Even on a misty day, when the fog hangs from the trees, charm clings to New Harmony, Ind. Sara Brown knows this. It’s why she makes the drive to this tiny, Posey County town every day — not only as a merchant, but as a friend and neighbor, too.
“I have always been in love with the town,” says the 56-year-old owner of Sara’s Harmony Way. “I find it extremely spiritual. It’s always brought me a sense of peace. And I think it affects a lot of people like that.”
While small, New Harmony is more than just a speck on the map of history.
Led by Father George Rapp, roughly 800 German Lutheran immigrants made the town their home in 1814, carving out a 20,000-acre village as part of the Harmonie Society before they moved to Pennsylvania 10 years later, selling the land to Robert Owen, a Welsh-born industrialist, and his business partner, William Maclure. Their plan was to create a model community out of New Harmony “where education and social equality would be realized.” While the utopian vision failed, New Harmony does have another place in history: The U.S. Geological Society and the Smithsonian Institution both have their roots here.
Additionally, Jane Blaffer Owen, who died in 2010, worked to preserve the town’s history, restoring its homes and making it, once again, a spiritual and philosophical centerpiece. As a result, New Harmony continues to be a scene where artists and artistry thrive.
But roots aren’t always formed at birth. That’s why Brown, a Carmi, Ill., resident, feels so connected to this town of less than 800 residents, where locals greet strangers and neighbors alike with a smile. Some, in fact, even offer a hug.
“I’m so happy for you,” Denise Rapp, a New Harmony native who leads the catering side of Sara’s Harmony Way, says as she greets Brown with a warm embrace on a Friday in December. Rapp is the first of several to stop by that day, wanting to see how Brown’s new vision has shaped itself into reality.
Brown’s first location opened on Main Street in 2010, then moved to Church Street in early January 2011. This past December, she shifted once again to the former Stephen Pace Gallery at 500 Church St. Now, with the proper space, the eatery includes a coffee shop serving various dishes such as a deliciously creamy clam chowder. In fact, you have to walk through that coffee shop to get to the heart of Sara’s Harmony Way, which locals know as a combination of a wine bar, brewpub, and antique store.
“We are really glad Sara is here,” says Peggy Redwine, a regular customer who dropped by with her husband to take a look at the fiery red wall, fully stocked wine cabinets, Moroccan-style hanging lamp, and antique couches. “This is a wonderful addition to New Harmony.”
Brown’s staple selection is a blend of red, white, rose, and sparkling wines, most of which are sold by the glass and bottle. Consider the 2011 Spy Valley Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, a grassy white wine with passion fruit and grapefruit overtones. Brown sells it for $6.25 a glass and $22 a bottle. Those with a sweet tooth may enjoy the Frost Bitten Ice Riesling from Yakima Valley, Wash., for $15. It offers honey and a hint of lemon and is the best-selling wine in the store.
“We just want wine to be fun, and to take the intimidation out of it,” Rapp says. “We are doing our best to elevate our customers’ expertise. A lot of people really don’t know what they like, so we offer tastings.”
Brown has met travelers here — a retired minister, a couple on their way to tend to horses in Lexington, Ky., a Polish Fulbright Scholar researching someone connected to the Owen family, and more. She’s had conversations that extend beyond wine, food, and furniture.
One subject that’s etched into the walls, that flows through the wind-swept streets, is history. Even the former Stephen Pace Gallery — the space that Sara’s Harmony Way now occupies — isn’t lost to the ages. Just ask Brown to tell you how Pace, the late internationally recognized abstract expressionist, visited Pablo Picasso, how he painted in New York City, and how he spent his summers in Maine. And then listen as she tells you how she purchased a piece of his artwork and then hung it near the bar.
“It was the right thing to do,” she says. “It’s kind of like his spirit is still here.”
Also true to New Harmony’s spirit: Sara’s Harmony Way sells the original Harmonist beer, a dark lager brewed by Great Crescent Brewery in Aurora, Ind. And then there’s the furniture — a prayer bench, a courting chair, and a Romweber couch from the 1930s made in Batesville, Ind.
They are all for sale, in a town that knows life is about much more than just business. Among the wine and the beer, there are friends, too.
Location: 1500 B. Church St., New Harmony, Ind.
Dining Hours: Noon-6 p.m. Mon.-Thurs.; until 8 p.m. Fri. and Sat.; until 5 p.m. Sun.
Adult Beverages: Yes
Payment: Accepts all major credit cards