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A Tank Away

Enjoy the works in old mill town

A great spot for art, antiques, couples

In downtown Putnam, several restaurants offer al fresco dining on a shared patio. In downtown Putnam, several restaurants offer al fresco dining on a shared patio. (Ellen Albanese for The Boston Globe)
By Ellen Albanese
Globe Correspondent / April 6, 2011

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PUTNAM, Conn. — This mill town has moved nicely into the 21st century, with award-winning restaurants, free downtown parking, and trendy galleries along with impressive antiques markets. Nearly every venue offers a welcome reminder of the town’s past glory — striking architecture, original tin ceilings, and exposed brick.

It’s a nice destination for couples looking for art, antiques, history, and good food. There’s an active merchants association, and the enthusiasm of business owners for the town’s resurgence is eerily consistent — but also kind of contagious.

STAY

Thurber House (78 Liberty Highway, 860-928-6776, $90 double) in the historic Putnam Heights section of town, offers two guest rooms and a full country breakfast. The owners have restored the early 1800s Federal-style home, furnishing it with antiques and several paintings by the original owner, judge and artist Thomas Jones Thurber. In nearby Woodstock, the Mansion at Bald Hill (29 Plaine Hill Road, 860-974-3456, www.mansionatbaldhill.com, $140-$230) and the Inn at Woodstock Hill (94 Plaine Hill Road, 860-928-0528, www.woodstockhill.net, $160-$260) both offer charming and romantic accommodations. Unfortunately Whitehaven, a longtime bed-and-breakfast favorite in Putnam, is no longer accepting guests.

DINE

Several downtown restaurants offer al fresco dining on a pretty shared patio along Main Street. 85 Main (85 Main St., 860-928-1660, www.85main.com, lunch $10-$15, dinner $16-$29) serves American fusion cuisine, with an extensive raw bar and sushi bar. The restaurant earned several “Best of Windham County’’ nods in Connecticut Magazine’s 2010 Reader’s Choice Awards. At Bella’s Bistro (75 Main St., 860-928-7343, www.bellasbistromarket.com, lunch $9-$14, pizza $15-$19, dinner $17-$30), chef Allen Granberg offers seasonal takes on Italian specialties and seafood as well as unusual pizzas (such as the Whitey Bulger, topped with vegetables and fresh crab). We enjoyed an antipasto loaded with meat, cheese, and roasted vegetables, followed by grilled salmon over plump pumpkin ravioli in a light sauce with arugula and walnuts. For a light lunch, coffee, or homemade pastries in a setting that feels like someone’s living room, it’s Victoria Station Cafe (91 Main St., 860-928-2600, victoriastationcafe.com). Curl up on couches or soft chairs and enjoy the free WiFi. Treat your dog to the delectable confections made by Sabrina Anderson, teenage daughter of owners Dave and Christina Anderson. On the next block, the Courthouse Bar & Grille (121 Main St., 860-963-0074, www.courthousebarandgrille.com, $7-$25), in a building dated 1889, takes pride in its steaks, said Sheila Frost, who owns the restaurant with her husband, James. The restaurant also offers 10 beers on draft. Someplace Special (58 Main St., 860-928-6660, www.someplacespecialrestaurant.com, $6-$19), across from the old railroad station, started out in 1978 as a pizza joint but has upgraded its menu to include pasta, seafood, and steaks. Still family owned, the restaurant features soothing Tuscan colors inside and — yes — outdoor seating.

DURING THE DAY

For antiques start at Antiques Marketplace (109 Main St., 860-928-0442, www.antiquesmarketplace.com) featuring 350 showcases and booths in 22,000 square feet. There’s a good selection of Stickley furniture, said manager John Person, as well as a rapidly growing silver and gold business, including coins and bullion. Jeremiah’s Antiques (26 Front St., 860-963-2671) features 80 vendors. Silver Circle Gallery (75 Main St., 860-928-2900, www.silvercirclestudio.com) displays eclectic works by local and regional artists, including textiles, ceramics, glass, jewelry, and fine art. Rotating exhibits open on the first Friday of the month with a reception from 6 to 8 p.m. At Sawmill Pottery (112 Main St., 860-963-7807, www.sawmillpottery.com), you can admire and purchase the creations of a dozen potters from northeast Connecticut as well as those of owner Dot Burnworth. Glimpse of Gaia (130 Main St., 860-928-4600, www.glimpseofgaia.com), an upscale florist, is worth a stop for the artistic arrangements displayed in a homelike setting with ornate woodwork, chandeliers, and antiques. Children’s author Gertrude Warner wrote the Boxcar Children series in Putnam, and in summer the tiny Gertrude Warner Museum (Main Street at Union Square, www.putnamct.us/putnamatglance/locallinks/gertrudewarner.htm), holding her desk and other artifacts, is open to the public. The Putnam River Trail (www.putnamct.us/others/putnamrivertrail/rivertrail.htm) winds along the eastern shore of the Quinebaug River, past the bandstand at Rotary Park, the site of many community events in summer.

AFTER DARK

Pangaea Wine Bar (132 Main St., 860-315-9042, www.pangaeawines.com) casts a wide net to bring the best of wines worldwide to Putnam. It offers 48 wines by the glass — flights let you compare several wines of one variety — as well as craft beers and a large selection of single malt scotches. There’s live music on Thursday and Friday nights. Victoria Station Cafe (see Dine) also offers live music on weekends. The Bradley Playhouse (30 Front St., 860-928-7887, www.bradleyplayhouse.org), which originally opened in 1901, presents live theater year round; next up is “Chicago,’’ running from April 15 through May 1.

Ellen Albanese can be reached at ellen.albanese@gmail.com.