A tank away | Montpelier

A small city teeming with capital comforts

State Street, lined with shops, galleries, and restaurants, runs from downtown to the State House (below), built in 1859. State Street, lined with shops, galleries, and restaurants, runs from downtown to the State House (below), built in 1859. (Photos By Ron Driscoll/Globe Staff)
By Ron Driscoll
Globe Staff / January 6, 2010

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The nation’s smallest state capital (population 7,806 in 2007), like the little state it represents, offers outsized opportunities for shopping, relaxation, and fun, making it a good weekend getaway for singles or couples. Its downtown winds around branches of the Winooski River and includes bookstores, art galleries, a regional theater, and a surprising depth of dining options. State Street runs from downtown to the striking capitol building, which is surrounded by other state offices, several of them hewn from the famous Barre granite that helped fuel the central Vermont economy for generations. Through it all runs the hardy, indepen-dent spirit of the region, mak-ing a current motto seem apropos: a little capital goes a long way.

Though locals may not like to admit it, Montpelier was chartered in 1781 to a group of settlers from Massachusetts. It was named for the city of Montpellier in southern France, and itself became a city in 1895. The Inn at Montpelier (147 Main St., 802-223-2727,, $132-$229) dates to the early 1800s, just as Vermont was settling on Montpelier as its seat of government. The inn boasts 19 rooms in two buildings with a sweeping wraparound porch. The Capitol Plaza Hotel (100 State St., 802-223-5252, 800-274-5252,, $106-$329) sits within view of the 1859 State House and features 62 rooms. Betsy’s Bed and Breakfast, 74 East State St., 802-229-0466,, $70-$140) has 13 rooms in a pair of Victorian homes a block from downtown.

Hungry? You can choose from several bakery-cafes, pizza joints, and cuisines ranging from African (Samosaman Cafe, 72 Main St., 802-778-9303) to Indian to Irish to . . . well, American. J. Morgan’s Steakhouse, inside the Capitol Plaza Hotel, entrees $12.99-$31.99) serves seafood and pasta, but favors beef in a major way, including a selection of steak toppings from whiskey glaze to brown sugar espresso-rubbed (don’t worry, it’s decaf). Positive Pie (22 State St., 802-229-0453,, $9-$21) started in nearby Plainfield and opened its second space here in 2005. Owner Carlo Rovetto has built a spacious, lively restaurant-bar, with a takeout counter out back for a quick slice to go. Try the melenzana, which features tomato sauce, breaded eggplant, feta, and mozzarella, with a pesto swirl. Inspired by her grandmother’s soups and by a commitment to local growers, Pam Root opened That’s Life Soup (41 Elm St., 802-223-5333) in 2006. She offers salads and sandwiches as well, but the traditionally prepared soups - at least four options a day - bring them in. Birchgrove Baking (279 Elm St., 802-223-0200, is worth the short drive out of downtown. Owners Jennifer Toce and John Belding both trained at the New England Culinary Institute in town, and their assortment of homemade cakes, cookies, tarts, and pastries is augmented by coffee, tea, espresso drinks, and lunch offerings.

During the day
The Vermont Arts Council was founded here in 1964, and the creative bent continues, with more than a dozen craft shops and art galleries. Global Gifts (7 Langdon St., 802-229-2777), a block from downtown just over the bridge, features art and accessories from the world over. Rivendell Books (100 Main St., 802-223-3928, and Bear Pond Books (77 Main St., 802-229-0774, are both owned by Claire Benedict and Robert Kasow, who offer new and used titles, plus evening readings by Vermont authors, some 30 of whom are featured on the Bear Pond website. A less sedentary option is to go cross-country skiing or snowshoeing at Morse Farm (1168 County Road, 802-223-0090,, $13 adults, $9 ages 7-12 and seniors, rentals available), just three miles north of town, where the Nordic ski and snowshoe trails were designed by two-time Olympian John Morton.

After dark
The Black Door Bar & Bistro (44 Main St., 802-223-7070, offers live music, comedy, poetry, and dancing to DJs in its third-floor lounge. McGillicuddy’s Irish Pub (14 Langdon St., 802-223-2721) is a great spot to watch the game, engage in a trivia contest, and order from an extensive appetizer and burger menu. The Savoy Theater (26 Main St., 802-229-0598, is a single-screen movie house that focuses on locally produced and independent films. Lost Nation Theater (39 Main St., 802-229-0492,, in the city hall auditorium, has been called one of the best regional theaters in America by the Drama League of New York.

Ron Driscoll can be reached at