What We Did On Our Summer Vacation – Salem Massachusetts

With previous years revolving around trips to big destinations (Key West, New Orleans) this year we decided (or maybe the decision was made for us) to scale down the vacation and after what seemed like very little back and forth, we decided to spend a week in Salem Massachusetts.

Why? I don’t know, I’ve always been drawn to Salem and its infamous place in history, witchcraft and paranormal subjects have always interested me and to be honest, once we started looking into Salem we found that there are other cool things to do there besides just visit witch shops.  And as you might suspect, one of them was beer.

True, the town is most notably known for the witch trials of 1692 in which 20 falsely accused people were killed, and numerous families were destroyed.  But beyond that, Salem has a rich history that makes it a destination that will delight not only those interested in the witch trails, but those interested in history, literature and architecture.

So with that in mind, I though I’d run down some of the things we found interesting during our trip, both history- and beer-wise alike. If you’re not overly interested in the non-culinary aspects of this historic town, you can scroll down to just below the first gallery of pictures. Let’s start with a quick overview.

While the city of  Salem may cover a little over 18 square miles, its sights are actually close enough that staying in a hotel near Essex Street will put you within walking distance of many of the attractions the city has to offer.  Be advised that many of the shops in Salem will close down at 5pm (maybe later on the weekends) leaving not much of night life.  But the restaurants remain open until late, and as long as you got your tickets earlier, you can enjoy many of the guided tours that travel through the streets of Salem at night.  Also of note, pedestrians have the right of way in all but the biggest of street intersections as long as you stay within the designated crosswalks. If you ever get lost (not likely) you can always just follow the red tour line painted on the sidewalks which will eventually get you to your destination, or if you’re tired of walking, check out the get one/get off trolley that runs consistently around the town.  So what’s there to see in Salem?  We’d recommend:

1) The Salem Harbor Area.  Salem at one time was one of the largest and busiest sea ports in the US.  Thriving off of a very brisk  and lucrative trade with China (there’s even a fountain dedicated to this in the Essex Square), the city grew very prosperous as local traders and ship captains grew to be some of the wealthiest in the nation.  Unfortunately, the harbor is shallow, and grew out of favor with trade merchants as the ships they sailed got bigger causing captains to start favoring bigger ports like New York and Boston.

Here you can take part in a self guided tour of the Old Custom House and see what it was like to work the trade industry in Salem at the height of its prosperity. You should also take a few minutes and walk on the deck of the Friendship, a reconstruction of a 171-foot three-masted East Indiaman trading ship which is still used to train US sailors for duty aboard the US Constitution, which many people don’t know is still a commissioned vessel and the flag ship of the US Navy.

While here, make sure you take the tour of the House of the Seven Gables.  The 1667 mansion was once owned by the Ingersoll family, whose member Susannah was cousin to noted American author Nathaniel Hawthorne.  From stories that Susannah told, Hawthorne wrote his house-titled classic, his third novel which followed his popular Scarlett Letter.

You can now tour the house, which has been reconstructed over the years (at the time Nathaniel visited the house had been remodeled and only had three gables, the removed gables were not restored until 1908) including the work of a later owner to tie the construction into several scenes depicted in Hawthorn’s novel, including a secret staircase that takes you from the first floor to the third through the chimney space.

The grounds are also the current resting place of Hawthorn’s birth place, which was moved from its location on Union Street in 1958.

2) If you’re a museum junkie like Tracey is, carve out a good chunk of time to visit the Peabody Essex Museum (161 Essex Street, right where Essex Street turns into Essex Square) which is considered one of the oldest continuously operating Museums in the US containing one of the largest collections of Asian art in the US, as well as a large gallery of maritime artwork.

The Museum also owns 24 historic structures and gardens, several of which you can tour and is currently exhibiting the Yin Yu Tan house, a two hundred year old Chinese structure that housed the Huang family for eight generations.  The audio tour not only describes the center-open house and the significance of its architecture, but also paints a picture of the Huang family and their traditions throughout the years, include the earliest days of  the communist party, many times through interviews with the family members themselves.

3) And of course there’s the witch stuff.  The witch museum gets some pretty sketchy reviews on yelp, so we decided to avoid it.  Instead we took in the Witches Dungeon Museum which includes a short dramatization of a pre-trail deposition, plus gives you a grim view of the conditions the accused (and often times their families) were subject to as they awaited trail or their execution, sometimes for months.

For a more in-depth look at the trials, attend Cry Innocent, a live dramatization of the pre-trial of Bridget Bishop.  The show commences under the large clock on Essex street, where Bridget is accused and dragged to the town hall to face her charges.  Actors will present their “evidence” in the case, and you will be offered the opportunity to ask questions of the accused and her accusers.  At the end, the verdict rests in your hands, as the audience votes on whether-or-not there’s enough evidence to move Bridget on to trial.  The audience we were a part of that day was feeling generous, as Bridget was found innocent,  unfortunately the real Bridget was not so lucky as she was the first woman accused and hanged during the witch trials.

Tracey taking pictures in The Burying Point, which is the oldest cemetery in Salem. It contains the grave of Justice John Hathorne who proceeded over the witch trials.
Tracey taking pictures in The Burying Point, which is the oldest cemetery in Salem. It contains the grave of Justice John Hathorne who proceeded over the witch trials, and Increase Mather who supported the judges and the trials, but denounced the use of ‘spectral evidence’.

Lastly, we highly recommend the Bewitched after Dark tour.  Tour guide William Jeffery Page will take you through the streets of Salem, giving you a glimpse into the history behind the witch trials.  Using the Salem Witch Trials Memorial and The Burying Point that’s next to it as canvases, Jeff paints an amazing picture, accused by accused, of the trails not as a serious witch hunt, but as a sad story of personal greed and hysteria.  Also take his recommendations on local eateries – but more on that in a minute.

4) Out of the Normal – If you’re looking for unusual experiences in Salem, we recommend a tour through Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery.  This walk-though wax figure type museum is dedicated to horror movie monsters throughout the ages.  It only takes about 20-30 minutes to walk through if you read all the information plaques (and if you’re a horror movie fan like me, you will) but if this is your kind of thing, it’s well worth the $8 admission price.  Be sure to take a minute and check out all the autographed photos from horror movie stars that decorate the walls.

And if you ever wanted to play “Ghost Hunters”, sign up with the team of Paranormal Salem and go on your very own ghost hunt. They will supply and teach you how to use equipment you’ve seen many ghost hunting teams use on TV including; EMF detectors, infrared thermometers, audio recorders, divining rods, pendulums, K2 meters, etc.  Our tour took us to the Witches Memorial where we learned that Tracey is a machine with divining rods, and finished in the basement of Salem’s original firehouse.


So now that we covered some of the things to do, let’s get to what you’re really interested in. Food and Beer!  Quick overview, many of the bars we encountered were very “New England” oriented as far as their beer selection, which was fine by us as we don’t see some of the beers we encountered in Salem down here in Delaware.  Also, many places don’t utilize the amazing tool that is ‘the beer list’, a concept that we felt was kind of strange, but I’ll touch on that in a later post. Oh, and Allagash White is on draft just about everywhere, something that made Tracey very happy (until she got bewitched by fruit beers).  Here’s what we’d recommend:

1) Murphy’s Pub (300 Derby Street) – Murphy’s was suggested to us by Jeff on the Bewitched after Dark tour. Described as a place where the locals go, we of course had to check it out.  Especially on Tuesday, which Jeff informed us was $2 burger night.  Yeah, no typo.  $2.  Of course, they charge you an extra $1 for cheese and an extra $1 for bacon, but that still gets you a delicious 8oz bacon cheese burger with lettuce, onion, tomato, and a side of fries for $4.  Suck it, McDonald’s.  The beer list is extensive enough to please out-of-town craft beer lovers, including several local favorites.  Oh, want to really live the good life?  Ask for their $10 lobster special, which you won’t find on the menu, a 1-1.25oz lobster for only $10, or double it up of $18.  Matt our bartender told us that many people don’t believe him when he mentions the special.  “OK, order the $8 mozzarella sticks.  See if I care”, he tells them.  I recommend the Monkey Fist IPA by Shipyard.

2) The Lobster Shanty (25 Front Street) – What looks on the outside like an unassuming, long shed that someone just plopped down on a sidewalk on Front Street, conceals a true gem, although certainly not a hidden one.  The Lobster Shanty was featured on Food Network’s Drive-ins, Dinners and Drives because of their lobster rolls and lobstertini, a dirty martini served with a lobster claw. So of course…we got none of those.  Instead I was drawn to the Cioppino (very good) off the extensive menu which was awesome paired with the Left of the Dial IPA from Notch Brewing.  We recommend sitting outside if for no other reason then to catch the live entertainment that plays on the walkway in front of the Shanty (note: they seem to stop at 7, probably due to noise ordinances) and if you sit to the left as you walk into the seating area you can hear the cooks through the kitchen window talk about the meal they are preparing for you.

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Other people have their way of studying craft beer trends and staying up to date on craft beer news.  And we have ours.

3) The Flying Saucer Pizza Company (118 Washington Street) – Get your inner geek and pizza craving on at this interesting location.  The Flying Saucer Pizza Company boosts a fine selection of beers as well as numerous pizza options. The decor is pure geekdom, as we found ourselves eating our pizza as we were being watched by Locutus of Borg.  No lie.  Be warned, if you order a “small” pizza, these are not single size personal pizzas but 10-12 inch pies.  We ordered the Mustafar (red sauce, Saucer cheese blend, ghost pepper salami, spinach, Portobello, shaved Parmesan), and the Camilla (pesto, Saucer cheese blend, Cajun chicken, caramelized onion, roasted red peppers).  The ghost pepper salami on the Mustafar isn’t overly spicy, but it was hot enough that you should have one of the 14 New England beers they serve on draft ready. We enjoyed Black IPA from Rapscallion Beer, a Route 2 Saison from Riverwalk Brewing Company and a Stray Dog Lager from Brewmaster Jack.  As much as I liked the Mustafar, I found myself being drawn to the Camilla, which is a strong indication of how good this pizza was considering I was all about that ghost pepper salami. If you want to test your mind as well as your palette, go on one of the nights when they host geek trivia.

4) The Beer Works (278 Derby Street) – For the full on craft beer experience, The Beer Works is your stop.  A chain of breweries throughout New England, The Beer Works boosts a good food menu and about 20 beers on draft.  Specials include tasting flights and monthly beers.  If you like what you taste,  you can pick up their products in 6-packs, 4-packs, sampler 12-packs, as well 64oz growlers.  I enjoyed the Salem Pale Ale as well as the Double Pale ale, while Tracey fell in love with the Bunker Hill Blueberry ale, served with real blueberries in the glass.

5) Of course if you’re a beer lover and you’re traveling, you’ll probably want to take some sudsy souvenirs back with you. To that end we recommend Pomplemouse (189 Essex Street) a kitchen/spice/wine shop that has coolers of local beer situated in the back. While not a huge selection by liquor store standards, the offerings are still sufficient to pick up a couple of 6-packs and bombers to bring home. Your other stop is The Bunghole (204 Derby Street).  Housed in an historic building down by the Salem pier area, the Bunghole is your average corner liquor store, but still has a nice selection of beers to help fill your cooler for the way home.

Salem is an awesome destination which is much more than a collection of witch shops.  You’ll find many things to do as you explore its rich history.  And the beer is pretty damn good as well.

THE FINAL SIP: While you’re there, pick up a “I Got It In The Bunghole” t-shirt and wear it with pride.


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