This Louisiana city is just an hour away from Bay St. Louis and its historic district offers many of the same charms, making it a perfect day-trip destination from the coast.
- story and photos by Lisa Monti
The strongest common thread, though, seems to be its historic downtown district with an abundance of antique shops, fashion boutiques, outstanding restaurants, ancient oaks, festivals, artists and galleries.
There’s even a colorful old hardware store with a quirky collection of merchandise that’s reminiscent of the fabled Mauffray’s in downtown Bay St. Louis. And, yes, there’s even a Second Saturday Art Walk.
At only an hour’s drive away, Covington is a convenient destination for a day of shopping for furniture, clothes or jewelry, eating meal in a fine restaurant or a casual one and admiring the work of local artists and craftsmen. And there are coffeeshops and bars in the mix for a quick break from strolling and perusing.
Walking through Historic Downtown Covington can easily take up the bulk of your visit, checking out the shops, antique stores, galleries and specialty retailers along stretches of streets including Columbia, Boston Street and Lee Lane.
Antique stores, like ours, are stuffed with items from floor to ceiling, and some start with merchandise in the side yard and on the porches of small old houses turned into shops. The variety is broad: books, jewelry, toys, linens, cookware and cookbooks, everything under the sun.
Most shops are originals but one shop has a direct connection to home: It’s Last Call, the discount sister store of California Drawstrings on Main Street in the Bay. Bargain hunters love finding everything in the store on sale for 50 percent off.
Owner Linda Keenan knows the Covington-Bay St. Louis connection first hand. “We get people from Covington all the time here in the Bay St. Louis shop,” she said, noting that Covington also has a strong arts community with many special events celebrating the arts throughout the year.
A must-see downtown landmark is H.J. Smith & Sons General Store on Columbia Street which contains its own free museum and a totally amazing collection of goods that’s difficult to categorize. Shrimp boots, cast iron cookware, hunting and boating supplies, flying pig decor, door knobs, coonskin caps, fishing gear and more, found in rows upon row of logic defying stuff.
The family-owned business, open daily except Sunday, has been open since 1876 so they know something about what people want or need. Wandering through the cluttered aisles brings back childhood memories of the late Alden Mauffray, the owner of the hardware store on Beach Boulevard, who directed customers to what they were looking for with scalpel-like precision, including how many steps to take to reach the desired item.
A favorite gallery of mine is Savoye Originals Gallery at 405 N. Columbia St. where Steve Savoye offers his handmade works of art and original furniture handmade from wood and other materials he’s reclaimed, often with his self described quirky sense of humor (his website promises Cool Ass Art & Designs and the promise that “You are sure to leave with a smile on your face.”) Best to call ahead because Savoye is often out working and you don’t want to miss this stop.
Walking or driving through the city, you may notice the off-street parking as you stroll through Covington’s historic downtown. The original layout of city had squares carved out in the center of each block and that’s where traders sold their goods, often from carts drawn by oxen. These old “ox lots” are now available for free parking. It’s also where a fine dining restaurant owned by an award-winning chef from Hancock County took its name.
Chef Jeffrey Hansell’s Oxlot 9 is located inside the beautifully restored Southern Hotel. Chef Hansell grew up in Waveland, where he still has loads of family, and graduated from St. Stanislaus.
He went on to graduate from the Culinary School at the University of Southern Mississippi and worked at Commander’s Palace and other top kitchens across the country. He’s been featured twice in “Best Chefs of America” and “Best Chefs the American South” and was nominated as Food & Wine Best New Chef 2014, representing the Gulf Coast.
Hansell said when he and wife Amy settled in Covington, it reminded him of Bay St. Louis before Katrina, especially “the great old downtown, lots of art, lots of good food and a great quality of life.” He sees familiar faces from home often in his highly touted restaurant. “At least once a week I see someone I knew growing up,” he said.
If you’re in Covington at dinner time, or on Sunday for brunch, Oxlot 9 is highly recommended. Hansell also owns Smoke BBQ at 1005 N. Collins Blvd. that’s open every day.
It’s easy to find something to eat in Covington, not so easy to pick and choose. The city has an impressive collection of great casual and sophisticated restaurants that can be reason enough to make the trip.
On this visit, we tried a new-to-us place for lunch - Gallagher’s Grill - with a reputation for its old-school menu that plays up local seafood and steak, plus great service. Two specials - the blackened drum with paneed eggplant and crawfish corn maque choux and the seared scallops with shrimp and roasted red pepper risotto - earned Gallagher’s two new fans. It’s closed Sunday and Monday.
If you plan you day trip for a Wednesday or Saturday, you can shop at Covington’s chef-worthy farmers market for prepared foods, baked goods, farm fresh fruit, vegetables, herbs, honey and much more, with live musical entertainment as lagniappe. The market sets up two different locations, but whichever day you pick, you’ll find something to your liking.
827 Walker Alley
Covington, Louisiana 70433
H.J. Smith & Sons General Store and Museum
308 N. Columbia St.
Covington, LA 70433
Savoye Originals Gallery
405 N. Columbia Street
Covington, LA 70433
428 E. Boston St.
Tuesday-Saturday 5-10 p.m.
Sunday 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
509 S Tyler St.
Covington, LA 70433
11 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. & 5-9:30 p.m.
Friday 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. & 5-10:30 p.m.
Closed Sunday and Monday
Covington Farmers Market
Saturday 8 am-12 pm at 609 Columbia St.
Wednesday 10 am-2 pm at 419 N. New Hampshire