New York Times highlights Willard Beach
By LIONEL BEEHNER
PORTLAND, Me., is known for three L’s: lobster, lighthouses and L. L. Bean (O.K., make that four L’s). Here’s another: local. In recent years, this city on the coast of Maine has welcomed a wave of locavore restaurants, urban farms and galleries that feature local artists. Abandoned brick warehouses are being repurposed as eco-friendly boutiques. In the main square, a 19th-century building has been refashioned into a farmers’ market. And everywhere you look, this once-sleepy industrial town is showing signs of rejuvenation — usually by keeping things local.
1) WEST SIDE STORY
To see bohemian Portland, stroll down Congress Street, where at least a dozen galleries, studios and cafes have opened in recent years. David Marshall, a beret-wearing painter who moonlights as a city councilman, is among the artists who exhibit at Constellation Gallery (511 Congress Street; 207-409-6617; constellationart.com), which opened last year. His artsy friends can be found at Local Sprouts (649 Congress Street; 207-899-3529; localsproutscooperative.com), an earthy, community-supported cafe as crunchy as it sounds. Down the street is the Portland Public Library (5 Monument Square; 207-871-1700; portlandlibrary.com), which recently revamped its gallery and added an atrium.
2) MADE IN MAINE
Portland’s locavore scene has blossomed in recent years, as evidenced by all the Food Network shout-outs. Among the most buzzed about is Farmer’s Table (205 Commercial Street; 207-347-7479; farmerstablemaine.com), which offers nice terrace views of the harbor. The owner and chef Jeff Landry gets his vegetables from area gardens and serves dishes like beef short ribs ($24.95) from grass-fed cows reared on a nearby farm. Or try Caiola’s (58 Pine Street; 207-772-1110; caiolas.com), a locals’ favorite where the chef Abby Harmon serves Mediterranean fare.
3) INDIE PLAYGROUND
Live music anchors Portland’s night life. The State Theater (609 Congress Street; statetheatreportland.com), a Depression-era movie house with a Moorish-style interior that closed in 2006, is scheduled to reopen in October as a concert hall. For now, music buffs make their way to the Port City Music Hall (504 Congress Street; 207-899-4990; portcitymusichall.com), a club glitzy by Portland standards that opened last year and even lifts a velvet rope for its V.I.P.’s. A younger, more relaxed crowd flocks to Space Gallery (538 Congress Street; 207-828-5600; space538.org), scruffy art space by day and indie rock music spot by night.
4) SUBURBAN BAGELS
Across a drawbridge lies South Portland, a suburb of bungalows and quiet beaches. But the sweetest reason to visit is the Scratch Baking Co. (416 Preble Street, South Portland; 207-799-0668; scratchbakingco.com), a bakery on Willard Square that makes oven-fresh muffins, scones and sourdough bagels ($1.25). Get there before 9 a.m., as the bagels run out fast. Then snag a spot on Willard Beach, a patch of rocky sand with views of the coast.
5) FREE ISLAND
The free spirit of Peaks Island, part of the archipelago that surrounds Portland, is evident the moment you step off the ferry. If no one is manning Brad and Wyatt’s (115 Island Avenue; 207-766-5631), a bike rental place housed in a dusty shack, drop some money into the honor-system box ($5 an hour). Then cruise the rocky coastline for the stuff of Maine legend: gorgeous lighthouses, osprey swooping off the surf. The island is pleasantly free of McMansions and private beaches. No wonder the natives tried unsuccessfully to secede from Portland a few years back.
A collective moan could be heard when the Public Market, a hangar-size hall run by Maine farmers and fishermen, shuttered in 2006. Luckily, some of those same vendors pooled their resources and opened a scaled-back version on Monument Square. Occupying a building from the mid-1800s, the Public Market House (28 Monument Square; 207-228-2056; publicmarkethouse.com) is stocked with bread, cheeses, Maine produce and micro-beer. Last winter, the market expanded into a loft filled with secondhand couches and food stalls, including Peanut Butter Jelly Time (207-712-2408; pbjtime.net), which serves variations of one thing ($3.50), and Kamasouptra (207-415-6692; kamasouptra.com), which makes hearty soups like grilled cheese and tomato ($5.50).
7) VINTAGE MAINE
The maze of stores lining the Old Port, the historic warehouse district, can get predictable. But there are several newcomers that feel more Brooklyn Flea than L. L. Bean. Case in point is Madgirl World (275 Commercial Street; 207-322-3900; madgirlworld.com), a quirky studio where Meredith Alex recycles skateboards and Barbie dolls into jewelry and funky, eco-friendly dresses. The restroom doubles as a space for monthly art installations. And Ferdinand’s (243 Congress Street; 207-761-2151; ferdinandhomestore.com), which merged with Pinecone+Chickadee in June, carries hand-made goods, vintage fashions, novelty cards and jewelry — all under the same roof.
8) HILLTOP SHOPS
Munjoy Hill used to feel like Boston’s Southie: a working-class Irish district. Now it looks more like Notting Hill, with a grassy promenade that overlooks the water and sophisticated establishments like Rosemont Market & Bakery (88 Congress Street; 207-773-7888; rosemontmarket.com), which sells fresh breads and sandwiches, and Angela Adams (273 Congress Street; 207-774-3523; angelaadams.com), a design store that sells perky home furnishings like colorful trays and pillows.
9) DIVINE DINING
Anchovy truffle butter? The foodie scene is old news here. The latest in Portland’s dining scene is reclaimed architecture. A rundown gas station was recently converted into El Rayo Taqueria (101 York Street; 207-780-8226; elrayotaqueria.com), a Mexican cafe with yellow picnic tables. And the old Portland Savings Bank became Sonny’s (83 Exchange Street; 207-772-7774; sonnysportland.com), a Latin-themed restaurant. But the finest example of this culinary invasion is Grace (15 Chestnut Street; 207-828-4422; restaurantgrace.com), a New American restaurant that opened last year in an 1850s Gothic Revival-style church. There is something divine about drinking next to the nave, or gorging on goat cheese gnocchi ($19) surrounded by stained-glass windows.
10) BOWL FOR KICKS
The bars along Wharf Street can get pretty fratty. For a more memorable evening, roll across town to Bayside Bowl (58 Alder Street; 207-791-2695; baysidebowl.com), a 12-lane bowling alley that opened this summer. Even if bowling isn’t your thing, you can knock back a few pints of Shipyard ale ($4) at the sleek bar, which draws a mostly young crowd with tattoos and tie-dyed shirts. Novare Res (4 Canal Plaza; 207-761-2437; novareresbiercafe.com) is a festive beer garden with long beechwood tables and more than 300 beers that feels more Munich than Maine.
11) THE MAIL RUN
Schooner tours and lobster boat rides can be touristy, not to mention pricey. A better way to cruise around scenic Casco Bay is the mail ferry — a courier fleet that hops around five of the islands. The ferry is run by Casco Bay Lines (56 Commercial Street; 207-774-7871; cascobaylines.com) and departs twice a day from the main ferry terminal. The loop, which costs $14.50, takes three hours, so pack a lunch.
12) FERMENTED FUN
Mead, or fermented honey, may have gone out of fashion in, oh, the 16th century, but the Maine Mead Works (200 Anderson Street; 207-773-6323; mainemeadworks.com) is bringing mead back. The honey winery opened in 2008 in a gritty warehouse on the edge of town and resembles a mad chemist’s garage with tanks and tubes everywhere. Next door is the Urban Farm Fermentory (200 Anderson Street, Bay 4; 207-653-7406), a vertical farm that offers seminars on pickling, unconventional ciders and eco-friendly mulching. It’s another example of how Portland can’t seem to get enough of recycling.
IF YOU GO
Numerous airlines including Delta, JetBlue and Continental fly nonstop to Portland from New York. According to a recent Web search, JetBlue had round-trip fares starting at about $169 for travel this month. Portland is about a five-hour drive from New York.
The Danforth (163 Danforth Street; 207-879-8755; danforthmaine.com), is an inn that dates back to the early 1800s. It is under new management and has refurbished its nine rooms last year. Ask to see the vintage pool room downstairs. Rooms start at $195.