Literary City Guide | nantucket, ma


The air of Nantucket comes into your face and eyes as if it was glad to see you. The moon comes here as if it was at home, but there is no shade
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tour Guide: liz WELLINGTON

Liz Rollins is a free­lance writer liv­ing in Brook­line, Mass­a­chu­setts. When not explor­ing far­away places, Liz spends her time writing in coffee shops, drinking tea, and practicing yoga. She blogs at lizrollins.com. (Photos by Liz Rollins)

*Establishments open year-round are marked with an asterisk below.

Q&A

 

Relationship to Nantucket: Former resident and frequent visitor

Writer you'd like to invite to dinner: Elizabeth Gilbert

Chef you'd like to prepare the meal: Ana Sortun

Writing soundtrack: The murmurs of a coffee shop

Pen or Pencil: Pen

Coffee or Tea: A London fog—earl grey tea with steamed milk and vanilla syrup

Paperback or Hardback: Hardback

 


Good Reads


BOOKSTORES

Mitchell’s Book Corner.* As a bookseller at Mitchell’s, I spent my days with bibliophiles, Nantucket experts, and local characters. This spirited shop prides itself on matching readers with the perfect books for their interests. Ask for a recommendation, especially if Mary is working.

Nantucket Bookworks.* Mitchell’s eclectic sister shop evokes a feeling of whimsy in its cozy corners. Bookworks carries funky toys and small treasures, in addition to general interest books. Their children’s and young adult sections are especially noteworthy. 

Hospital Thrift Shop. Residents and visitors often donate books to this seasonal thrift shop. Recent hardcovers sell at a bargain prices! 

LIBRARIES

Nantucket Atheneum.* Since 1820 the Nantucket Atheneum has served as an intellectual beacon for Nantucket’s year-round community. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Frederick Douglass, Henry David Thoreau, and Lucretia Coffin Mott all lectured in its Great Hall. 

Nantucket Historical Association Research Library.* This research library is a wonderful resource for literary travelers with a deep interest in Nantucket’s history. I also recommend visiting the Whaling Museum

READINGS & CONFERENCES

Nantucket Book Festival. This festival takes place annually in June, featuring nationally recognized authors. This year thirty-five writers presented workshops, including Alice Hoffman, Jodi Picoult, Nathaniel Philbrick, and Elin Hilderbrand.  

Nantucket Book Partners.* Both Bookworks and Mitchell’s Book Corner offer regular events, book signings, and writers groups. Check out their joint calendar for more information.

Nantucket Atheneum.* The Atheneum continues to hold events in their Great Hall. Author talks take place regularly and with increased frequency during the summer months. 

OTHER FINDS

Parchment Fine Paper.* Brimming with beautiful notepads, handpicked stationary, and letterpress prints, this paper shop is a writer’s delight. If you seek inspiration, pop into this cherished shop to find a gift for your desk.  

Jared Coffin House.* Only after writing Moby Dick did Herman Melville set sail to Nantucket. During his stay, Melville lodged at the Ocean House Hotel, now called the Jared Coffin House. While there Melville met Captain Pollard, his inspiration for the character of Ahab. Pollard lived across the street at 46 Centre Street. 

Footlight.* Legendary writers Harper Lee, Truman Capote, and John Steinbeck all retreated to Nantucket for solitude. In 1951 Steinbeck wrote East of Eden in a rented beach cottage named “Footlight.” Originally next to Sankaty Lighthouse, this historic home was moved down the street to Baxter Road. 


Nantucket! Take out your map and look at it. See what a real corner of the world it occupies; how it stands there, away off shore, more lonely than the Eddystone lighthouse. Look at it- a mere hillock, and elbow of sand; all beach, without a background.”
–Herman Melville 

Good Eats


COFFEE SHOPS

The Bean*.This small coffee shop offers a quaint setting. On summer mornings, the line is often out the door. In the slower months, local residents play scrabble in the corner of the shop. 

Handlebar Cafe. The owners of Nantucket Bike Tours recently opened this bike-themed cafe. Handlebar has a warm, friendly environment, complete with chalk-covered black boards, and scrumptious lattes. This new coffee shop is a welcome addition to the island!

Provisions. Provisions makes my favorite sandwich on Nantucket. The caprese, made with fresh island tomatoes, is a delectable rendition of a classic combination. 

Something Natural. Every time I visit the island, I buy loaves of Something Natural’s Portuguese bread to bring home. This Cliff Road spot is legendary for its lovely picnic tables and hearty sandwiches. 

Nantucket Pharmacy*. Open year-round, this old-fashioned lunch counter is famous for its milkshakes. I like to stop by for a grilled cheese and lively island chatter. 

A PROPER MEAL

Black Eyed Susan’s. With the best breakfast in town, this beloved restaurant thrives on a steady stream of locals and tourists. Their dinner menu changes weekly, drawing on an array of culinary traditions. In addition to my deep adoration of their grits, I love the simple elegance of their dinner service. 

Center Street Bistro*. This cozy spot reminds visitors that Nantucket is as much a small town as it is a tourist destination. Neighbors chat across different tables, delighting in nourishing fare. At brunch ask for a sprinkle of granola in your pancakes. 

Straight Wharf. In both the bar grill and formal dining room, Straight Wharf’s plates feature the finest local ingredients. I adore their watermelon gazpacho—when I can’t get my hands on the real thing, I make it at home. 

Proprietor’s Bar + Table. Situated in a federal-style house on India Street, Proprietor’s offers small plates grounded in bold, inventive flavors. In its cuisine and décor, this new restaurant channels the sophistication of worldly fare, without forgetting its island roots. 

Pi Pizza*. Rustic Italian dishes and delectable pizza are the heart of this Neapolitan trattoria. I savor their rustica pizza, with its unbeatable combination of stracchino cheese and pancetta.  

TREATS

Juice Bar. This famous ice cream parlor makes the best stuff in town. I recommend stopping by in the late afternoon when the waffle cones are warm and the line is manageable. As the evening goes on, the number of hungry visitors grows exponentially.

Ambrosia*. The owner of this lovely shop selects the most wonderful spices and teas. Their chocolate creations are decadent indulgences, with rich combinations that will delight your palate.

The Gazebo. Those hoping for an extra zing in their milkshake should head to the Gazebo for a mudslide. This dangerous combination of rum, ice cream, and chocolate sauce will seal the deal on a wonderful vacation. 

Cisco Brewery*. This local brewery, winery, and distillery offers a laid-back atmosphere and local music. Whatever drinks you fancy, you can find them here. Make sure to check out their schedule of shuttle buses from town.  


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Liz's 5 Favorites


1. Favorite view: The ‘Sconset Bluff Walk. This public walkway begins on Front Street in Siasconset, trailing between historic houses and the bluff. It looks east over the Nantucket shoals and the Atlantic Ocean. 

2. Favorite place to write: The beach. During the winter, I prefer to write on the second floor of the Atheneum

3. Favorite museum: The African Meeting House. This beautiful building offers a glimpse into an important piece of the island’s history, honoring Nantucket’s African American community. 

4. Favorite coffee shop: The Bean. I developed camaraderie with the baristas and regulars at this little coffee shop. The warmth of its community bolstered my spirit during grey winter days. 

5. Favorite thing about Nantucket: The stars. Nantucket is blissfully remote and blessed with low levels of light pollution. On a clear night, take a dip at Steps Beach—stargazing is even better while surrounded by the bioluminescence of the ocean.