Welcome to Burlington! Now leave. No, really . . . now.
Don’t get us wrong; we like your spending your vacation time — and money — in our fair city, but we’re not just Queen City residents, we’re Vermonters! Well, that depends on whom you ask, but we digress. The point is, there’s more to this great state than our idyllic little hamlet on Lake Champlain. Especially at night.
Oh, sure, you can hang at any of the bars and venues around B-town and have a great time. Nectar’s, Red Square, Radio Bean, Higher Ground, they’re all good. Good music, good booze, hot chicks — it’s not called “Girlington” for nuthin’. Wink, wink.
Seriously, you tourists came to see Vermont, right? Well, you’re going to have to make a little effort, but we guarantee it’ll be worth it. The following is by no means a comprehensive list of excellent venues outside Burlington — though, handily enough, you’ll find one of those in Section B. Rather, it’s a starting point for musical adventurers who like to discover their own favorite spots.
Half the fun of being in Vermont is unearthing the out-of-the-way places you might not read about in tourist guides. So, welcome to Burlington. Now get outta here.
THE MONKEY HOUSE
30 Main Street, Winooski, 655-4563
Just a quick jaunt over the Winooski River, in the heart of the Onion City, is one of the more vibrant, up-and-coming venues in Vermont. Recently re-opened after a change in ownership, The Monkey House is quickly becoming one of the area’s premier nightspots and a destination for music fans of all kinds.
In its previous incarnation, the bar was known mostly as a decent — read: LOUD — place to see good local acts in a Williamsburg-esque setting. While there’s still no shortage of trucker caps, tight jeans and bed-heads, the new owners have made a concerted effort to broaden the scope of the music. Local artists continue to make up the Monkey’s share of acts, but nationally and internationally touring bands are beginning to grace the nightclub’s crowd-level stage almost weekly.
Cover charges rarely exceed $5, and the bar features an excellent selection of local brews. Of course, the PB Army can always grab an ice-cold tallboy on the cheap. And yes, you still might want to bring earplugs, especially on the weekend.
Winooski is in the midst of an endless downtown revitalization, so, depending on when you go, parking can be tricky. Particularly around the loopy rotary. To avoid an exasperating hunt for an open space, or a National Lampoon’s European Vacation roundabout experience (“Look, kids! Parliament! Big Ben!”), plan a few extra minutes into your travel time.
LANGDON STREET CAFE
4 Langdon Street, Montpelier, 223-8667
Ah, Montpeculiar! In recent years, Vermont’s state capital has undergone an artistic renaissance; on many nights, it now rivals Burlington as the “place to be” for great live music. Only four years ago, the city’s night life consisted mainly of a few dive bars and teenagers hanging out in gas-station parking lots. Thankfully, the dive bars are still there — Charlie O’s is highly recommended — as are the gas stations. But those seeking a more aesthetically enlightening experience would also do well to make the drive to Montpelier.
While there are now a number of high-caliber bars and venues in the shadow of the Golden Dome — Black Door Bistro and Positive Pie 2, to name but a couple — the crown jewel of the city’s arts community is the Langdon Street Café. The sister coffeehouse of Burlington’s eclectic hipster haven, Radio Bean, is also a hot spot of Montpelier’s vital music scene.
With a full espresso bar, light sandwiches and a small but delectable selection of local draft beers, there’s plenty to slake your thirst and tingle your taste buds. The yard-sale-chic furnishings and local artwork adorning the dimly lit walls make for a stimulating atmosphere in which to enjoy the myriad performers — musical, theatrical and downright unclassifiable — that ply their trade on LSC’s intimate stage.
The crowd tends to be as varied as the entertainment, but you’ll rarely encounter a more welcoming environment. Dreadlocked hippies sip PBR and chat with punk-rock vegans, while polo-shirt-clad yuppies drink iced Americano and read The New York Times. Beware the toddlers under foot, though.
LSC often books out-of-town acts in tandem with Radio Bean. So if you miss a good band in Burlington, you can most likely catch them the following night in Montpelier. Which, by the way, is the only state capital without a McDonald’s.
Put the money you save by not eating fast food in the bucket by the stage. As at Radio Bean, artists are unpaid except insofar as the crowd chips in — so be generous.
THE BEE’S KNEES
82 Lower Main Street, Morrisville, 888-7889
If the hustle and bustle of Burlington’s nightlife has you yearning for a more rural Green Mountain experience, few places are better than Morrisville. Several miles north of über-touristy Stowe on Route 100, the town is a genuine slice of Rockwellian down-hominess, and should be high on the list of anyone seeking the “real Vermont.”
Approaching its fourth anniversary, The Bee’s Knees has established itself as the artistic cornerstone of this sleepy little village. Like TV’s “Cheers,” it’s the kind of place where everybody knows your name.
Proprietor Sharon Dietz has poured her heart and soul into the coffee shop/bar/restaurant, and the town has responded in kind. She estimates that she knows 80 percent of her clientele on a first-name basis. The tiny venue is packed almost nightly with patrons enjoying items from an impressive localvore menu, microbrewed ales and wide-ranging musical fare.
While central-Vermont-based artists feature prominently on the monthly calendar, Dietz does an admirable job of mixing things up, bringing in performers from across the musical spectrum. On any given night you might hear folk, bluegrass, rock or jazz.
The place is very small, so get there early — shows usually start around 7:30 p.m. And plan to make new friends, as you’ll quite literally be rubbing elbows with your neighbors.
MIDDLE EARTH MUSIC HALL
Barton Street, Bradford, 222-4748
After a long day’s questing to Mount Doom, battling bloodthirsty Orcs and sharing long, loving, vaguely homoerotic gazes with your best friend, couldn’t you go for a cold flagon of ale and some good lute tunes? Well, should your journey take you from the Shire and through the fires of Mordor — er, Bradford — be sure to stop at the Middle Earth Music Hall, the most authentic hobbit hole this side of Bag End.
From the arched doorways and vine-entwined trees that create the bar to the cozy living-room setting of the performance area, once you enter the club you’ll have a hard time believing you’re not actually in Hobbiton, rather than a tiny town in eastern Vermont. Depending on the night, you may also wonder why you’ve never been here before, as the caliber of performers who stop by easily rivals that of many venues in the Burlington area.
Musical legends such as Tony Trishka, Roy Book Binder and Richie Havens have taken the stage here, along with Vermont acts such as Tammy Fletcher and the Disciples and Nobby Reed. (Sorry, there aren’t really any lute players.)
The cover tends to be on the pricier side but worth it, considering the talent that typically graces the stage in front of the faux fireplace. Those short on cash can always try to pass off their wedding band as the Ring of Power, but it’s doubtful the door-Orcs will fall for it. These guys obviously know their Tolkien. And their music.