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A Tank Away

Following its river, its history, its arts scene

The Winooski Riverwalk Project is one part of the Vermont city’s downtown revitalization program. The Winooski Riverwalk Project is one part of the Vermont city’s downtown revitalization program. (Eric Wilbur/Globe Staff)
By Eric Wilbur
Globe Staff / July 27, 2011

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WINOOSKI, Vt. -- If things had worked out back in 1979, this tiny city would have been the first in the country to actually live under a bubble. During the energy crisis of the late 1970s, Winooski officials petitioned the US Department of Energy for a grant that would have erected a giant, plastic dome over a portion of the city in order to save heating costs.

Obviously, it never happened. However, a recent downtown revitalization project has given a different kind of boost to Winooski, a former mill town neighboring Burlington that has become a popular destination for dining, art, and outdoor recreation.

STAY

Winooski offers no lodgings, but the immediate surrounding area has endless options for every budget and lifestyle. Spend the weekend in foodie paradise in neighboring Essex at The Essex (70 Essex Way, 802-878-1100, www.vtculinaryresort.com, rooms from $169), a popular resort featuring a spa and a variety of gourmet cooking ventures. Classes run $95-$145 for a two-hour session. In Burlington, wake up to the majestic view of Lake Champlain after a night at the Courtyard Burlington Harbor (25 Cherry St., 802-864-4700, www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/btvdt-courtyard-burlington-harbor, rooms from $209), a recent addition to the lively Burlington waterfront. Colchester’s Hampton Inn (42 Lower Mountain View Drive, 802-655-6177, www.burlingtonvt.hamptoninn.com, rooms from $159) offers reasonably priced accommodations in a convenient setting just up the road from downtown Winooski.

DINE

Winooski offers a range of options, but its real strength is creative, casual fare. One of the most popular breakfast and brunch destinations in the Burlington area is Sneakers Bistro (28 Main St., 802-655-9081, www.sneakersbistro.com, breakfast $6.95-$12.95) featuring a variety of delectable originals including a breakfast veggie cheese steak, fried chicken and waffles, and crab cake Benedict. More often than not you can expect a wait for a table. For a quick lunch, Val’s Wild Tomato (135 East Allen St., 802-861-9453, vals.slimdowndesign.com, sandwiches $4-$8.50, closed Sundays) offers sandwiches, salads, and both chicken and pork wings with a variety of sauces. Whether you’re on a budget or not, don’t miss Papa Frank’s Italian Restaurant (13 West Center St., 802-655-2423, www.papa-franks.com, entrees $4.95-$8.75, pizzas $7.25-$18.95) is a local favorite for piping hot pizza and other Italian dishes at low prices. Try the delectable calzones (starting at $5.50).

DURING THE DAY

As home to St. Michael’s College, Winooski combines outdoorsy, down-home Vermont with a splash of art and culture. Through this weekend, downtown Winooski is the site of an artist “Pop-Up’’ (artmapburlington.com/winooskipops/?cat=8), with a number of local artists turning five vacant retail spaces into a temporary, contemporary art district. Hike the trails at the Gillbrook Natural Area (Gillbrook Road, off Lafountain Street, 802-655-6410, onioncity.com/htm/gb_pix.htm), featuring some 42 miles of interconnected trails with tranquil waterfalls, a fishing pond, and a picnic area. Visit the Winooski Historical Society (20 Winooski Falls Way, 802-655-6429, onioncity.com/history/historic_home07.htm) to learn about the Winooski dam’s rich history (erected by Ira Allen, one of the leaders of the Green Mountain Boys, after the Revolutionary War), then take a stroll along the adjacent Winooski Riverwalk, one of the chief components of the city’s revitalization project. Every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the Winooski Farmers’ Market at the Champlain Mill Green (20 Winooski Falls Way, www.facebook.com/winooskifarmersmarket) offers up Vermont fresh produce and food from popular local establishments including The Skinny Pancake, Good Companion Bakery, and Ants in Your Pants Farm.

AFTER DARK

Saint Michael’s Playhouse (One Winooski Park, Colchester, 802-654-2281, academics.smcvt.edu/playhouse), on the campus of Saint Michael’s College and one of New England’s more popular regional theater companies, presents Tony Award-winning Broadway comedy “Boeing Boeing’’ through July 30, and new off-Broadway musical “The Marvelous Wonderettes’’ beginning Aug. 3. Tickets for evening performances are $38.50. The rich Burlington music scene edges into Winooski at The Monkey House (30 Main St., 802-655-4563, monkeyhousemusic.com), where up-and-coming bands rock the downtown night away in a laid-back, coffeehouse atmosphere. Just up the street, take the opportunity to soak in the atmosphere of Centennial Field (287 Colchester Ave., 802-655-6611), the oldest US ballpark, home of the Class A Vermont Lake Monsters (web.minorleaguebaseball.com/index.jsp?sid=t462, $8 reserved seating tickets), a short-season Class A affiliate of the Oakland Athletics. Former Red Sox pitcher John “Way Back’’ Wasdin is the team’s new pitching coach this season.

Eric Wilbur can be reached at ewilbur@boston.com.