I hesitate to call this picturesque Lake Michigan town sleepy, lest I incur the wrath and long-winded speeches of former resident and manliest of men, Ernest Hemingway. But that's exactly what it is — a slowed-down version of life that you could reach by car or time machine.
Petoskey, Mich., hasn't changed much since Hemingway left. It drips with Americana. The town's 1947-established ice cream fixture, Kilwins, still churns out house-made waffle cones, while Corner Grocer, a favored deli, serves up freshly baked bread. These mom-and-pop shops have served Petoskey for decades, and the lack of hustle suits the town's nearly 6,000 residents just fine.
Summer's strong coastal scenery is packed with sports-loving vacationers reveling in a number of water activities, bike paths and trails. But I find that fall welcomes a quieter traveler — one who appreciates the gentle breeze off Little Traverse Bay, the town's colorful Victorian homes and century-old businesses that line the Gaslight District.
It's as if everything gets dipped in molasses after August. Petoskey woos you with lethargic charm, dark mahogany bars, smoky cigar lounges and rich comfort food.
Though Hemingway last lived in Petoskey in 1919 — returning here after serving in the war, putting pen to paper in the town's bars — I feel him everywhere. But I sense him most inside the City Park Grill, known in the author's time as the Annex. Here, Hemmingway would saddle up on his usual seat and indulge in his liquid vices. A black and white portrait marks his former spot, and I order a second Scotch to appease the picture of this ghostly patron. I sip, and hope there's something in the air — or the liquor — that sustained his muse, with a little left over for me. Yes! Hemingway-like creativity courses through my glass as I scribble in my leather-bound notebook.
I find the bottom of my glass and leave to acquaint myself with this old-fashioned town. Smiles abound. I am totally unprepared for the abundant friendliness I find around each corner and in each shop.
I think to myself, Perhaps it's the drinking culture. Indeed, Hemingway said he never felt more comfortable than perched on a bar stool, and there are plenty of tall, wooden seats in Petoskey.
At Beard's Brewery, for example, I spot folks leaving with heavy growlers of the locally crafted beers on tap and eavesdrop over animated conversations taking place near classic video games in a cozy solarium. This one-barrel brewery is impossibly petite, but shares its drafts with two other in-town restaurants.
Just a few minutes away, the taproom at Petoskey Brewing is packed with residents pleased to see life in this landmark after a long hiatus. New management brews crowd-pleasers P-Town Brown Ale and Hopsessed Double IPA. And its menu of juicy sliders and salty pretzels are good enough to be inhaled.
The building may be old, I decide, but this business is brand new. Unpretentious yet stately, Petoskey Brewing would have certainly earned Hemingway's patronage with its easygoing atmosphere and quality libations.
The offerings of Petoskey are simple, no doubt. After a weekend lounging in the chilly lake air, indulging in effortless meals and playing ink-slinger in the shadow of a favored author, it's clear to me why Hemingway would choose this small town, with its emphasis on good drinks and friendly people, as his home while he recovered from war. But it's also obvious why Petoskey would adopt a bold wordsmith with a penchant for yesteryear.
It's something I ponder as I follow a passing crowd to the next pub, already nostalgic of the smell of foamy ale tickling my senses.
» Go Local. Pick up a souvenir at independent bookseller McLean and Eakin, a twice-nominated Publisher's Weekly Bookstore of the Year, and major community hub where everyone is on a first name basis. 307 E. Lake St., Petoskey, Mich., 231-347-1180, mcleanandeakin.com
» Embrace Fall. The Michigan Hemingway Society hosts its 24th annual conference (Oct. 4-6), titled Raising a Glass With Hemingway, to honor the author's ties to Petoskey. It includes a pub crawl and a keynote address with author Philip Greene. Odawa Hotel, 1444 US 131 S, Petoskey, Mich., michiganhemingwaysociety.org
» Eat. Lake Michigan is not the first place you'd expect to find quality Mediterranean fare, but the Twisted Olive dishes out seafood entrees and savory salads with wine pairings and class. Breakfast is less crowded and less expensive, but just as delicious. 319 Bay St., Petoskey, Mich., 231-487-1230, twisted-olive.com
» Play. For a history lesson, stop by Little Traverse History Museum and pay homage to The Torrents of Spring, a Hemingway novel set in Petoskey, and find out what life was like for him and other residents in 1919. 100 Depot Court, Petoskey, Mich., 231-347-2620, petoskeymuseum.org
» Stay. Stafford's Perry Hotel is an 1899 classic, where Hemingway paid 75 cents to lay his head down in 1916 after a Northern Michigan camping trip. 100 Lewis St., Petoskey, Mich., 231-347-4000, staffords.com/perry-hotel-4/