Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

Lobstah And Crafts! A Summertime Guide To Portland (The Real One, In Maine)

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Portland, Maine, was my first city. I grew up outside it, in Cape Elizabeth, so I always think I know it, but every time I go home, I find it slowly turning into a better place than I remembered, maybe even the place I’ll want to return to someday. What I loved about Portland growing up is still true: there are lots of bookstores, especially used ones, old bars and vintage shops that are nearly junk shops. It is still quiet, with beautiful skies, and the ocean on three sides. But now there's also excellent locavore food culture, local coffee culture, local breweries. We used to dread attempts at food more foreign than what we called “Italian,” and now there are open-air bars with Belgian beer and mussels right from the coast side by side with some amazing new ramen joint. Now when I come home, I love to see my mom, but I also make plans for dinner out most nights.

Most people who come to Maine drive right to the beach. Growing up, I always found this to be a little funny—it’s still very cold—but when it’s hot out, I will say, it’s a pleasure to throw yourself in.

The real motto of the state of Maine isn’t on the flag: “Preservation through neglect.” Translation: “Money has never ruined us because it has never been here.” Most of the old buildings you see are there because no one has bothered to tear them down, and, as the owner will usually tell you, they were built to last. This is also a way to say Maine was abandoned financially after the Great Depression, one of a few states that didn’t receive federal reconstruction aid, and it was also one of the first to be hit hard by outsourcing—I grew up with empty factories that used to be full. Now they’re waiting to be your next amazing project in a post-industrial space.

It was and still is also a summer home to the rich, mostly along the coast, though Rangeley up north is another enclave—and there are vast estates where many of the old-money families in this country vacation or live year-round. But you rarely see them except sometimes in these beautiful new restaurants.

Portland is the biggest city in Maine, located on the southern coast, about an hour over the border from New Hampshire. It isn’t the capital—it’s the cultural capital, the New York City of Maine, as it were. So it is, yes, where we gays and our friends come down out of the woods to live and make culture, along with beautiful furniture, hair and food. Stonewall Kitchen, for example, one of the state’s big success stories in recent times, is named for the Stonewall Riots had one of the sweetest beginnings you can imagine. (When I go to Portland, if I drive up, I like to stop at their flagship store on the way, and take in the LL Bean of jams, mustards and housewares (they have a Portland location too).

What never changes is the strangely witchy feeling to the city, as if the sorrow of every sea captain’s wife who waited for a captain to return mixed with the smoke of the fires that burned the city to the ground four times have combined and left a tint on everything, no matter how sunny it is. A kind of spiritual Instagram. Most of the buildings stop at about four stories, so the sky feels big overhead. It’s a good place to sit with a whiskey or a coffee and smell the sea breeze and read a book. And then when you stand up, here are some things to do.

1. To get there: If you drive, rent a car, or drive in your own, and enter the state on Route 95, though try to avoid the 3 p.m. Friday traffic into the state and the 3 p.m. traffic on Sunday on the way out. For a bus, buy one of many inexpensive bus tickets available, including some express options. If you fly in, Jetblue, if booked ahead, can be cheaper than many other ways of getting there, and flies out of NYC. Or take the Amtrak from Boston North Station.

The Amtrak route north is peculiar but worth it—the Maine route being the single Amtrak route that is profitable, the stations are very clean, cleaner than most things in the United States, and the quality of snacks in the café is much higher. Shipyard Beer is served, for example. But this line does not connect to the lower lines. You’ll have to transfer from South Station by subway or taxi, which is easy to do. If you don’t know this, and you try to book passage from south of Boston, you’ll find the Amtrak site will act strangely, and this is why.

2. The major hotels in Portland are disappointing. I would suggest renting, either apartments or houses. This is especially true if you rent on one of the islands and come into town on the ferry or by water taxi. It’s very affordable, and you’ll likely get something much nicer than the chain hotels in town. There are also a few terrific B&Bs, like the Inn at St. John, the Carleton Inn and the Pomegranate Inn. Right in Portland, the neighborhoods you’ll want most are the East End and the West End, and the Old Port (if you don’t mind the noise at night).

3. The International Cryptozoology Museum… do I need to say more than “P. T. Barnum’s FeeJee Island Mermaid”? She is there now, on exhibit, along with an amazing fiberglass ceolocanth and a life-size model Big Foot, and much, much more. The museum is right next to the Green Hand Bookstore, a very fine used bookstore, where I can easily browse for two hours. A beautiful afternoon can be spent between these two places, with a ramen lunch at Pai Men Miyake nearby.

4. A runner’s path circumnavigates the town. I’ve never used it as I personally loathe running, but my runner friends always return happy. I aspire one day to use it. In any case, running is a big deal up here.

5. Portland is surrounded by abandoned Naval bases and they are often hidden in the woods of many of the islands and a few of the towns nearby, like Great Diamond, Cushing and House Island. One of the most striking is in plain sight in Casco Bay, Fort Gorges—with granite walls rising right out of the water, gun slits that you can see through to the other side and a beautifully overgrown sod roof, it was the mystical villain hideout base fantasy of my childhood dreams.

As you pull into Diamond Cove, everyone is jealous of the guy who bought and converted this abandoned naval bunker into a summer house.

You can visit Fort Gorges (pictured in very top photo), due to stone spikes set in the water around it that still deter boats, but you can pass by it safely and see it from the Casco Bay Ferries that leave daily from their Commercial Street location. And in general, any chance to get on a boat in Maine should be taken. The harbor cruises are always very soothing to me for some reason. (Updated to add: You can visit by kayak or small boat (and you should! it sounds fun!). Sorry about that.)

Great Diamond is open to visitors by the ferry or boat, but House Island is privately owned and requires reservations. House Island was once called the Ellis Island of the North, and was also a place new immigrants were sometimes quarantined. The tour of the island and Fort Scammel, is terrific, especially if you like walking through abandoned naval bases underground (yes, I like this). I’ve been coming here since I was a child. Highly recommended: Tour groups can arrange for a lobster bake in the old whaling camp there as well, complete with chowder, lobster, and corn on the cob served on those gingham table clothes. And yes, it is an ideal place for a wedding.

6. Every time I come to Portland I go to Fore Street for dinner. In the time since I grew up here in the 70s and early 80s, Portland has become a serious food town, and Fore Street is the king of the scene, a beautiful restaurant in a post-industrial space with an open kitchen and a commitment to locally grown foods, plus a view of the waterfront. They have their own kitchen garden, for example, and trusted providers for their seafood and meats. Call ahead for a reservation but if you don’t get one, don’t lose hope: the restaurant saves a particular number of tables for walk-ins, and if you show up at 5 and ask for a reservation in person, you can get one. Do not try to call and force this one over the phone—they will not be having you. If you can’t get in at the restaurant, the bar is my favorite anyway—the bartenders are incredibly nice and knowledgeable, and you can order the entire food menu from there anyway. Also, it is marginally quieter than the rest of the restaurant. This is a great option for that table-for-one diner like me, who comes in with a book and just wants to eat something amazing while I read.

They do a spectacular job with their fish, and in particular, I like to come in and order oysters, a martini and their version of a lobster roll. Fore Street was on the Gourmet Top 500 Restaurants in the US, back when Gourmet existed as a magazine, and this restaurant stands up against all comers.

7. If even the idea of a martini makes you angry, and you just want to sit outside and drink a good beer in the summer, well, there are several places for that. Novare Res is the newest and I think the best one, a beer garden located just off of the Old Port Exchange, with lots of terrific microbrews and old-school Belgians, and some excellent pub food. A great place for lunch or just watching the sun set. If Belgian beer makes you angry, hit J’s Oyster Bar, right on the water, for Guiness pints and oysters for 1.00 a piece (this was as of summer 2011, prices may vary).

8. And if it’s a whiskey you want, with a view of a graveyard, please go to the Snug, on the East end of Congress Street.

9. If you, like me, now require slow coffee and need those beautiful swirled leaves on your latte or cappuccino, Bard Coffee on Middle Street is the place for this.

10. If you need fried clams or steamers out where no one will find you, Benny’s Fried Clams is one of my favorite seafood shacks, located on an otherwise empty part of Commercial Street near the water.

11. Some notes on neighborhoods: The Old Port is one of the main shopping and dining areas of the city. It can get overwhelming in the summer, but this is where you go for street life, a t-shirt with a lobster, an old map of the area, handmade pottery, wi-fi, you name it. It is, to be clear, heavily populated with Tourists. Portland’s hipster enclaves, with their nice cafes, bars and restaurants, are located in the West End, around Brackett Street and Congress, and the East End, near Congress and the Eastern Promenade.

The Eastern and Western Promenade offer incredible views and architecture also, though the West end was typically a wealthier neighborhood historically—the ancient brownstone mansions over here are much as they’ve always been. For one that is open to the public, try the Victoria Mansion, open to the public, one of four historic house museums in Portland.

12. Some other restaurant standouts: Bresca, a bit of the opposite of Fore Street in ambience—this place has about five tables. But the chef is as at home with those foams and jellies as she is with your basic fois-gras-driven crowd-pleasers, and the menu is always interesting; Caoila’s is probably the place you want to go to for brunch, but it is good at any time and has outdoor seating; Duckfat, which sounds like a gimmick and kind of is but what a beautiful, wonderfully executed gimmick, especially when you have the French fries with their housemade ketchup; Street & Co. has an epic Lobster Diavolo that cannot be beat, if you like that whole spicy marinara with fresh pasta and a lobster in the pan sort of thing; Bonobo Pizza, right near Caoila’s (together, with Aurora Provisions, they have created a small hipster enclave around them), has many satisfying pizza options, prepared in a brick oven and with a great beer and wine selection; and then for Japanese food that makes use of the fresh fish locally, there’s Miyake, for sushi, and their sister restaurant, the aforementioned Pai Men Miyake, for ramen. Also recommended: make a reservation at Diamond’s Edge in Diamond Cove on Great Diamond Island, take the ferry over for the dinner seating, ride back on the ferry at the end. There’s a water taxi if you stay too late and miss the ferry. George H. W. Bush likes to stop by here for dinner or drinks. If you see him, be sure to smile and say, “Hey murderer, how’s your murderer son?” Or whatever greeting you might favor.

13. Portland is home to a tiny comics scene—The Mutant Ninja Turtles guys were hanging out here when I was growing up—and Casablanca Comics is the center of it today, one of the best comics shops I’ve ever been to, nationally, and I’m serious. Comics shops are either terrifyingly messy or terrifyingly organized, and Casablanca falls into “nicely organized” somehow—it is reassuring and not scary. If you’re sick of what you brought to read and so is your small reading-age child, come here and be satisfied, or head up to Longfellow Books, located on Longfellow Monument Square, a few blocks west, a fine independent bookstore with a terrific used books collection.

14. While in Monument Square, consider ducking into Longfellow House and visiting his restored house and garden, as well as the incredibly nice people at the Maine Historical Society, located there also. If you're looking to research your historical novel, or your family’s history in the state, the facilities are well-maintained and the staff is incredibly helpful—though call ahead for research appointments.

15. The Portland Museum of Art is a terrific small museum with some important collections of American artists with strong ties to the state, including three generations of Wyeths, Winslow Homer and, one of my favorites, Marsden Hartley.

16. Portland has no beaches, per se, though you can sometimes watch the seals from the Eastern Promenade. The island beaches are often though not always rocky. The water is, I won’t lie, very cold, though I’m used to it—you may not do much swimming up here without a wetsuit or a swimshirt. For excellent white sand beaches, head out to neighboring towns Cape Elizabeth and Scarborough, to Crescent Beach, Higgins Beach and Scarborough Beach. And for bonus points, hit Two Lights State Park in Cape Elizabeth as you go, as well as the Lobster Shack, located there. The Lobster Shack is one of the finest iterations of this kind of eating, and is located near a lighthouse on a rocky point facing the Atlantic. In other words, the view is amazing, so it would be worth it even if the food was only ok, but the food’s better than that. Get the lobster roll or a steamed lobster*, fried clams, the chowder and anything blueberry. Their fries are really excellent too. Grab many handiwipes. Don’t feed the seagulls.

* As for those famous lobsters: you used to be able to pull lobsters out of the surf in the 1960s. This was before they were a delicacy, and were so available they were called “poor man’s steak." You can’t do this anymore. Also, if you decide to freelance and open up someone else’s lobster trap thinking “free lobster,” it's still legal for the owner to shoot you in the act.

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Previously: A Minnesota Nice Guide To The Twin Cities

Alexander Chee is a novelist, short story writer and essayist, and contributes to The Morning News, Paris Review Daily, Granta, NPR Books and now, The Awl. He lives in New York and blogs at Koreanish. Skyline photo by eflon; Fore Street photo by mediafury; all others by author.

61 Comments / Post A Comment

camelface (#4,600)

very disappointed by the sentence "A kind of spiritual Instagram."

@camelface It's like someone said "you're the best racist in history!" and actually meant it as a compliment.

Moxie (#81,363)


C_Webb (#855)


HereKitty (#2,713)

@C_Webb Yes, yes, 1,000 times yes!

jolie (#16)

I woke up this morning GRIPPED with the most intense need to be in Maine RIGHT THIS INSTANT. This isn't helping!

Aunt Ada Doom (#233,814)

@jolie RIGHT THIS INSTANT it kind of got cloudy. If you had a time machine to last weekend, though… That was some good stuff.

Limaceous (#2,392)

@jolie I know what you mean! Last weekend I bought plane tickets to Bangor so I can spend the fourth of July in [name of small town redacted]. I just wish it wasn't so far away (in time and space).

Killerpants (#233,856)

@jolie Jolie, the sun is back out! You should come here, it is lovely! And I've been making my bed since LAMOB month in your honor…

Killerpants (#233,856)

@Killerpants Ok, that wasn't meant to sound creepy about beds. I just meant, you know, at least one bed here is made on a regular basis, so that's a plus. Anyway, moving along…

jolie (#16)

@Killerpants It didn't sound creepy! And YAY! I love that you all are still LA-ing your MOBs! (That makes no sense but we'll go with it.)

I mean, if you want creepy do feel free to take a gander at my Hairpin gmail folder. It's terrifying in there.

Killerpants (#233,856)

@jolie Oh my, I can only imagine what's in that folder. Yowza.

Bittersweet (#765)

The first time we put my daughter, then aged 2, in the surf at Sand Beach on Long Island, she burst into tears. The water is COLD, people!

C_Webb (#855)

@Bittersweet Best hangover cure EVAR.

tomme (#4,473)

Love to see a little hometown bump on the Awl, although your over-ranking of Fore Street (aka the sucker's bet, "come eat with all the other 212's!") and misspelling of Janice's fine oyster bar make me question your bona fides. You redeemed yourself with Rogue's and Novare. Also Miyake is not sushi, it's a religious experience.

alexanderchee (#3,995)

@tomme Thanks Tomme. My family's lived in Maine for over 300 years, so, that for your bonafides comment, but yes, I did misspell J's. Thanks. Will fix.

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

@tomme Didn't you hear? No one can spell anything.

tomme (#4,473)

@alexanderchee Meant as a jibe. Anything more than 3 generations and you're in the clear, right? (No longer "from away") Still happy to see the piece.

E (#14,552)

@tomme Time for my Mainer joke! My Mainer grandparents always told this one. No one else I know in the world finds it funny, except people from Maine over the age of 50.

A woman marries a man from Maine and moves back with him to his hometown. Everyone treats her as an outsider. They have kids. The kids grow up, they marry local kids, have more kids. It's 30 years later and she's still being treated like a newcomer. In frustration she vents to her mother in law. She says, "I've lived here for 30 years. Your son is from here, our kids are from here! Why do people still treat me like an outsider!"

Her mother in law looks at her calmly and says, "That cat over theah had heah kittens in the oven. But we don't call them biscuits."

AHA HA HAHA. So funny when my gram told it. That was the meanest burn she knew.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

@E You are forcing me to research whether it's even possible to resubscribe to Down East.

Aunt Ada Doom (#233,814)

@E The local who sold us our land told it, but it was "Just cause the cat had her kittens in the oven doesn't make em muffins." Still never gets old.

riotnrrd (#840)

I was born and grew up in Maine and my parents have owned and lived in their house there since the late 60's. The neighbors still call it the "old Miller place", which was the owner before the owners before my parents.

SidAndFinancy (#4,328)

@E: Retold here: http://www.amazon.com/Inside-New-England-Judson-Hale/dp/0060913142

Great book, for anyone interested in New England history, folklore, etc. Even Mainiacs.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

Was NOT expecting to see Fort Gorges when I clicked over. Yeah, Maine is terrible, you don't actually want to leave Brooklyn to see it, forget it, move along, etc etc. (There's REALLY really nothing to see on House Island, Peaks, Great Diamond, etc.) (Panic setting in) (Some things should remain secret)

hurleyburley (#1,280)

This is great! My family's been in Maine a long time too, and I just discovered Novare Res and Miyake last summer. Can't wait to try your other recs and send along to everyone.

Maevemealone (#968)

Ahhh my old boss lived on Great Diamond and enjoyed the glorious commute of water taxi, land taxi, airplane, to get to work every week. If his fridge was empty, he'd jump in the canoe and catch a fish for lunch. It always sounded like some kind of Brigadoon overrun with lolling fat Labradors and dancing lobstahs.

SidAndFinancy (#4,328)
Kate Baum@facebook (#194,044)

@SidAndFinancy Yes! Yes yes!!

akamarkman@twitter (#233,810)

Tips from a Mainer: The Great Lost Bear & Flatbread Pizza. Take Amtrak and stop @ Old Orchard Beach on the way back.

BadUncle (#153)

I love Portland in the fall, when sun sets at like 2 in the afternoon, and, hence cocktails. On the other hand, I tended to end up at some fisherman's bar called Popeye's, where I'd get to hear about the latest high seas deaths and dismemberments.

bzz_bzz (#233,812)

There are so many errors in your article. Have you really ever been to Portland? I was born and raised in Portland. Allow me….

*Firstly, You CAN visit Fort Gorges and there are no stone spikes that you speak of. It is owned by the city of Portland and visits are encouraged. You can pull a boat or kayak up at high tide.
*Longfellow Books is not in Longfellow Square. It is in Monument Square about a half mile down Congress Street (big difference). Longfellow House is also not in Longfellow Square.
*There is no relation/shared ownership of Aurora and Bonobo.
*Did you seriously just recommend the Inn at St John St?? Are you sure you have been to Portland before? This is the dumpiest hotel in the seediest section of town. I doubt someone from Cape Elizabeth has even stepped foot in The Inn at St John St.
* I don't know a single Mainer who has ever visited Benny's Fried Clams. It's basically located next to a highway off ramp. How about mentioning the Portland Lobster Company?
*Fore Street does not have their own "kitchen garden". They source from local farms.

There is more to Portland than boat rides and restaurants. How about some mention of the huge arts scene? Local beaches?

I could go on, but I don't want to waste my time.

Kate Baum@facebook (#194,044)

@bzz_bzz this. this. this. this. this.

bshep (#746)

@bzz_bzz yeah I've visited Fort Gorges a couple of times, in a small boat. It's a ton of fun to explore.

alexanderchee (#3,995)

@bzz_bzz Uh, I struck a spike, while on a sailboat, growing up there. Thanks for the correction about Longfellow books, though. And good to know about the Fort. Benny's is awesome. Fore Street does have a garden as well as sourcing from local farms.

alexanderchee (#3,995)

@bzz_bzz Also, yes, Inn at St. John growing up was in tough shape. It's been redone: http://innatstjohn.com/

DillyBean (#233,823)

@alexanderchee It may have been redone but it's still not in a particularly safe area. There's a fair amount of drug dealing and prostitution around there. But other parts of Portland are fantastic! I love Portland! I just wouldn't tell people to stay there.

alexanderchee (#3,995)

@DillyBean Oh, good to know. Thanks. That's too bad for them.

Kate Baum@facebook (#194,044)

Also, consider visiting The Salt Exchange on commercial for dinner, it's delicious. I also like The Corner Room, Front Room and Grill Room. And if you're looking for a classy place to have a drink at night, Grace is where it's at, although the food is, IMO, overpriced for dinner, their bar menu is delicious and reasonable. Another favorite spot for summer fun is El Rayo Taqueria, or for some fancier Mexican, check out Zapoteca. Another fave? Nosh Kitchen Bar, with their bacon dusted fries, are to die for. Lastly but certainly not least(ly?), please visit Otto pizza for post-drinks munchies. Pulled Pork and Mango is my fave, but everyone else loves Mashed Potatoes and Chives.

C_Webb (#855)


According to Passport Magazine, the thing about the Stonewall riots is not true: http://www.passportmagazine.com/businessclass/StonewallKitchen.php?singlepage=yes

I grew up in Stonewall Kitchen territory, and the "they named it after the riots because they're gay!" rumor popped up very quickly. It does sound pretty plausible, and I never thought to look it up until I was writing a paper about the riots this past year.

alexanderchee (#3,995)

@Ten Thousand Buckets It was in their first catalogues. Perhaps they changed their minds?

@alexanderchee Haha, maybe?

I was just a kid when they came to town, so I don't remember much, just my sister telling me the guys who ran it were totally (gasp!) gay because "Stonewall has something to do with gay people."

Brunhilde (#1,225)

I really need to start referring to Portland as Fake Portland when I head down there. Not-Real Portland? Imaginary Portland? Sweet-and-Low Portland?

Julie the T (#214,946)

@Brunhilde (if the article mentioned this, apologies) Portland, Oregon was named after Portland, Maine! true story.

Brunhilde (#1,225)

@Julie the T I actually knew that. My mom's family lives in Bangor.

Julie the T (#214,946)

@Brunhilde oh cool! my dad's from Portland and I went to school in Brunswick. I heart Maine so hard. if there were more jobs there I'd move in a heartbeat.

rich bachelor (#8,586)

@Julie the T : It was renamed as the result of a coin toss. The two early leaders of The Only Portland That Matters (sorry Chee: you started it) involved were from Portland, Maine and Boston, Mass. So we could have been named 'Boston,' but we weren't. This, in a state that is home to Sparta, Sumpter, Salem, Springfield and (best of all) Kansas City, Oregon.

Brunhilde (#1,225)

@rich bachelor Not to mention Albany, Harrisburg, Lebanon, Newport, and Springfield. Oregon isn't big on original city names.

rich bachelor (#8,586)

@Brunhilde and Pittsburgh, and Selma, and Richmond, and…

I sincerely hope visitors to Portland aren't going to be using this as a guide, or they will be very confused when they can find neither Longfellow House nor Longfellow Books in Longfellow Square. And then they will be confused when looking for the harbor from the deck of Novare.

Also, you seem so interested in "hipster enclaves" that you mention them twice, and yet you don't even mention the art galleries (First Friday Art Walk!) or the phenomenal music scene in Portland. Maybe try visiting the city again before you write a guide. Or just get one of those tourist maps, they'll tell you what's in Longfellow Square.

alexanderchee (#3,995)

@Rebecca Minnick@facebook We've fixed the location, thanks. As a child, it always confused me that Longfellow Square was not the place where Longfellow house was. My memory of Novare Res is not that it is on the harbor, but I thought I remembered being able to see further. I'm sure it was the beer.

wiilliiaamm (#225)

In the winter of 1997, I left NYC in a shower of crack cocaine, self loathing and the bits and pieces of a career that was mostly found below 14th st. I arrived, shellshocked, in Portland Me. and moved my fancy Manhattan ass into a brick apartment building behind a meat packing plant, run by natives of Laos, at the base of Munjoy Hill. Good loving friends from NYC would send me money to survive and always ask; "Why Portland Maine?". I didnt really know. Its just where I ended up. I had grown up some in New Hampshire and as a young gay kid would come up to the punk rock club that everybody knew about. But other wise–its was a place to go and shake off the crizazzee of the last 10 years of NYC. Anyways…I drank my self to bed everynight and during the day sat with my dog and stared out the window at the drug deals going on in my whitetrash ghetto ass neighbor hood. I live out West now and my life is a inhabited by a completely different person. I've been back to Portand and have had the experiences youve described in this wonderful piece.

quarterback (#3,775)

I like to think of Portland as Boston's drunk uncle from up north who visits once a year. But Beals is neat.

Kate Baum@facebook (#194,044)

@quarterback Funny, I think of Boston as Portland's whore sister who was president of a crappy sorority and used to be too popular for her own good who is almost 30 but tries to act like she's 22 while Portland is the chill grownup who still has fun but also, you know, lives a pretty balanced life and will maybe have a family or something. (not being offensive because boston is great but that's just what I think of!)

quarterback (#3,775)

@Kate Baum@facebook That's awesome. So accurate too.

skahammer (#587)

I think this sponsored article has achieved the impossible feat of attracting Every Single Type of Internet Commenter. I've got "meta" covered, and that just about finishes the entire list.

jmatt (#233,836)

My wife, 2yr old & I stayed at the Inn at St. Johns a few years ago and it was perfectly acceptable. Just a (relatively) short walk to downtown and the area was hardly scary to anyone who's lived in a larger city. And the cost was pretty reasonable—try to find a cheaper place in the city.

Now live in the fake Portland, and would love to relocate to the real one. I grew up in NH, lived in Boston for years, and have spent lots of time there—just a great place and way more interesting than the cutesy tourist-inundated Portsmouth, NH.

Novare Res a great place, awesome tap line-up, and J's is worth a visit as well. Allagash White on tap and a great atmosphere–though I've only been there when the tourists weren't flooding the place. Casco bay islands great too—used to go to a party every summer on Chebeague. Awesome.

lizzielou (#233,853)

I have to respond to the Inn at St John comments. My parents and my 87 year-old grandfather stay there every year when they visit my family for Christmas, and they love it. They've been staying there, on and off, for almost ten years. It's comfortable, safe, clean, friendly, and a little rough around the edges. Also, it allows dogs! A "not so safe part of town" in Portland, Maine does not mean what it means in bigger/other cities. This is a town with, like, three prostitutes. There's virtually no violent crime here. The neighborhood around the Inn at St John isn't Portland's most attractive (my parents like to call it "St John of the Bus Station"), but it's perfectly safe.

DillyBean (#233,823)

@lizzielou It's totally fine to have stayed there, and to have felt safe there. I lived in New York with drug dealers operating out of my lobby and I was fine! I agree that Portland is generally a safe place.

That said, my spouse is in law enforcement in Portland, and I would disagree with your claim that there's no violent crime or that there are like, three prostitutes. You may not be aware of it, but it is there.

Moxie (#81,363)

I'm also a little surprised not to see anything about Munjoy Hill in here.

LoganNC (#233,892)

I'm heading to Portland next month to go sailing with the Veterans Outward Bound program. This post is perfect! Can anyone recommend any good books about Portland or Maine in general? Or any books about sailing in Maine would be even better.

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