The Francis on upper Congress Street is one of Portland’s newest hotels. The 15-room property is named for architect Francis Fassett, who designed the brick mansion in 1881 as a home for Mellen E. Bolster. It has been renovated with modern amenities while retaining its period charm. I am greeted upon arrival by Tony Delois, who co-owns the hotel with his brothers Nate and Jake, along with Jeff Harder. We take a tour of the first floor and are shown to our sleek and comfortable room, which is decorated with photographs by local photographer Nicole Wolf. My fiancé Sarah Mather arrives and we get settled in.
We have reservations at David’s in Monument Square, where we are meeting my colleague Chris Kast and his husband Byron Bartlett for dinner. To accompany our perfectly mixed cocktails, we start with two of chef David Turin’s signature appetizers, yellowfin tuna tartare and steak tartare. A creature of habit, I once again enjoy the consistently excellent open-faced seafood “ravioli” with Maine lobster, day-boat scallops, and white tiger shrimp, with a rich sherry-lobster cream sauce.
After dinner we still have a little room left for dessert. We stop at Nosh, which is famous for unique and over-the-top takes on burgers and desserts. We order the Buttercrunch Burger—Gifford’s vanilla ice cream and vanilla frosting studded with Pocky sticks and bits of Butterfinger candy bars on a brioche bun. Now we are full and it’s time to call it a night.
We have a great day planned so I sneak out for a coffee just across Congress Street at Tandem Coffee and Bakery, located in a former gas station. It has the greatest breakfast nook, awesome baked goods, and a chill, modern vibe.
I have been trying to convince Sarah to come to Float Harder for weeks, and finally, we have an appointment to experience the benefits of floating in the facility owned by husband and wife James and Amy Harder on Washington Avenue. I find floating in a pod of highly salinated, body-temperature water super relaxing and rejuvenating, and I urge anyone who’s skeptical to try it.
After a float we are starving and head to Hot Suppa for brunch. The rumors are true that the Bloody Marys are divine, and the energy at this local favorite does not disappoint.
Having chilled out and chowed down, we are ready for a self-guided walking tour of the West End using the guide available online from Greater Portland Landmarks. It includes more than two-dozen historic homes—many designed by famed architect John Calvin Stevens—and other sites, some of which we admire from the car, given the cold. Even on a winter day, the architecture and views from the Western Promenade are just beautiful.
For lunch, we’ve decided to check out a new spot in town, The Highroller Lobster Company in the Old Port, where we meet up with my colleagues Kevin Thomas and Lisa Belisle. HRLC serves local brews and some outstanding takes on Maine’s famed lobster. I opt for the lobster grilled cheese and a beer from Cushnoc Brewing Co. in Augusta, both of which are excellent.
Since we’re in the Old Port, it’s a good opportunity to do some shopping. Our first stop is Portland Trading Co., where we run into the friendly owner Kazeem Shina Lawal. I’m a fan of the shop’s fine clothing, and on this visit, I find a fun pair of Moose-themed slippers. Next, we pop across the street to The Portland Art Gallery, where we fall in love with a piece from Maine artist Allen Bunker. We then head back to The Francis for a late afternoon nap before dinner.
In addition to rooms and a spa, The Francis also has a charming restaurant with a bar and lounge, Bolster, Snow & Co. Chef Nick Verdisco is a veteran of some top-notch places and it shows in his excellent food. The service is equally good, and we feel well cared-for. We’ve had a busy day, so, grateful for the short walk between the restaurant and our room, we turn in early.
After checking out of The Francis, we wonder what to do for brunch and decide to hit Thompson’s Point. We settle in at Stroudwater Distilling, where we order food from Big J’s Chicken Shack next door. Our first-rate Bloody Marys are a perfect accompaniment to the fried chicken, Mexican street corn, and other fun food.
We have a blast watching the games and enjoying the company. Before heading out I pop into Bissell Brothers to grab a case of their popular beer, Substance, for my friends. It’s a fitting end to a relaxed weekend.