pedestrian mall in downtown Burlington is decked out
with Christmas-like cheer in February and March,
perfect for a city not bound by convention.
Vt. — There was a McDonald’s downtown in Vermont’s
largest city for years, but then Vermont’s largest city
decided it didn’t want McDonald’s anymore. So the
McDonald’s closing. Who ever heard of such a thing?
Vermont’s largest city, these things happen.
only did the McDonald’s on Bank Street disappear, it was
replaced by The Farm House Tap & Grill, a casually
comfortable spot that has the town abuzz with its
commitment to sourcing its meat, vegetables and cheese
from more than two dozen nearby farms. And there, in one
building, you have Burlington, where a McDonald’s doesn’t
last, farm-to-table dining and taps pouring local craft
beer soar. Burlington likes it that way.
was definitely a feeling of ‘We won,’" said Beth
Montuori Rowles, 46, who moved to Burlington in her
mid-20s. "Look, I worked at McDonald’s when I was
in high school. It was a great first job. But we’ve
learned a lot since then about how to strengthen a
community by buying food grown locally and supporting
local business and how it’s important to your personal
health to know what you are eating and where it came
to Vermont’s largest city — albeit one of 43,000 —
which has brought us Phish and Ben and Jerry’s. Sitting
just 45 miles south of the Canadian border, Burlington
exists in a friendly and progressive bubble that quickly
can feel utopian to a visitor charmed by nothing more than
a fresh, memorable meal, clean air and such gentleness
that the honk of a car horn seems out of place.
commitment to quality living regularly wins Vermont and
Burlington all sorts of high rankings when it comes to
superlatives — healthiest, happiest, safest, even
"most peaceful." While walking past the town’s
charmingly weathered homes of two- and three-digit
addresses, it quickly becomes no surprise to see the front
door of one of those houses, on Maple Street, near
downtown, painted with a rainbow. It just fits.
say people here are earthier, but city people, they might
just look at us like we’re backward," said Brian
Dalmer, who, with his wife, Olga, owns the city’s only
hostel — and it’s one of the cleanest, most inviting
hostels I’ve seen. "There are a lot of millionaires
here, but you’d never know it. They drive pickup trucks
like everyone else."
doesn’t put on appearances. In fact, sometimes it doesn’t
put anything on.
law doesn’t prohibit public nudity, except in parks.
saw two of them standing in front of a bar once — two
girls," Dalmer said.
completely naked women standing in front of a bar?
he said. "They had hats on."
saw no public nudity during three days in Burlington, but
it wouldn’t have been that surprising, especially when
compared with, say, Cleveland. Until recent years, the
University of Vermont not only sanctioned an end-of-school
naked bike ride for students, it helped finance it.
surprise, then, that a town embracing nakedness also would
gravitate to life’s other good things, such as farmers
markets (so many farmers markets), live music and, while I
was in town, a "Downton Abbey" dinner for fans
of the PBS show to "travel back in time to the early
20th century and learn the proper way to serve and eat a
formal meal." Name another town of 43,000 where that
happens and you win one authentic Burlington-made hemp
commitment to good living has led to a remarkably strong
food scene that’s often fresh and tasty without being
needlessly complex. It ranges from freshness of The Farm
House to the classic white wine-and-garlic mussels at
Bluebird. I didn’t have a single disappointing meal in
to go with dinner, Vermont boasts three of the nation’s
most respected breweries — The Alchemist (in Waterbury),
Hill Farmstead (North Greensboro) and Lawson’s Finest
Liquids (Warren) — all of which are distributed
primarily in Vermont. All three can be found in many
along Lake Champlain, one of the largest freshwater lakes
in the nation, Burlington is open for year-round
recreation, which is evident in both the ample four-wheel
drive vehicles and the equally ample stickers upon them
that tout skiing, fishing, biking, climbing or whatever
else gets a Burlingtonian moving.
along Lake Champlain’s shore on a chilly but bright and
sunny winter afternoon, I met a precocious 9-year-old
fisherman who was experimenting with a new pole, and, in a
10-minute soliloquy on the merits of fishing, lamented
that he wasn’t catching much.
not very good with it because it’s my first time,"
but imagine how good you’ll be if you keep using it for
the next year," I told him.
you’re right!" he said.
then it struck me: That’s a pretty idyllic concern to
have as a 9-year-old on a Thursday afternoon.
I went up toward town, passing an array of storefronts
that are just what you’d expect: vintage clothes,
outdoor gear, more vintage clothes, more outdoor gear, the
crystals-and-incense store, two record stores (that
actually sell vinyl), a head shop and, proving that the
city has long been the way it is, Old Gold, a costume and
vintage-clothes shop celebrating its 40th year.
city’s annual Mardi Gras celebration — held a few
weeks after the proper date, when the Vermont weather is
kinder — was approaching, so the mannequins were
outfitted in extra sparkles and feathers.
Church Street, the brick pedestrian walkway cutting
through downtown, the offerings are more evenly split
between local funkiness and the more vanilla — and not
just the inevitable Ben and Jerry’s. (The original Ben
and Jerry’s, at the corner of St. Paul and College
streets, is now a parking lot.)
amid the pedestrians, sit several national chains the town
doesn’t always embrace. With one obvious exception.
of which, should you really need that McDonald’s fix
while visiting Burlington, you can find it on your way
back to the airport — in the town of South Burlington.
THERE: Burlington gets direct flights from Atlanta
(starting June 7); Chicago; Cleveland; Detroit; Newark,
N.J.; New York; Philadelphia; Toronto; and Washington.
There are more worthy dining options than can be mentioned
here, but these will get you started. American Flatbread
(home of Zero Gravity brewery, 115 St. Paul St.,
802-861-2999, americanflatbread.com); Farmhouse (a lot of
buzz, 160 Bank St., 802-859-0888, farmhousetg.com);
Bluebird (a Burlington classic, 86 St. Paul St.
802-540-1786, bluebirdtavern.com); Zabby & Elf’s
Stone Soup (a popular and vegetarian-friendly lunch spot,
211 College St., 802-862-7616, stonesoupvt.com); and
Misery Loves Company ( just outside Burlington owned and
operated by former Bluebird folk, 46 Main St., Winooski,
The hotel landscape is as underdeveloped as the food scene
is strong. Many of the major chains exist in downtown
Burlington, but cozier and more locally accented stays can
be had at Hotel Vermont, a boutique hotel set to open in
June (41 Cherry St., 802-864-4700, hotelvt.com) and
Willard Street Inn (349 S. Willard St., 800-577-8712,
willardstreetinn.com), a Victorian-style bed and
breakfast. For those on a budget, Burlington Hostel (53
Main St., 802-540-3043, theburlingtonhostel.com) is
immaculate, peaceful, and its 48 beds top out at $40 per