It’s not Beervana, but the other Portland has more than lighthouses and lobster rolls: Seaside stays, cool brews and sights for both the artsy and the outdoorsy abound.
by Kathryn Hawkins
If Belgians are your vice, the city’s famed Allagash Brewing Co. (Outer Forest Ave., allagash.com), renowned for its Belgo-style beers and experimental vibe, is a must-visit; begin with its trademark wheat beer, Allagash White, and work up to the complex Curieux, a fruity tripel aged in oak. Peak Organic Brewing (West Bayside, peakbrewing.com), a regional outfit that emerged from Jon Cadoux’s homebrewing hobby, is the East Coast’s only organic brewery; it showcases the region’s bounty with beers like Maple Oat Ale, brewed with organic oats from nearby GrandyOats and maple syrup from Vermont’s Butternut Mountain Farms, and Espresso Amber Ale spiked with joe roasted down the road. Maine’s first post-Prohibition brewpub, Gritty McDuff’s (Old Port, grittys.com), features nine brews, hearty fare like shepherd’s pie and sweet potato fries, and a rowdy atmosphere in the wee hours. Just around the corner, the more demure Sebago Brewing Co. (Old Port, sebagobrewing.com, pictured) crafts 11 styles—including the heavenly Bass Ackwards Blueberry Ale—and fare for all tastes like sandwiches, steaks and pastas. Across the Casco Bay Bridge, kid-friendly Sea Dog Brewing Co.’s (South Portland, seadogbrewing.com) menu is beer-compatible with everything from traditional mussels and frites to baked meatloaf; wash down your meal with an Apricot Wheat Beer or Riverdriver Hazelnut Porter. At Shipyard Brewing Co. (Old Port, shipyard.com), brewer Alan Pugsley serves up a celebrated selection of English-style ales using the 150-year-old yeast strain from his former stomping grounds, Hampshire, England’s Ringwood Brewery.
From the posh to the comfortably divey, there’s a watering hole for every thirsty Portlander. The professional crowd loosens their ties to shoot darts and sip Belgians at cozy Novare Res Bier Café (Old Port, novareresbiercafe.com). Its generous and often obscure selection of local and international beers like Mikkeller It’s Alive! and North Coast Old Rasputin on 25 rotating taps complement artisanal meat and cheese plates. A little rougher around the edges, Three Dollar Dewey’s (Old Port, threedollardeweys.com) on the wharf holds nightly happy hours featuring local Shipyard Prelude and other brews for as little as $2 a pint—which means extra money in your pocket for bar bites like wings, clam chowder and Philly cheesesteaks. Quirky, always packed, and decidedly lowbrow, The Great Lost Bear (Oakdale, greatlostbear.com) serves up mouthwatering burgers, burritos and other calorific treats alongside 60 rotating taps that focus on IPAs and Belgian-style brews. Multiple casks pour the likes of Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted. And if the game’s on, head to sports bar Rivalries (Old Port, rivalriesportland.com), where you’ll find 24 big-screen TVs, cheap beers and simple pub fare.
Boasting seafood, farm-raised meat and vegetables grown just a stone’s throw from where they’re served, Portland is a fresh-food mecca. If you’ve got high-end dining in mind, Fore Street (Old Port, forestreet.biz) is one of the city’s top destinations for its stunning open kitchen; a glass refrigerator chills the fruits and vegetables, and locally raised meat roasts on spits above the hearth. Indulge in culinary adventures like cream puffs with bacon and peanut butter ice cream. Nearby, The Grill Room (Old Port, thefrontroomrestaurant.com) dishes up prime cuts of steak and simply prepared fresh fish in a rustic setting with a wood-fired grill and hundred-year-old brick walls; the full bar stocks local favorites from Allagash, an extensive wine list heavy on reds and a healthy selection of Scotches and cocktails. Hole-in-the-wall Caiola’s (West End, caiolas.com) serves a sophisticated twist on comfort food in an intimate atmosphere; try the trademark burger, with sautéed onions, bacon and homemade tots. Boda (Arts District, bodamaine.com), a sophisticated new addition to Portland’s dining scene, serves spicy, Thai-inspired tapas like pork belly skewers and stuffed jalapeños until 1 a.m. Nosh Kitchen Bar (Arts District, noshkitchenbar.com), a trendy spot that’s also popular with the late-night set, is known for decadent specials like bacon-dusted fries and the infamous Apocalypse Now burger: as many beef patties as you please, topped with seared pork belly, cured bacon and foie gras.
Stay near the action at the Portland Harbor Hotel (Old Port, portlandharborhotel.com), a luxe oceanside spot within stumbling distance of the downtown pubs. Guests at the Inn at St. John (Parkside, innatstjohn.com), open since 1897, enjoy elegant Victorian-style guest rooms at reasonable rates only a short walk from the Arts District. In nearby Freeport, home to outlet shops like The North Face and Cole Haan, the historic Harraseeket Inn (Freeport, harraseeketinn.com) features jetted tubs, antique furnishings and two renowned restaurants that serve local Wolfe Neck’s Farm beef and a wide selection of craft beers.
Wander downtown’s cobblestone streets to breathe in an eclectic mix of independent shops and coffeehouses; sip on a latte at cozy Bard Coffee (Old Port, bardcoffee.com), then treasure-hunt for used CDs at Bullmoose Music (Old Port, bullmoosemusic.com), Maine’s largest music retailer. From Portland’s harbor, take the ferry to nearby Peaks Island to walk or bike the three-mile island loop. A visit to the L.L. Bean flagship store (Freeport, llbean.com) is a homecoming for the outdoorsy: It’s open 24/7 and offers daily $20 walk-on adventures like kayaking, clay shooting and archery. If it’s still chilly, roll the day away at Bayside Bowl (Bayside, baysidebowl.com), a 12-lane alley that lures in urban sophisticates with a full bar built from former bowling lane planks, live music and an exotic, veggie-friendly menu. In the evening, meet artists and enjoy wine and snacks gratis from local galleries at the First Friday Art Walk (Arts District, firstfridayartwalk.com), or catch a show by local boy Ray LaMontagne at the Port City Music Hall (Old Port, portcitymusichall.com) or the State Theatre (Old Port, statetheatreportland.com).