Getting in tune, on the town, with a night in Brattleboro

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The River Garden Marketplace and its sister Whetstone Brewery, The Stone Church, The Collective and Latchis Hotel: Venues make for an unforgettable evening of flavor, revelry, recharging and rest

By Bill LeConey

UpCountry Magazine

When I was first approached to write a story about Brattleboro’s resurgent nightlife, I thought, “Why me?” Is it because I’m the night editor? Or maybe that I have a reputation for being a sleepless party animal, going back to my days as a sportswriter in Atlantic City, where the bars never close and the bright lights of the casinos beckon.

Nah. They were looking for someone to provide the perspective of a relative newcomer to a town that, because of its history and its geography, has long been a sort of cultural, hippie hub and gateway to Vermont.

I jumped at the chance to take a “deep dive” into the nightlife of the town. With my wife, Linda, by my side, we went out to explore all that Brattleboro has to offer when the sun goes down and the lights come up. It was bound to be a quirky, eclectic and, ultimately, musical journey.

First stop: Whetstone Station Restaurant and Brewery

We heard about the Whetstone even before relocating from New Jersey to Brattleboro in 2018, and it has become one of our favorite local establishments. Where else can you and a partner enjoy great food and drink, with great views of the Connecticut River and the traffic moving across the Anna Hunt Marsh Bridge? In fact, a line on the floor marks the border between Vermont and New Hampshire, so you can actually sit at a table and enjoy a true cross-state experience while gazing lovingly (or any other way) at each other.

We arrived midafternoon and took a seat at a table near the bar. Linda ordered a beer, while I sipped a spicy Bloody Mary spiked with bacon, green olives and a Slim Jim.

The Whetstone is a warm and inviting place. Upstairs, the outdoor waterfront “bier garten,” with its expansive views of the river, was still open on this early December day, with several people braving the weather, with the help of clear, see-through vinyl walls and additional flame towers for warmth.

We couldn’t stay long: It was off to the next stop on our itinerary.

River Garden Marketplace

The Whetstone’s new venture, right in the heart of downtown, is all about the “craft” — craft beer, mostly those made in Vermont and the rest of New England; craft food, including six to eight “small plate items” and a rotating menu of selections designed by different chefs; and a marketplace of craft items and artwork from Hand Built Market.

The space, which was formerly the home of Strolling of the Heifers, has an expansive skylight roof, patio seating with views of Mount Wantastiquet and the Connecticut River, and a glass-fronted view of Main Street.

There’s also music, of course, including an open mic night, a pianist on Thursday nights, and other local artists on Fridays and Saturdays.

Marketplace general manager April Clay gave us a tour of the newly renovated downstairs event space, which will host anniversary parties, baby showers, rehearsal dinners and more.

During the month of December, the rotating Marketplace menu was a seafood-lover’s delight, so I ordered the lobster macaroni and cheese (very good). My wife, an avowed nonseafood lover, ordered the surf and turf without the surf, and was happy with her double portion of baseball steak. Speaking of baseball, it looks like the Whetstone has another hit on their hands with this place.

Latchis Hotel and Theatre

We were excited to spend a night at the Latchis, the four-story art deco landmark still going strong, eight decades after its opening. We had heard that each room at the Latchis has its own little record player, so — being confirmed vinyl enthusiasts — we took the opportunity to visit our favorite local record store, Turn it Up! I grabbed a copy of an old J. Geils Band record that I lost years ago, while my wife picked up an album by one of her favorite bands from the 1960s, It’s a Beautiful Day.

In this case, it was a beautiful night, and the Latchis added to the appeal. Our room had a charming cinematic theme, with pictures of Clark Gable, Judy Garland and various movie posters on the walls. It also had all of the comfortable amenities you would expect from a modern hotel.

The 30-room boutique hotel and four-screen theater has survived a lot over the years, including flooding from Hurricane Irene and the COVID-19 pandemic. Latchis general manager Jon Potter acknowledged the challenge but set an optimistic tone in a message to supporters on the Latchis website, and urged all to appreciate local retailers, restaurants, cultural organizations and service providers.

We took him up on that — walking up Main Street and popping in (or just window-shopping) at some of our favorite stores and galleries, including Everyone’s Books, Twice Upon a Time, Boomerang and Gallery in the Woods, to name a few. There’s plenty to do in Brattleboro during daylight hours — but that’s a story for another day. For now, it was onward into the night and a concert at our favorite “House of Music Worship,” The Stone Church.

The Stone Church

We had tickets to see Harvest & Rust, a Neil Young tribute band from Western Massachusetts. The Stone Church — with its stained-glass windows, stately pipe organ and biblical passages on the walls — was the perfect place to get our “retro groove” on. Our night there began with drinks from resident “mixologist” Alex, and soon the band took the stage.

The band rocked, the sound and lighting were excellent, and the crowd soaked it all up. The Stone Church, a 150-year-old former Unitarian Church, has become one of the premier musical destinations in New England.

Harvest & Rust lead singer and guitarist Garrett Lechowski told the enthusiastic crowd that he always wanted to play the Church, and seemed genuinely thrilled with the room’s acoustics and ambience. “We really want to play here again,” he said. “Do me a favor: Next time we play here, tell a friend or two about it. The next time after that, tell two more friends.”

That’s music to the ears of Stone Church owner and general manager Robin Johson, who has navigated the pandemic with help from the National Independent Venue Association and its “Save Our Stages” campaign, which appealed to Congress to fund venues that were forced to “go dark” during much of the last two years. The Church is back open, and requires patrons to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test and wear masks while indoors at all times.

“On the local level, we’ve worked on events with Retreat Farm, Next Stage in Putney, Gallery Walk,” Johnson said. “Going forward, those kinds of relationships, working together instead of competing with each other, will help foster Brattleboro as more of a musical destination, once people are happy to go out again.”

Erin Scaggs, who promotes The Stone Church with community outreach and social media, said the venue aims to put on shows that are accessible, safe and engaging.

“It’s all about collaborating and connecting the venues and the musicians and the resources,” she said. “We’re all cogs in the same wheel, trying to elevate Brattleboro and trying to bring people to town.”

Because it’s the first stop in Vermont on I-91, but also because it’s a small, tight-knit community, Brattleboro venues and businesses have to support and engage local people while also attracting tourists and visitors, Scaggs said.

“There’s a cool duality thing going where you have the old and the new, the old Whetstone and the new Marketplace; The Stone Church is kind of a mix of old and new, as is the Latchis; The Collective is an existing concept that is now new again. There’s a ton of potential here.”

And with that, we were on to the last stop in our night-life journey.

The Collective Lounge & Bar

Brattleboro was once known for its half-dozen or so late-night hangouts, fondly recalled as “dive bars.” Places like Emils Pub, Sportsmen’s Lounge, Mort’s Tavern, Mike’s, the Metropolis Wine Bar and, of course, Arkham had a funky, quirky vibe where you could grab a cold beer or warming cocktail and enjoy a late-night snack, even if you were brave (or sauced) enough to sample the jar of pickled eggs from the top of the bar.

Arkham closed during the pandemic, leaving a void of late-night destinations downtown. But that’s the vibe the new Collective Bar & Lounge is going for. It stays open late, has decent priced drinks and tasty food, and it’s run by two people (Marty Griffin and Kate Barry) that have some social currency in the community.

The Collective, at 55 Elliot St., provides a gathering space that embraces local art, local music and local community issues. In addition to open-mic nights on Mondays, The Collective features karaoke and trivia. It hosts gay pride events, baby showers, pre-wedding parties and dance parties. It has games such as chess, Scrabble and Exploding Kittens.

On the night we arrived, after The Stone Church show, the joint was filled to the brim with late-night revelers, enjoying the guitar stylings of Vanwho, an artist from Montreal. We had a couple of beers, enjoyed some delicious nachos with pulled pork and watched a somewhat wild and crazy scene unfold before us.

At 1:30 in the morning, the performer was lying flat on her back on The Collective stage, piercing the night with hot guitar licks as a flock of sweaty, happy night owls wailed their approval and hoisted their glasses in good cheer.

Another night in Brattleboro drawing to a close (for us, but maybe not the revelers), we ambled out the door, exhausted and eager to retire to the Latchis for some well-deserved rest.

Bill LeConey is night news editor of the Brattleboro Reformer, Bennington Banner and Manchester Journal. A longtime sports reporter and editor in Atlantic City, N.J., he enjoys good music, good food and good drink. He was also once the frontman for a marginally successful psychedelic punk grunge band.