Walking into the recently renovated Portland Harbor Hotel, my husband Ted and I are immediately wowed. The mobile-like sculpture hanging in the entry stairwell glints in the sunlight, reminding me of a school of fish, which fits with the hotel’s new nautical vibe. The lobby resembles the living room of a stylish coastal Maine home, with a stately stone fireplace, navy blue walls, dark woodwork, and comfortable furniture upholstered in shades of navy and cream.
We’re a little early for check-in, and as much as we are tempted to sink into the soft sofa by the fire, we decide instead to take advantage of the day’s remaining sunlight and head for Liquid Riot Bottling Company a block away. It’s just warm enough to take a seat on the back deck of the restaurant/brewery/distillery, which overlooks a sliver of Portland Harbor. Liquid Riot’s Cannonball pale ale and a guilty-pleasure plate of poutine—skin-on fries, Pineland Farms cheese curds, mushroom-beer gravy, squash puree, and arugula—make a perfect afternoon snack as we watch the sun drop over the water.
Back at the hotel, we check into our stunning suite, which has a view of the hotel’s garden courtyard, a king bed, a spacious sitting area, and a sleek bathroom with a Jacuzzi tub. The nautical theme continues with the sophisticated decor; woven textile art on the wall over the bed resembles signal flags, and contemporary navy blue and white rugs soften the polished wooden floor. It’s hard to resist just settling in for the evening in the serene space.
We’ve made a reservation on the later side for dinner at the hotel’s new restaurant, BlueFin, giving us time for a drink at one of our favorite cold-weather haunts—the Armory Lounge at the nearby Portland Regency Hotel and Spa. Settled into wing chairs in the cozy, subterranean lounge, we sip classic cocktails—a Bees Knees for me and a Negroni Bianco for Ted—while trying to avoid nibbling too much of the Armory’s signature pub cheese and pretzels.
At BlueFin, we are warmly welcomed by Johann Avenarius, the Portland Harbor Hotel’s director of food and beverage, who relocated from Miami to oversee the revamped restaurant. Executive chef Tim Labonte’s skills shine at BlueFin, which, as its name suggests, focuses on North Atlantic seafood. I start with a deliciously earthy kale, chevre, and roasted tomato salad with pickled onion and a basil vinaigrette, while Ted goes for Labonte’s rendition of a classic— Caesar salad with shaved pecorino cheese, bacon, a balsamic-marinated egg, lemon, and anchovy vinaigrette. I can’t resist a crab cake, and Labonte’s, with spinach and cured lemon, grilled corn tartar sauce, and smoked paprika oil, is excellent. Ted is thrilled with the hunk of roasted cod on a bed of green goddess mashed potatoes, with broiled cauliflower and a piquant brined egg relish.
We forgo dessert for a stroll through the Old Port, stopping for a nightcap at Blyth and Burrows on Exchange Street, where owner Josh Miranda and bartenders Gigi Mall and Michael Gatlin greet us like old friends. The elegant and comfortable bar, named for two Maine ship captains killed in the War of 1812, has four distinct areas: a downstairs lounge with cushy velvet couches and subdued lighting, the main floor bar with large windows looking out to the street, an oyster bar up a few steps from the main floor, and a speakeasy-inspired, more casual bar accessed through a faux bookcase. We order two bourbon-based cocktails and finish the evening with some first-rate people watching before walking the short distance back to the hotel and collapsing into bed.
The hotel’s renovation included adding cool and convenient pantry areas on each floor, equipped with Starbucks touchscreen machines dispensing coffee, hot chocolate, and chai. Ted fetches us steaming mugs of coffee and we lounge on the sofa in our suite, in no rush to leave this cocoon.
Eventually, hunger pangs motivate us to pack up and check out, and we drive just a few blocks away to one of our favorite Portland brunch spots, the Porthole. A waterfront icon, the Porthole serves up plenty of local character along with generous portions and perfectly spicy Bloody Marys. Ted tucks into a small mountain of corned beef hash with poached eggs and I am content with a classic breakfast sandwich of egg, bacon, and cheese. It’s just the fortification we need for a chilly walk down the wharf to see the fleet of lobster boats at rest and fill our lungs with salty, slightly fish- scented air.
And then we’re off to the Portland Museum of Art, where we spend a leisurely hour or so taking in current exhibitions—Nan Goldin’s provocative photographs, and Model Citizens, which focuses on art and identity in the late eighteenth and
early nineteenth centuries—as well as work from 06 the permanent collections. I linger over Andrew Wyeth’s moody Raven’s Cove, finding the painting, which depicts a shell-strewn piece of shoreline, both haunting and familiar. Following our decadent evening of food and drink, the museum refreshes and grounds us, and we are ready to return home, feeling renewed.