Cape Cod Day Trip: Chatham II
By Peter Martin
If you’re lucky enough to be on the peninsula of Cape Cod, push your luck a little further and make your way to the quaint town of Chatham. The problem with visiting Chatham is less about what to do but rather what you have to cut out because there might not be enough time. This fragile spit of land is often referred to as the “elbow” of the Cape. Here one can see the confluence of Nantucket Sound and the Atlantic Ocean. Two very different bodies of water meet to grant the visitor both the warm tame waters of the sound and the more chilly and raw experience of the ocean.
Start your day with a visit to the Chatham Fish Pier and watch commercial boats unload their catch directly below you as seals bellow sluggishly on the beach flats in the distance or dart closer for a potential free meal. For a meal yourself walk down the steps overlooking the harbor to the Chatham Pier Fish Market, grab a whole bellied fried clam roll or fisherman’s platter, and enjoy the succulence of the sea on the balcony above the pier. From 9 am-1pm Friday, Saturday and Sundy from July through October, the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen's Alliance Pier Program gives visitors a chance to meet seasoned fishermen and hear about their experiences on the water. The Pier Hosts will be on the observation deck at the Chatham Fish Pier and ready to chat when boats are unloading fish.
Monomoy Island is basically an eight-mile island of sand and brush and birds jutting southward from Chatham as if it’s trying to grab hold of Great Point, Nantucket. Only brisk currents, shoals, and striped bass separate the two. This is part of the Cape Cod National Seashore, one of the greatest treasures this country has. Here, you’re in a time machine, before cars, intrusive cell phones, capitalism and the ceaseless tiresome habits of humanity. Countless rare birds circle under expansive skies. Waves roll and crash continuing their unending work of shaping continents. Every year Monomoy looks different, and the only way to experience this is to get there on the water. Outermost Harbor Marine offers a beach shuttle in the summer. Just let the Captain know on the way over when you want to be picked up, and you’ve just created one of the best beach days of your life. There are no stores there so head over to Chatham Cookware Café for a delicious, nautically-named sandwich or swing by The Chatham Cheese Company to pack a picnic lunch of artisanal cheeses, cured meats, bread and wine before taking the beach shuttle.
With one of the best fisheries in the world surrounding Monomoy and Chatham, you’d miss out by not taking the opportunity to fish while in town. Check out Fish Chatham Charters’ Captain John Clothier to find out what’s biting and where. Bearse, Handkerchief, and Stonehorse shoals are all maritime landmarks equal in stature in Chatham to the Town Hall and the Eldredge Library. These are sacred and hallowed waters, and the skills of the Chatham charter captains are worth the price of admission to land a memory of a lifetime. Not so sure? Take a shorter, four-hour trip until you graduate to the eight-hour experience.
Main Street, Chatham offers both ease of walking and numerous activities and eateries to enjoy. Art galleries abound, and clothing stores offer everything from the simple T-shirt to high-end designers. A visit to Chatham is not complete without a stop at the Chatham Candy Manor. With hand-dipped chocolates, homemade fudge, giant penny candy bags and so much more, there is something for everyone in the family. Warm service by a team that is obviously passionate about their offerings fills out this classic Chatham summer stop.
Next, head to Chatham Bars Inn to enjoy a step back in time when elegance was carved passionately into the moldings and columns of this early 20th century resort. Without having to check in, this four-star resort is best experienced by enjoying a cocktail on the outside veranda with a view of both the calm waters of Chatham Harbor and the rougher Atlantic Ocean past the infamous Chatham bar where recreational and commercial boats slowly plod their courses. Valet parking is available but don’t expect the drinks to be inexpensive – yet it is worth every cent of the tab.
At this point in the journey you may have seen the bumper sticker in town that says “Chatham, a quaint little drinking village with a fishing problem”. However that strikes you, there are many establishments with access to drink for the thirsty. The Squire is probably the most famous restaurant in Chatham. Stop in for a family meal or just enjoy the salty, dimly lit, license plate decorated bar where good tunes and a Red Sox game are usually on tap along with some ice cold beer. You will not be disappointed. Try the clam chowder while you’re at it and make sure you don’t upset “Loaf”, the bouncer.
If you’re thinking a little more upscale, there are several outstanding options. Bistro on Main, celebrating its 26th anniversary this year, offers sophisticated, innovative fare in inside and outside dining areas, and has a 40-foot-long acid-washed copper-topped bar with plenty of seating in its adjoining Chatham Raw Bar. Overlooking Oyster Pond, where Chatham Oysters are harvested, it's the perfect setting for enjoying fresh, local shellfish. A few years ago Bluefins Sushi & Sake Bar opened to the subsequent delight of all. Their expression of sushi is both artful and delicious. Don’t forget to order the Korean ribs appetizer as well. The staff is exceptionally attentive and knowledgeable while the ambiance is warm, inviting, and energizing. If you want more traditional higher end seafood offerings, try the Impudent Oyster, just off Main Street. Outstanding and well-rehearsed recipes draw on the abundance of the sea. Great bar, wide wine selection, and outstanding staff round out the experience. Call for reservations or wait at the bar, even sit there to enjoy dinner.
This is just a small sampling of the sites to enjoy so know when you wander down the “wrong lane” you’re sure to find another unexpected treasure. Beneath the white paint, the flags, and the gray shingled roofs lies a deep respect for the history and traditions of the Chatham of old. As the streets and stores make room for the modern, there is a strong invisible clasp to the past. The names of old sea captains, native tribes, and early forebears are still alive on street signs as well as on schools and library walls. To truly enjoy Chatham one would do well to behold its past while taking in the present. So, come savor the history, the fishing, the shopping, the food, the drink, and the natural beauty upon which no man need improve.
Chatham Fish Pier, 45 Barcliff Avenue
Chatham Bars Inn, 297 Shore Road
Outermost Harbor Marine, 83 Seagull Road
Chatham Cookware Café, 524 Main Street
The Chatham Cheese Company, 902 Main Street
Fish Chatham Charters, 508-237-7210
Chatham Candy Manor, 484 Main Street
Chatham Squire, 487 Main Street
Bistro on Main, 593 Main Street
Bluefin’s Sushi and Sake Bar, 513 Main Street
Impudent Oyster, 15 Chatham Bars Avenue 508-945-3545