The striking building covered in pressed-steel shingles practically hangs over the water. If you were to accidentally step out the back door, you’d tumble right into Gloucester Harbor. Over nearly 150 years, the low-slung space has housed everything from a warehouse for salting cod—that abundant cash crop of a hundred years ago—to storage for a local paint factory.
Now, thanks to a tiny kitchen tucked under the stairs, and a vision to bring a year-round gathering spot to the Rocky Neck community, the building has a new life as Salted Cod Arthouse & Wine Bar, a convivial place for tourists and locals alike to stop for a cup of coffee, a glass of wine, and maybe even a work of art. It all came about when local residents Tom Aurelio and Matthew Moynahan were looking for ways to help rejuvenate Rocky Neck, one of the oldest operating arts colonies in the nation.
“We were trying to figure out what we could do to give back to the community, to support the artists and get more eyes on their art,” Aurelio recalls. Moynahan had been traveling back and forth between the North Shore and Austin, Texas, where he discovered several art galleries with wine bars, and an idea was born.
The pair purchased what locals affectionately refer to as the “tin building” and The Rudder next door—renting out the latter to iconic local chef Barbara Lynch—and started the process of building the first wine bar/art gallery on the North Shore, planning the menu and getting permits.
While they wanted to support local artists, they did not want to curate the gallery, so they contracted with the Rocky Neck Art Colony to fill the bright space. A rotating collection of about 30 local artists is on display at any given time, chosen by a jury process at the start of each season to fill any open slots.
Work is juried on creativity, technical skill, marketability, presentation, and appropriateness for the gallery, including relationship to existing artists’ work, according to Janice Brand, copresident of Rocky Neck Art Colony. The gallery is run like a co-op, with members staffing and operating the gallery.
Visitors might find anything from paintings and drawings to ceramics, jewelry, photography, stained glass, textiles and weavings, and even painted rocks. Over at the long brass bar, handcrafted by local metalworker Chris Williams—whose brass-and-blown-glass Tuna sculptures are for sale in the gallery—visitors find an edible kind of art. Starting with coffee.
The Salted Cod has one of the only espresso machines in the area—a gleaming Simonelli imported from Italy—and has perfected a variety of beverages, from cappuccino to an affogato, a shot of espresso poured over ice cream.
Looking for something a little stronger to shake off the chill? This fall, Aurelio introduced gluhwein, a warm German mulled wine, redolent of cloves and cinnamon. That unusual offering joins the bar’s eclectic selection of wines, curated by Aurelio. “I’m a red wine person, and I love Italian wine,” he says.
“So, you’ll see on my list that there are probably four different Italian selections, but we mix it up with things that you wouldn’t get at another place.” Everything from Barolo and Nebbiolo to a cold Lambrusco, which is making a resurgence, and even an orange wine.
“You’re not going to go to many places around here and find a nice orange wine,” he says. Bewildered by the selections? No problem: One of Aurelio’s favorite things in the bar is the collection of tasting glasses. “We really like people to sample everything,” he says, noting that the staff is happy to pour a taste of anything people are curious about.
The selection is connecting with guests—over the close to a year that the Arthouse has been open, they have poured more than 9,000 glasses of wine. To accompany those sips, the Arthouse has grown its food menu, realizing that the postage-stamp kitchen can turn out everything from flatbreads to house-made tomato soup paired with thick grilled cheese sandwiches.
Not to mention several different desserts. “The initial concept was to bring in just wine and beer and some light bites,” Aurelio recalls. “We’ve changed that a lot to kind of become a destination place.” And while you will not find a steak or lasagne at the Arthouse, you will find a really nice cheese tray, a honey apple flatbread, and a warm welcome yearround—even in the depths of winter. Sounds like the perfect support for any community.
53 Rocky Neck, Gloucester, 978-282-0917, saltedcodarthouse.com