Flo's Clam Shack

What She’s Having: Best Seats in the House

Securing a prized table at a Newport restaurant can feel a lot like the online lottery for concert tickets. Somehow, they’re always sold out before you get yours. Meh. Reservations are for cowards. When I hit a town, with few exceptions, I’m looking for bar seats. It takes focus, patience (don’t show up starving), and a little polite maneuvering, but from these esteemed perches, a slice of the entirety of the operation is yours for the viewing: the food, the staff banter, the crowd, the energy. It’s lively, it’s bustling, and once you’ve snatched a couple of prime stools, your real estate within the chaos is secure and you can fully enjoy the show.

In a city like Newport, where magnificent natural beauty and a bar are around every corner, the goal gets upped. You don’t just want bar seats. You want the best bar seats in the house, and I’m here to ruin it for the rest of my barfly tribe by sharing my top picks.

There’s just no comparison to the breathtaking views of Narragansett Bay, downtown Newport, and the Pell Bridge from atop the sweeping emerald lawn at Castle Hill. Many opt for the Adirondack chairs that dot the grass, with cocktail service offered by a busy young staff. We prefer the bird’s-eye view and quicker service at the open-air, covered bar above, with its dozens of extra stools along a three-sided drink rail. Any seat at this bar is mint.

Stroll down Waites Wharf off of Lower Thames Street, and you’ll reach a gorgeous marina, slotted with yachts and bordered to your left by a massive tent and open-air patio. The Deck has been around in various iterations for decades, and it was one of its previous owners who suggested to me many years ago that “the best bar seats in Newport” would make for a great article. The airy space boasts a large bar flanked by an open patio, both overlooking the boats and the harbor beyond. Open nightly from Thursday through Sunday, today’s Deck offers a lively, youthful hang right astride the harbor with DJs, live music, and a menu of mostly classic New England seafood dishes.

If you’re hanging downtown on the wharfs, waterfront bar seats are everywhere. The Black Pearl’s outdoor option sits at the dock that takes visitors out for sailing excursions. Try to sneak to the far side of the bar for shade and a little less chaos and watch the ships sail off. Across the inlet, 22 Bowen’s just unveiled their brand-new, covered outdoor bar, with more than two dozen bar seats and not a bad view to be had.

Just around the corner is The Landing, where two of my favorite summer seats are tucked in the far corner of the main level bar, looking out on the harbor in one direction and at the scene of revelers and the restaurant’s reliably consistent and quality stream of live music in the other. Hint: check out The Landing on afternoons, early evenings, or Sunday afternoons for a more adult/mixed crowd.

On Bannister’s Wharf, the Clarke Cooke House has “best seats” on each of its four levels, but for the purposes of the season, the Candy Store’s harborside bar seats and the Midway level’s northern-facing, wharf-overlook seats are sublime.

If people-watching is your passion, there’s not much to compete with The Shack at The Surf Club, whose sidewalk bar and patio sit right in the middle of all the action at the corner of America’s Cup and Lower Thames. Sit here with a spicy watermelon margarita and you’ll see it all: the good, the bad, the yachties, and the bachelorette parties.

Do this: go to Perrotti Park and jump on the Newport Harbor Shuttle where, for $15, you can cruise the harbor and jump on and off all day long at any of six stops. Justify a stop at my next tip by hopping off at Ft. Adams to hike the circumference of the historic fort. Then jump back on and get off at Goat Island, where a tiny, tropical-vibey bar sits up above the marina, looking across the harbor to Newport’s darling downtown skyline. With some of the best mudslides in town, Marina Pub is a quiet gem.

Fight me if you want, but Newport is a yachting town, not a beach town. Do we have beaches? Sure. But only two are public-access, only one offers parking, and the main city beach is currently in a state of demolition, humming with food trucks, devoid of the character and history it once reflected. That said, if only a beach view will do, you are so in luck. Flo’s Clamshack looks beyond all that, over First Beach, right out to sea. Its funky, tropical-style, outdoor upper-level bar offers a three-sided, multi-seat drink rail for breathing in the ocean air, nibbling on fried clams, and sipping your cocktail of choice.




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