Bertram’s Destination of the Week: Nantucket, Massachusetts
After twenty-two years together, Nantucket continues to seduce the author. That’s just fine with him.
BY GEORGE SASS JR
Photo credit: Grant Reig
Perhaps it’s nostalgia that makes Nantucket so alluring to me. I admit I was smitten by the island’s charm the day I walked down the gangway from the Steamship Authority ferry to the wharf. It was 1993 and I had graduated college the day before. I had $100 bucks to my name and needed to jumpstart the next chapter of my life before the student loans came due.
So when a classmate mentioned he was heading to Nantucket and offered me a ride to Hyannis to catch the ferry, I jumped into his big Chevy station wagon without a second thought. Heck, I like boats and islands.
I arrived on the island on a Friday with all of my belongings squeezed into a grungy sail bag, and with my dog Jezebel tugging at my arm. Her rear was flying from side to side with excitement over the pre-weekend activity around the ferry terminal. We made our way up the cobblestones of Main Street to the bulletin board at the Hub—the nexus of all job and living opportunities on the island. The next day my friends and I secured a cottage—held together by duct tape, Styrofoam and chicken wire—in Madaket, on the western end of the island. It was perfect.
And by Monday, I was gainfully employed as a pantry cook at Cioppinos Restaurant on Broad Street. Owners Tracy and Suzy Root took me under their wings from the moment I walked through the door. They taught me about the art of fine-dining, good wine, hard work, and poker. More importantly, they showed me the charm and color of Nantucket. They were hosts to a slew of characters who occupied their restaurant, telling tall tales at the little black bar tucked in a corner off the lobby. There were politicians, writers, Fortune 100 CEOs, famous entertainers, gangsters, lobstermen, drunks, heirs, drunk-heirs, bartenders, and even an opera singer. After I closed the kitchen, I just sat at the bar and listened to the discussions.
When I wasn’t making Caesar salads or pecan pies, I was busy discovering the island. I whiled away my limited free time by fishing for stripers, diving for lobster, scalloping with a mask and inner tube during season, or windsurfing in Polpis Harbor. Life is intertwined with the ocean on an island and well, so am I. Even Jezebel would let herself out in the morning before her breakfast for a walk and a morning dip in Hither Creek. (She was a very civilized lady.) I didn’t leave the island once for more than 12 months, which was all right by me.
I eventually turned in my chef whites for a suit and today my time on Nantucket is only counted in week-long spells at the most, versus years. Yet the moment I hear the seagulls and smell the salt air after a long week at work, the reset button is automatically hit. I’ve changed a lot in those 20-plus years, and so has Nantucket. (Not completely for the better, I might add.) However, out on the water and around the waterfront, it’s pretty darn close to the utopia that I’ve retained in my memories.
For me, there is still no other place on this planet that comes close to soothing my soul like Nantucket. Here are some tips on how we enjoyed a summer day last July like the local that I still am, at heart.
My wife and I make avoiding crowds an art form. This is darn tough to do on Nantucket during the summer. After a mid-afternoon swim off our boat, we headed out to Millie’s in Madaket for a little happy hour (508-228-5435).This is down the street from my old house and the current owners finally figured out that this end of the island needed a casual, beach café. WHEN TO GO: Go around sunset. Some of the best on the island.
For dinner, Topper’s (508-228-8768) is just as special to me now as it was in 1993. For those of us in the restaurant business, a group dinner at this special restaurant within The Wauwinet was the highlight of our summer. It still is for Lindsay and me. WHEN TO GO: Whenever you want to remind yourself of how hard you work and deserve to be pampered.
OTHER CHOICES: There are loads of good restaurants on the island. Many however, are trying to replicate their version of New York sophistication. In my opinion, leave the Upper East Side in New York and look for the true island establishments.
OFF THE BOAT: My wife and I make a point of catching a production of anything that The Theatre Workshop of Nantucket (www.theathreworkshop.com) is putting on when we’re on the island. The quality of every show we’ve seen is beyond expectations. WHEN TO GO: We’re fans of spending Thanksgiving on the island and catching a production like The Christmas Carol the weekend after is a wonderful way to jumpstart you’re holiday spirit. Leave the Bertram at home and come on out.
Cisco Brewers (508-325-5929) is worth the side trip down Bartlett Farm Road. There’s a casual beer garden and often really good local live music. The beer ain’t bad either.
Bio: George Sass Jr. is the former editor-in-chief of Power & Motoryacht and Yachting magazines, and co-founder of Center Console Angler.