The Other Portland
If the name of Portland calls to mind an urban oasis filled with microbreweries, farm-to-table restaurants and a diverse arts and cultural scene, then your assumptions are accurate. The only problem? You would likely be thinking of Portland in Oregon.
While the west coast city has long enjoyed a reputation as the epicentre of America’s creative counter-culture, thanks in no small part to the sketch comedy Portlandia, the other Portland, on the coast of Maine, generally elicits a quainter image. A wild and beautiful shoreline. Lobster rolls and lighthouses. Old-timey shops with maritime-themed tea towels.
Indeed, proximity to both Boston and New York makes the city a convenient stop en route to one of Maine’s 4600-plus islands — a time-honoured summer escape for well-heeled east coasters, from the Rockefellers through to the Obama family. But as any local will tell you, there’s much more to Portland than swimming and seafood — though you can certainly enjoy both of those, too.
One of the people leading the culinary boom is Mike Wiley, co-owner and chef of the acclaimed Eventide Oyster Co. Along with fellow chef and co-owner Andrew Taylor, Wiley won this year’s James Beard Award for Best Chef in the North-East category. (For non-foodies, that’s like an Oscar.) Wiley and Taylor’s other Beard-nominated restaurant is slightly easier to get into and is located just next door. The Honey Paw serves up creative Asian-American fare in a bright and unfussy space decorated with vintage Chinese menus and rounded out by a record player and vinyl collection.
If you want to eat like a local, head to J’s Oyster on the waterfront, where native Portlanders escape the tourist hordes with a beer and a bucket of ‘steamers’ (steamer clams). Once you’re done there, it’s time for the region’s signature chip, so swing by the European-inspired Duckfat, where hand-cut Maine potatoes are fried in duck fat, tossed with salt and served with a choice of five homemade dipping sauces.
For a more casual lunch, there’s also the Portland Public Market House, where you’ll find everything from fresh salads at Daily Greens to a Maine take on Thai delicacies at Sticky Sweet, which uses locally sourced blueberries in its sticky rice.
When night falls, head for Tempo Dulu, a fine-dining establishment where the artfully created Vietnamese, Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian-inspired dishes are reflected in the eclectic decor — contemporary Asian art, mid-century furnishings and plush accents. Tempo Dulu and its cocktail bar, Opium, are in the 200-year-old Danforth Inn, a luxurious union of historic charm and cosmopolitan edginess — not unlike Portland itself.
A CREATIVE COMMUNITY
The city’s First Friday Art Walk offers a free, self-guided tour of the Arts District’s galleries and museums between 5pm and 8pm on the first Friday of each month. Anyone design-minded will want to visit the Maine College of Art, known as MECA. The state’s oldest art college, it hosts regular exhibitions, talks and events. From there it’s just a short stroll to the Portland Museum of Art and the contemporary Space Gallery.
Perhaps the surest sign of Portland’s mounting street cred is the rejuvenation of its formerly empty industrial spaces. Downtown, The Press Hotel sits in the old headquarters of the Portland Press Herald, paying homage to its newspaper heritage with letterpress woodblock sculptures and 1920s-inspired rooms furnished with large writers’ desks.
A 1960s gas station in the West End now spruiks a different kind of fuel, having been reborn as Tandem Coffee & Bakery. They make a strong brew even Australians will approve of, and a selection of sandwiches and pastries. Then there’s Grace, a truly ethereal restaurant and cocktail bar inside a historic former Methodist church. Every part of the 1800s-era building has been painstakingly preserved and adapted, from the stained glasswork to the soaring vaulted ceiling and pulpit.
Words by Anne Fullerton
Make Portland, Maine your next holiday destination and discover the city's hotspots. Book flights to Boston from Australia through our website or by calling 13 67 89 (in Australia). Portland is just under 2 hours drive from Boston or alternatively, our partner Delta Airlines fly directly to Portland from a number of major cities in the USA.