How Portland, Maine Keeps Getting Cooler

There's a lot more than lobster rolls and L.L. Bean totes.

In the last few years, as the city's various industrial no man’s lands have given way to breweries, speakeasies, concert venues, and upscale boutiques, Portland, Maine has become New England at its prime: innovation without the altered skyline, urban culture without the traffic jams, seaside charm with all the lobster and only some of the knick-knacks. Best part is: You can do it all on foot.

Yes, the city’s been a food town for a while, since Eventide rolled in with its 18 varieties of oysters and lobster rolls on steamed Chinese buns, Duckfat got famous for its eponymously fried Maine potatoes, and The Holy Donut revolutionized a breakfast food (get there early, ask for chocolate sea salt). The latest additions maintain the unexpected. Lazzari, the long-awaited wood fired pizza project from the guys behind the popular Taco Escobarr, opened in June with solid pies, strong drinks (grapefruit-infused gin makes for a perfect Negroni) while The Honey Paw, purveyors of New England-inspired pan-Asian communal dining from the owners of Eventide, has introduced brunch, including a standout scrapple and tamago breakfast sandwich (don’t question, just eat). Power carb at East Ender, where food truck success stories Karl Deuben and Bill Leavy serve up pork belly chili cheese fries and handmade pastas. Indeed: Portland loves its food trucks, and many have lately set up permanent digs, including Lebanese food truck CN Shawarma’s brick and mortar Baharat in the up-and-coming East Bayside neighborhood and Mami, an izakaya in the Old Port. Also worth a chase: the elusive Highroller Lobster Co., two mustachioed gourmands and their lobster rolls on wheels.

For decent live music, and more food trucks, Thompson’s Point presents the best of the State Theatre’s roster in an open-air space on the banks of the Fore River (on the bill for 2017: Wilco, Fleet Foxes, Glass Animals). Also on site is a circus school, cryptozoology museum (the world’s only, can you believe), a coworking makerspace, and nano-brewery Bissell Brothers. The Old Port neighborhood, anchored by the legendary Gritty McDuff’s, practically invented the bar crawl but the new destination for brewery-hopping is East Bayside—nicknamed “Yeast Bayside”—home to Lone Pine Brewing, Rising Tide Brewing Co., Maine Craft Distilling, and Urban Farm Fermentory, which features 22 rotating taps of beer, cider, kombucha, cider, and—why not—mead. In June, Blyth and Burrows opened with two bars on two levels, an oyster pit, and a maritime vibe, with drinks inspired by the trade routes of War of 1812 naval officers Blyth and Burrows (but of course!).

Two hotel debuts have vied for the title of Portland’s “first boutique hotel.” Located in the former HQ of the Portland Press Herald, The Press Hotel combines high design and local art with spot-on hospitality (the lobby café swings from coffee shop to cocktail den depending on time of day). Across town, the Danforth Inn, an 1823 hotel renovated under new ownership, brought upscale Indonesian food to town with Tempo Dulu, and dumplings with new Shanghai speakeasy Opium. For something cozier and more well-lit, book with innkeepers Erin and Landon Bartek at the intimate Pomegranate Inn, a modern B&B.And while there are still plenty of stripes and totes to be found, you’re just as likely to leave town with an Ulla Johnson jumpsuit or Black Crane tee from Judith, or a pair of Maryam Nassir Zadeh shoes and a Laura Manoogian cardigan from Black Parrot (or, like us, all of the above). Find a mix of vintage posters, brass oyster bottle openers, handcrafted Pallarès knives, and indie magazines at Portland Trading Co., not to be confused with Portland Dry Goods Co., also worth a visit for men’s and women’s brands (A.P.C., Lizzie Fortunato) that blend just the right amount of nautical and worker-chic. The store has also just begun dabbling in the music biz, coproducing an album with Maine musician Spencer Albee, whose albums line the walls. Blanche & Mimi has endless treasures for the home design-obsessed, including one-of-a-kind summer-weight quilts from India, vintage barware, and hand-painted pottery, plus a small but perfect selection of kids’ clothes and gifts, and Pinecone + Chickadee offers the owners’ own line of cheeky silkscreened textiles and paper goods as well as ‘80s-era books and curios. But a trip to Portland is not complete without a visit to Encore, Rita Prout Farley’s Arts District institution of three decades and one of the largest, and best-kept, selections of vintage for men and women throughout New England—still. Get in on it, all of it, while you can.