36 HOURS In Bar Harbor, Maine
By PAUL SCHNEIDER
Published in NY Times: August 27, 2004
FORMERLY named Eden, Bar Harbor may well be the perfect New England tourist town. There are the requisite T-shirt emporiums and fudge shops and multiple quality homemade-ice cream joints. There are the tasteful and schlocky art galleries and free chamber music concerts on Friday nights. The architecture consists mainly of "cottages" built in the early 20th century by titans of pre-income-tax industry, but they are not about Newportesque excess as much as bygone elegance. Meanwhile, the honky-tonk water slides, go-karts and minigolf are just far enough away, in nearby Trenton, to make them accessible but invisible. Above all else, though, Bar Harbor is special because a few of those early visitors donated their land and pulled the strings to get 40 percent of the incomparably dramatic and beautiful Mount Desert Island, on which Bar Harbor sits, designated as Acadia National Park. Bike, hike, amble, kayak, rock-climb, horseback ride, lobster tour, whatever it's a day tripper's paradise, at least until the leaf peeping ends around the second week of October.
Friday 8 p.m.
1) Flickerlight Dining
No matter where you're coming from, Bar Harbor is always a little farther away than you estimated. When at last you roll into town, all you really want to do is kick back in an overstuffed chair and eat fresh-baked pizza off a vintage TV table while watching that big hit at Sundance you missed when it played at home. At Reel Pizza Cinerama, (33 Kennebec Place, 207-288-3811) place your order in the lobby where in a normal movie theater you would be buying popcorn and Junior Mints, and then go into the screening room and stake out a La-Z-Boy. When your number comes up on the screen on the wall, no one minds as you sneak out for your Casino Royale pizza, with artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes and roasted garlic ($14.75), and another beer.
Saturday 5 a.m.
2) Into Wet Air (or Not)
Given its extreme eastern location, 1,532-foot Cadillac Mountain is said to be the first place in the United States to see the sun rise. But beware, the best-intentioned plans to climb up and greet the dawn may fall victim to classic Maine mist and fog. If so, sleep in until 8 or so and then unwind a reliably gooey cinnamon roll while sipping a double espresso at the Opera House Internet Cafe (27 Cottage Street, 207-288-3509). It has a living-room-style Internet cafe in the back, but you didn't come to Bar Harbor to check your e-mail, so stay up front with the assorted Scrabble games, backgammon boards, newspapers and wall-to-wall opera memorabilia. With the help of caffeine and newsprint, your personal fog will lift.
3) Here's to You, Mr. Rockefeller
By 1913 John D. Rockefeller Jr. was already feeling a bit crowded out by all the cars running on his family's gasoline, so he began construction of what became 57 miles of carriage roads that are open only to nonmotorized travelers. Like Mr. R., you want to do your part, so rent bikes at Acadia Bike ($18 a day with advance reservations, 48 Cottage Street; 207-288-9605) and pedal merrily for a couple of hours through the mist along the shore of Eagle Lake, over the granite bridges, between the dreamy mountains and on down to the Jordan Pond House. By this time, you'll be ready for the magnificent steam-filled popovers and tea ($7.50; reservations suggested; Park Loop Road, 207-276-3316). The popovers arrive one at a time as you eat them at wooden tables out on the lawn, above, overlooking the pond and the matching pair of mountains known as the Bubbles. Find the bus stop and wait for the free bus that will take you and the bikes back to Bar Harbor.
4) Old Culture, New Culture
Back in downtown Bar Harbor, the Abbe Museum ($6, 26 Mount Desert Street; 207-288-3519) gives new meaning to the term art snowshoes. The masterpieces of Wabanaki quillwork, basketry and clothing in the Siebert collection, in particular, are almost subversively beautiful in this age of mass production and computer-assisted design. Out into the sun again, seek a more contemporary experience: miniature golf at Pirate's Cove (10 minutes from town on Route 3, 207-288-2133). You can call it educational if you read the signs about famous pirate ships of yore. Don't be tempted by the 36-hole deal ($11); 18 is plenty ($7).
5) Unreality Check
Maine, as befitting a state that used to be a part of Massachusetts, follows a baseball team that believes itself to be a rival to the Yankees. The Red Sox pathos is palpable at Little Anthony's (131 Cottage Street, 207-288-4700), where the locals gather, and you stop for a pitcher of Geary's Ale and the last few desperate innings. Don't say anything stupid out loud, and if anybody asks, the answer is a slight shrug and a "Hey, you gotta believe."
6) Choice of Mussels
Though there is room for disagreement about the efficacy of mustard broth in the pungent steamed mussels ($10), the Mediterranean and the grilled creations at George's (7 Stephens Lane, 207-288-4505) are worthy of the restaurant's longstanding reputation as one of the best in town. Tables are spread through the small downstairs rooms of an old house, and as closing time nears and the pianist, Roberta Demuro, begins taking requests ("What's that? Some kind of college song?"), end the evening uproariously with grappa all around.
7) Ostrich-Fueled Revelry
Carmen Verandah (119 Main Street, 207-288-2766) is where the young and the energetic keep it going on exotic draft beers and ostrich burgers until 1 in the morning. Take a listen as you pass, and if the band sounds danceable head on up; with a cover always less than $5, you can't go too wrong. If you don't want to dance, you can play pool.
Sunday 7:30 a.m.
8) The Beehive
After loading up on dark roasted organic caffeine and various bottled mega-C fruit drinks at Café Milagro (37 Cottage Street, 207-288-9592), head along the exquisite Park Loop Road for the Sand Beach parking lot and the trail up Beehive Mountain. The route is nearly straight up at times, an ascent made possible only by the iron rungs and handrails maintained by the National Park Service. It's not for the faint of heart, but it's short, and on a clear morning you have staggering views out over all the little inlets and islets to yourself. On the way back, take the trail over Gorham Mountain and along the base of the Cadillac Cliffs a sort of Frank Lloyd Wright meets Fred Flintstone formation. It will put you back out on the coast not far from the Thunder Hole, where the air roars its disapproval at being compressed into a cave by the waves. From there it's an easy walk back to the car and a dip, if you're extremely warm-blooded, at Sand Beach.
9) Into the Blue
The Park Loop Road back into town takes you right past the road to the summit of Cadillac Mountain. Its 360-degree view is more than worth the drive, even if, as is likely, you discover that hundreds of other people feel the same way at exactly the same time. Back from the peak, as you leave town on Route 3, the time has come at last for lobster. You've turned down all manner of creative crustacean so far ("Uh, what kind of cheese did you say was on that?") because the best way to eat a lobster is with a bib and a cob and a blob of cole slaw. Skip the first lobster pound and any that have tinted-window tour buses parked out front. You could do a lot worse than to get all the way to the Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound (1237 Bar Harbor Road, 207-667-2977), just over the bridge in Trenton. After half a century in business, they know how to boil a spider.
Visting Bar Harbor
Bar Harbor, on Mount Desert Island off the Atlantic Coast, is about 50 miles southeast of Bangor, Me. which is on Interstate 95 and has an airport served by major airlines via Routes 1A and 3.