You have to check out the bathroom.
The suggestion/friendly demand comes from Matthew DuTrumble, owner of Craftsman Cliff Roasters in Norwich. Jill Fritzsche, vice president of the Norwich Community Development Corporation, agrees. I need to see it. So in we go, DuTrumble, Fritzsche, a friend of mine and me. I’ve managed to avoid entering public bathrooms with other people my whole adult life and though I’m sad to see this streak end, I’m happy to admit this bathroom is not to be missed. Modeled, DuTrumble says, on a “boat at night” and inspired by the ship’s captain who used to live in the space occupied by the coffeehouse, this lavatory has a sleek nautical-meets-nightclub feel with blue-tinged lighting and a different, louder PA system than the rest of the coffeehouse. The bathroom’s design elements are a testament to the care DuTrumble puts into every aspect of his business, which specializes in house-roasted coffee and cacao (more on that later). But it’s also a microcosm of how the past and present intermingle across Norwich in ways that are unexpected, creative and fun.
In recent years, downtown Norwich, which overlooks a harbor formed by three rivers feeding into the Thames River, has seen an influx of new businesses like DuTrumble’s, and the energy and enthusiasm for these startup restaurants and shops is palpable. That new sense of vibrancy builds off the city’s rich history, wealth of cultural resources and often stunning natural beauty. As a result, there is far more to do, see and eat in Norwich than can be squeezed into a single day, but as always I tried my best.
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10 a.m.: Morning cacao
You’ve already heard about Craftsman Cliff Roasters’ funky bathroom. Cool as that is, the real draw here is the coffee and hot chocolate. DuTrumble, a native of Norwich, is a chef by training. He spent many years living in California working as a consultant for Silicon Valley tech companies, including Google, seeking to improve the food at their corporate cafeterias. Now he’s roasting both coffee and cacao, and offering the fruits of that labor in various espresso and hot chocolate drinks. During my visit, I double-fist a cappuccino and hot chocolate. The cappuccino is decent but overshadowed by the hot chocolate, where you can taste the quality of the chocolate in the rich creamy liquid.
11 a.m.: Historic shopping stroll
While downtown, all you have to do to see beautiful, historic buildings is look around. Notable architecture is everywhere. There is Norwich City Hall, a three-story, red-brick masterpiece dating to the 1870s that is one of the prime examples of Second Empire architecture in the state. Nearby is the former Otis Library, a beautifully restored 19th-century building that now houses Cafe Otis. As you take in the architecture, you may also want to swing by the Gallery at the Wauregan, run by artist Dan Topalis, which features monthly shows by emerging area artists, or stop by Woombs & Wankle, “Purveyors of Marvelous Goods,” an eclectic shop with various gifts from Norwich-themed merchandise to tie-dye clothes.
Noon: Caribbean lunch
Because of its historic position as a port city, Norwich has long been a crossroads of civilization with a diverse population. This trend has continued in recent years thanks in part to the influx of immigrants who come to work at the nearby Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods casinos. It is also reflected in the city’s culinary offerings. Local hotspots include the Royal Panjabi and Namoo Korean Eatery. For lunch today, I follow the advice offered by a foodie friend and head to Mommy’s Delicious Food, a Carribean comfort-food oasis. Located outside of downtown, Mommy’s features a rotating menu. Customers pick a protein and rice variety; I go with the jerk chicken, while a friend gets the oxtail. The chicken is spicy and has a great kick, while the oxtail is so soft it falls off the bone. Lovers of Caribbean cuisine, and barbecue in general, will want to check this place out.
1 p.m.: Walking with the gods
After lunch, it’s time to check out one of Connecticut’s most interesting and overlooked cultural destinations: the Slater Memorial Museum. The main draws of the museum, which was dedicated in 1886, are the 200-plus plaster replicas of many of the most famous classical sculptures found across Europe. Walking through the plaster-cast collection, which is one of the three largest in the country, you will find lifesize reproductions of Greek gods including Hermes of Andros — cast from the original at the National Museum of Athens — and historic figures including a bust of Socrates (the original resides in the Vatican Museum in Rome). There are other permanent and rotating exhibits, but I’m struck by the casts and need to come back to explore the rest of the museum. The Slater is on the campus of Norwich Free Academy, so if you visit during school hours you need to check in with security at the gate.
3 p.m.: Legends of these falls
Yantic Falls are, in a word, striking. Also known as Indian Leap or Uncas’ Leap, the falls, at 196-200 Yantic St., cascade through a rock-cliff gorge. A bridge spans above them, allowing you a drone’s-eye view of the gushing white waters. The beauty of the falls is enriched by their important link to local history. The Yantic River is the site of the culmination of the Battle of Great Plain in 1643. It was fought between members of the area’s Mohegan and Narragansett tribes from modern-day Rhode Island. According to local legend, at the conclusion of the battle, Mohegan leader Uncas lept, or by some accounts flew, across the gorge in pursuit of the Narragansett leader, Miantonomo. Uncas captured Miantonomo, who was then executed. The falls are just one of many Native American sites important to Connecticut and American history in the area. Uncas’ gravesite is nearby. At this site, President Andrew Jackson dedicated a memorial to Uncas in 1833. In 1907, “Buffalo Bill” Cody visited the site to lay a wreath at Uncas’ grave with more than 100 members of his Wild West show, then touring the country. It’s a somber site but one worth visiting if you are serious about paying your respects.
5 p.m.: Mini-brewery tour
On a less gloomy note, if you’re looking for a drink before dinner, there are many options. These Guys Brewing and Epicure Brewing are located a couple of doors down from each other on Franklin Street. I opt to visit Epicure and am impressed by the large downtown brewing space. This is a bring-your-own-food operation with a signature modern-brewery feel. There are many beers inspired by local history, including an excellent old-school IPA called Damned Yankee that is named for Norwich’s most infamous son, Benedict Arnold, a one-time Yankee damned for all history.
7 p.m.: Peruvian pilgrimage
A local favorite for dinner is Canggio Restaurant, which specializes in Peruvian-American cuisine. It’s Friday night during my visit and there’s a good-size crowd at various tables. Julio Cancho, co-owner and co-chef, is frequently out in the dining room and bar, talking with visitors. Cancho is charismatic and passionate about the food he serves, and he has good reason to be. A plate of ceviche is bursting with citrusy freshness, while the chicken wings and yuca frita are also winners. As are the drinks — the pisco sour and spicy margarita are both expertly crafted, a clear cut above many of the cocktails you’ll find at bars and restaurants. Cancho also owns 86’d, a bar and restaurant in Norwich, and continues to explore the culinary world. He tells my table of an upcoming trip to Peru where he will work at some of the top-rated restaurants in the world. I’m looking forward to trying whatever he has in store next time I’m in Norwich. And, yes, I plan on returning to the area soon.
On the calendar
Note: As of mid-March 2020, many events around the state have been impacted by the precautions being taken regarding the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. Please check with the venues for updated information.
Monthly: First Fridays
Downtown Norwich’s monthly block party is a multimedia celebration of art, music and the city. Check out the galleries, see local bands in the parks and sidewalks and then stop by one of the city’s bars.
April to September: Historic walking tours
Second Saturday of the month. From spring until early fall, the Norwich Historical Society offers walking tours based around different aspects of city history, from the legend of Uncas Leap to firearms factories in Norwich. Check norwichhistoricalsociety.org for times and starting-point details.
May 28-June 7: 12 Angry Women
Thu.-Sat. 7:30 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m., Chestnut Street Playhouse
This modern interpretation of 12 Angry Men features the same thought-provoking look at human nature and our justice system as the original. A 19-year-old has just stood trial for the fatal stabbing of his father. His fate is in the hands of 12 strangers.
June 27: Rose Arts Festival
All day, Chelsea Parade Park and downtown Norwich
Live bands take the stage, artists display their work, and theater groups perform at this beloved annual festival.
May to December: Global City Norwich Festivals
Launched in 2018, this series of multicultural downtown festivals celebrates Norwich’s many diverse communities. There are 10 events scheduled for 2020. (Visit globalcitynorwichct.com for more information.)
May 17: Haitian Festival
May 24: Cape Verde Festival
June 7: Polish Festival
June 14: Juneteenth Festival
July 19: Dominican Festival
July 26: Peruvian Festival
Aug. 16: International Food Festival
Sept. 20: Cup of Nations
Oct. 4: Octoberfest Jam
Dec. 6: Holiday Castle
5 facts about Norwich
1. Benedict Arnold, the Revolutionary War hero who turned into the most infamous traitor in U.S. history, was born in Norwich in 1741. The house he grew up in is no longer standing, but its location is marked with a plaque on the corner of Washington Street and Arnold Place.
2. Aaron Dwight Stevens, who was born in Lisbon but grew up in Norwich, was the chief military aid to John Brown during Brown’s failed raid at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, in 1859. Dwight and Brown were both abolitionists who hoped the raid would ignite a slave revolt in Southern states. He was executed for his role in the raid in 1860. He was 29 years old.
3. Bestselling author Wally Lamb is a Norwich native and has set several of his novels in the fictional town of Three Rivers, a clear stand-in for Norwich, a community that has in many ways been shaped by its three rivers.
4. In the novel The Last of the Mohicans, the title character is named Uncas, and is loosely inspired by the real-life Mohegan leader Uncas, who is buried in Norwich and won a major battle here. However, the book is set about 75 years after the real Uncas died.
5. Norwich has long been known as the Rose of New England, but the roots of the nickname are unclear. Some say it because of the city’s rose-petal-like appearance when looked at from the hills above Norwich Harbor. In any case, you can view more than 100 varieties of roses June through October at Mohegan Park and its Memorial Rose Garden.
The houses are more affordable here than in many other parts of the state. As of this writing there were only six houses in the city listed at more than $400,000, and many sizable homes in the $200,000-$300,000 range and even some for less than $200,000.
For $177,000: A three-bedroom, 1½-bathroom, 1,426-square-foot home on a 7,405-square-foot lot.
For $219,900: A five-bedroom, 3½-bath, 4,806-square-foot historic Grand Victorian home on a 0.41-acre lot.
For $479,000: A two-bedroom, 3-bath, 2,074-square-foot 1853 stone house on 1.36 acres.