cottages. It's utilitarian versus opulent." The museum offers programs throughout the summer; outdoor access is free.

For grandeur, tour Naumkeag, the Stanford White-designed summer "cottage" of Joseph Hodges Choate, ambassador to England at the turn of the 19th century. Peruse the preserved rooms but save time for the estate's spectacular gardens. Sculpture dominates Chesterwood, the 1920s estate where Daniel Chester French produced the Lincoln Monument. A short amble through the woods outside reveals the annual contemporary sculpture exhibit.

For more sculpture al fresco, continue south on Route 183 to the Berkshire Botanical Garden. Set among the garden's tranquil display of more than 3,000 plant species, you'll find 15 arresting contemporary artworks. But don't overlook the splendor of the garden itself. "It's an intimate garden," says office coordinator Arline Slote-Davis, "and it's beautifully designed so that you can take pieces and parts of ideas and do them in your own garden." The garden focuses on native plants, particularly in its borders. Right now bapptisia, butterfly bush, delphinium, many varieties of iris, and showy peonies are in bloom. So are roses and lavender, making it a treat for the nose and eyes. There's also an enchanting hillside herb garden, a dense vegetable garden, and a children's garden. ART

Arts and crafts aficionados are heading west this weekend for The Berkshires Arts Festival, a juried show featuring the work of more than 200 artists and artisans at Butternut Ski Basin through Sunday. There will be a reprise of the show from Oct. 3-5.

For a self-guided gallery tour, be sure to look beyond Lenox: the Holsten Gallery, off the main thoroughfare in Stockbridge, attracts collectors for its outstanding, and pricey, work from leading contemporary glass artists, while the Tokonoma Gallery, a bright blue beacon on a quiet stretch of Route 183 in the village of Housatonic, presents a lively, and more affordable, collection of fine art and contemporary crafts. The SKH Gallery specializes in fine textiles and fabric arts but also shows studio ceramics and engaging work in other media. Saturdays offer a bonus attraction: the Great Barrington Farmer's Market.


Fans of Shakespeare & Company and the Willamstown and Berkshire theater festivals know that good theater thrives here, but the lower-profile Barrington Stage Company in Sheffield has its dedicated fans. "I take a subscription every year," says Judith Friedman of Monterey. "It's the best little theater in the Berkshires. The productions are high-quality, and there's not a bad seat in the house. Even if there's a lady wearing a big hat in front of you, you'll still have a great view. Plus, it has the most comfortable seats."

BSC starts every season with a musical; this year it's "Funny Girl," which is now playing. Other productions on its two stages include Kenneth Lonergan's "Lobby Hero," playwright and director Neil LaBute's "The Shape of Things," and two world premieres: "The Game," a musical based on "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" and "Ears on a Beatle," inspired by the FBI's surveillance of John Lennon. The group's Youth Theater is staging "Once Upon a Mattress."

Mass MoCA in North Adams is no secret gem, but its schedule, a head-spinning array of dance, music, theater, dance parties, and films is so appealing that it deserves mention. Many of the happenings run in conjunction with the "Yankee Remix" exhibit in the museum's cavernous gallery space.

"Throughout the summer we're looking at America through the eyes of artists outside of the mainstream," says Jonathan Secor, director of performing arts. "The festival is a full day of events organized around that theme. We've got five bands who all present a distinct perspective on uniquely American music. The headliner is Jimmie Dale Gilmore from Austin. The Reggae Cowboys do Western songs reggae-style, and The Persuasions do Grateful Dead songs a capella. We've also got Amusia from Boston and Melodrome from around here."

Also at MoCA, the Bang on a Can Institute fosters music students in masters programs around the world. "These are classical musicians who feel left out of the mainstream classical world. We're looking for the Philip Glasses and the Steve Reichs of tomorrow," says Secor.

The Institute culminates in two concerts: the American UnPop Bang on a Can All-Stars on July 19, with special guest Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, which will include resettings of Velvet Underground lyrics and the Bang on a Can Marathon on July 26, a six-hour global music extravaganza featuring famed Dutch composer Louis Andriessen.

"Our Alternative Cabaret series is moving outdoors for the summer to what I call our concrete cafe," says Secor.

Among the highlights: Novelist/social critic Rick Moody will talk about the writing life; plus-sized dancer Lawrence Goldhuber's performance will address the marginalization of fat people in America; and a series of silent films will be set to live music. Accompanists include DJ Mocean Worker, the Alloy Orchestra and The Jazz Passengers, who will turn off the sound to "Creature from the Black Lagoon" to perform the dialogue radio-play style along with original music (and 3-D glasses). Among the highlights: Novelist/social critic Rick Moody will talk about the writing life; plus-sized dancer Lawrence Goldhuber's performance will address the marginalization of fat people in America; and a series of silent films will be set to live music. Accompanists include DJ Mocean Worker, the Alloy Orchestra and The Jazz Passengers, who will turn off the sound to "Creature from the Black Lagoon" to perform the dialogue radio-play style along with original music (and 3-D glasses).

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