The gold dome you passed on the highway into town and the portraits of presidential elections past on the walls of The Hotel Concord are likely the only clues something special happens here every four years — the first of the nation’s primary elections. It’s then the sleepy city of Concord, New Hampshire, comes alive with TV cameras, talking heads, waving flags and eagle motifs in a way only a local would understand. But in-between this quadrennial spectacle, only 43,000 souls live here, treading the streets of a quaint downtown filled with all homegrown shops (few chains except a Subway), tasty restaurants, coffeehouses, candy makers and craftsmen.
There’s a renaissance happening here that’s worth taking note of. Besides some other smaller hotels on Main Street where politicians have laid their heads throughout the years when swinging through, there’s something new: Hotel Concord is the newest crown jewel of South Main Street, part of a beautiful complex that includes not only convenient (free) parking that leads directly into the hotel, but a cineplex that shows all arthouse films and a delicious on-site restaurant, O Steaks & Seafood, that offers up a relaxed atmosphere at prices hard to beat in most other state capitals. A hearty portion of Wagyu-American Kobe strip steak is just $40 — and comes served with a side. If mac n’ cheese is your thing, that’s not to be missed here (indulge in the truffled mac for just an extra buck).
You’re going to need to rest up after dinner, and the spacious rooms here are just the place. Not only are they super quiet, but the color scheme — tan, white, and blue — has the same calming effect. You’ll find clever touches like chocolates by your pillow, fuzzy slippers and spa robes, and daily bottled water (guests also get free popcorn at the movie theater each day, too). The bathroom alone is the kind that has you coming up with excuses for a home reno to remodel your own after, with fun towel hooks like a rabbit head, marble sinks and windowsills, upscale toiletries and a tiled shower.
Each room is also equipped with a self-guided historic walking tour booklet, and a coupon book for local shopping. It’s worth starting the weekend with the free daily breakfast (in what is the Lobbyist bar at night), then checking out the beautiful on-site gym or nearby YMCA, with free share privileges. Just across the street is Shangri-La for all java aficionados, White Mountain Coffee, and besides dozens of fun flavored brews like butterscotch and chocolate mint, there are delicious scones like maple walnut for those feeling peckish. (Maple lovers, take note: Sugaring season is at the end of March, so you can visit local farms like Mapletree for souvenirs and boiling demonstrations.) But should you choose to stay downtown, there’s plenty to pop into to suit your interest. If you miss out on sugaring weekend, there’s maple specialties and more to satisfy any sweet tooth at Granite State Candy Shoppe, a third-generation, family-owned outfit serving up a Willy Wonka-like assortment of chocolate rabbits at Easter, and Christmas gift baskets at the holidays. Your history walk will take you by here, along with Pitchfork Records, a must for any vinyl aficionado. For cute home goods, niche imported duds from Scandinavia and adorable children’s clothes and books, Viking House beckons (the coupon book applies to these last two family-owned shops, too). The League of N.H. Craftsmen has all of the hand-made souvenirs — ceramics, framed nature photos, jewelry — one could ever ask for, and it’s worth calling ahead for a bra fitting at Zoe’s & Co. For new moms, there’s a remarkable selection of nursing bras and belly band options, along with the regular racy and lacy choices if you’re around for a romantic weekend.
Either way, there’s plenty enriching to do. Capital Center for the Arts features music, dance and theatrical performances, all within a stone’s throw of Hotel Concord. And directly across the street, a second Cap Center space, a 400-seat performance venue at the site of the former Concord Theatre, will open later this year. Whether you’re with kids or your cutie, there’s the interactive McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center, with its space exhibits and planetarium; summer is great for the Susan N. McLane Audubon Center and its 80 miles of hiking trails. It’s especially called for to walk off some calories after a fantastic dinner at Revival Kitchen & Bar, one of the hottest spots in town. Local cheeses, fresh New England seafood and such hearty mains as a mouthwatering and beautifully plated shepherd’s pie with lamb show off award-winning chef/owner Corey Fletcher’s culinary chops. Even better? It’s a block away from the hotel for a quick commute.