Clamspectives Over the Bridge: Salem

This guest column is the product of Josh Turiel, an actual Salem elected official and dear friend of the Clam. It is a testament to the growing alt-lifestyle nature of Salem that he’d willingly have his name associated with our blog in all it’s vulgartainmentness.

Greetings, Clam Nation! Many of you who have never crossed the bridge wonder about life in the rest of America. Well, as a man with many friends and clients in Gloucester, I thought it was my duty to try and do a mini-Clamsplainer of sorts, to introduce you to the world outside. And I’m starting with my home, Salem. So I’ll guide you through a visit to my city, and then we’ll tell you a bit about our culture so you can judge for yourself.

Salem is about 16 miles or so down the line from Gloucester, assuming you take 128 down to Route 22. This also assumes you own an “off-island” car. If you don’t’ have an off-island car, the train runs frequently from any of the Gloucester stops to Salem’s MBTA station, right in the middle of downtown. It’s also a very pretty ride.

You will wind up sitting next to this dude
Except will wind up sitting next to this dude and his mom

Once in Salem, you’ll notice that our downtown is a little bigger. Please don’t go up to the first person you see and ask them where the witch stuff is. You’re from Gloucester, so you’re way hipper than that. Stay cool, it’s worth it.If you want to snack after your long journey, there’s a bunch of options. Right up Washington Street from the station is a bit of a foodie/hipster Mecca. We have, in a whole batch of not-quite-interconnected storefronts, Gulu-Gulu (a hipster café with coffee and beer that helped spark our downtown revival), Flying Saucer Pizza Company (hipster pizza) and the Ugly Mug Diner (a hipster foodie diner, which is a freaking trifecta). [Clameditor’s note: we had the duck confit sandwich at the Ugly Mug last week and nearly died of mouthgasam. Gulu and Flying Saucer are also way cool, our most recent waitress had a diagram of the solar system tattooed down her back. We can learn much from these Wiccan weirdos to our South. –ed] Right across Essex Street from these are Harrison’s Comics and Collectibles and Army Barracks. The cool radiates from all these buildings like an oasis in the desert.

Yes, hipsters. Those are bikes.
Yes hipsters, those are bikes.

Assuming you don’t get wheeled off in a foodie coma from your initial encounter with our downtown, there’s more to see. Walk across Washington Street and stroll down the pedestrian mall. There’s a lovely toy shop (Mud Puddle Toys) on the right a few feet in. Just past that is the entrance to Derby Square. Derby Square itself is the gateway to many things. The pretty old building you’ll see there is Old Town Hall, the place from which we recently ejected a certain LGBT-unfriendly institute of higher learning. Our weekly Farmers Market is held on the other side of that building every Thursday from 3-7. It’s insanely busy. We like our organic veggies in Salem.

Just on the opposite corner of that square on the mall is a small bookstore. Some of you may remember the former Derby Square Bookshop. It was a marvel of Jenga, and it closed this past spring. But hurrah! It was bought by a local couple and, after bringing it up to modern safety standards (turns out you need to be able to turn and get to an exit, who knew?). it’s been re-opened as “Wicked Good Books”. And it’s awesome. Still plenty of used/bargain books, but with new books you can actually find and enough room for more than one shopper at a time.

Flourish and Blotts? More like those shelves flourished and plotz. Oy.

Flourish and Blotts? More like those shelves overflourished and plotz. Oy.

Strolling down Essex Street farther, we have the delightful Pamplemousse (a kitchen things shop with a great selection of wines and Good Stuff beers), a little chocolate shop called Turtle Alley that may seem somewhat familiar to many of you, and on the left there is a building arguably known as a “mall” from which it’s said you can hear the Souls Of The Damned lament. Either that or all the failed retailers who were there before.

More seriously, there’s a decent Thai restaurant there, a very good indy movie theater, and a couple of interesting shops, but overall meh. The Peabody Essex Museum is the eastern anchor for our pedestrian way, and it’s consistently amazing. If you have an hour or two, go. And if you live in Salem, you get to go for free – which is a reason to move. It’s that good.

Turning south takes you towards our waterfront. Pickering Wharf is an old area of redevelopment with some cool shops and restaurants. Especially worth a visit are Scarlet Letter Press (a graphics shop and art gallery) and Joe’s Fish Prints/Tomo’s Tackle. Joe sells his Japanese-style fish prints in Gloucester also, you may have seen them there. Tomo sells tackle for those who want to go fishing, as well as people who want to simply hang lures on the wall. Restaurants in the Wharf include Brodie’s, Longboards, Finz, and Victoria Station.

Heading back to the downtown we have a cluster of witchy stuff along New Derby Street. Ignore if you like, or play tourist. At the corner of Lafayette and New Derby is the massive old Salem Laundry building (it was less massive until condos were built atop it about a decade ago). In that building are some neat boutiques and the ridiculously incredible A&J King bakery. Save calories for this because OMFG.

If you lick your screen you can taste them

If you lick your screen you can taste them

Past that building are more neat eats – the Howling Wolf on the opposite side of New Derby from the fire station is a terrific Mexican joint with long lines, and up in Artists Row (across from the fascinating humanity you can see by Walgreens) are galleries and exhibits of varying merit along with the Lobster Shanty – otherwise known as the place I can often be found inhabiting a barstool. Owned by the same person who owns the Ugly Mug, it’s dive bar food made by foodies.

Off the beaten path of the downtown loop slightly are some other businesses and attractions of note. All of these are generally walkable from the downtown area, though. The Philips House on Chestnut Street is a splendid “house museum” dating to the early 1800s, and it’s also got a cool collection of carriages and antique autos.

Just outside of downtown the old Salem Jail was converted into condos and there’s a really, really good burger restaurant in it (A&B Burgers). Out on Bridge Street Neck you’ll find the un-West Marine – Nautical Traders – where they have an amazing collection of useful and useless marine paraphernalia. Across the street from that is Coffee Time Bake Shop, where they make pricey but delicious old-school bakery treats and have recently branched into hipster donuts. I nearly got diabetes from one of the S’mores donuts. Just one.

Keeping with the sweets theme, there’s Ye Olde Pepper Company (the legit oldest candy maker in the US) on Derby Street, and down at the end of Congress Street you can find Harbor Sweets, a high-end candy maker that’s pretty much a bastion of socialism. In the best way, not the “herp derp” way. And, of course, when you are on Derby Street and you want to go see the Custom House and our tall ship that’s always being shortened because they have to take masts down to fix the latest rot problem, we have Bunghole Liquors. It’s not a super-large store but you’ll want to take your picture with the neon sign. Because Salem.

Dirty entendre and booze? The Clam approves.

Dirty entendre and booze? The Clam approves.

There’s more to see if you’re in a car (you DO have an over the bridge car, right?) or take a trolley around town. Our neatest attraction (in my opinion) outside the downtown is the Salem Willows – out at the far eastern edge of the city sticking out into Beverly Harbor. The Willows is a former small amusement park that has a fishing pier, legendary popcorn, and all sorts of honky-tonk arcades, skee-ball, lousy Chinese food, and fried things. It’s like a permanent Fiesta. We also have a new gourmet clam shack that was built in an old bathroom building. Known to Salem “insiders” as the Potty Clams. The nearby neighborhood is worth a stroll, with small Victorian-era cottages and great views.

The really creepy thing is that he doesn't even work there

The really creepy thing is that he doesn’t even work there

Salem has a number of other parks and recreational areas, too. In the geographic center of town (roughly) off Willson Street we have Old Salem Greens municipal golf course, with the really cool Salem Woods hiking trails next to it. A great place to go see wildlife and get ticks on your legs. But if you use good bug spray you can do tons of birdwatching out there. Winter Island is a great recreational area out in between the Willows and the old power plant. It’s made from a former Coast Guard facility where we had helicopters, seaplanes, and stuff. There’s a couple of beaches, camping areas, a big kid’s playground, boat ramps, a small general store, and hiking trails around the bones of an old colonial-era fort and the Coast Guard base. During the summer you pay to get in by car if you don’t live here but you can walk or bike in for free.

Hope this gives you a little introduction to our fair city and some of its attractions for the day tripper. In Part 2 of this series, I will introduce you to some of our citizenry. Coming soon to a clam near you!