Photo by Corey Templeton, CC BY NC ND
The coastal city of Portland, Maine has a rich history: lighthouses and the mansions with widow’s walks that guided long-ago ships, cobblestone streets lining the Old Port area and storied buildings of the West End. Established in 1632 as a trading and fishing settlement, Portland maintains much of its 19th century architecture, landmarks and flavor, and time spent here gives visitors a colorful Maine experience.
Steeped into this history is a literary culture that includes Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Russo; Stephen King, who was born in the city; and its most celebrated local, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Longfellow’s “city by the sea” has an adventurous spirit that is woven into the region’s fabric. You’ll see evidence of it in the creative community, lauded museums, independent art studios and galleries.
Portland also has both a thriving craft beer scene, and is well-known for its pubs, microbreweries and taverns. While the “other” Portland gets more beer respect, the Maine town was just rated the No. 1 city in the world for craft beer by Matador Network.
Here is our guide to putting together that perfect “Books and Brews” itinerary.
The Henry Wadsworth Longfellow home, where the poet and author grew up, is the biggest literary draw in town. Built in 1785, it was in the family for generations before Longfellow came along, and the attention to detail in its restoration is astonishing. As historical homes go, this one has more of the original family furniture and belongings than most others, and has been open to the public for more than a hundred years. In fact, nearly all of the household items are original to the Wadsworth and Longfellow families, and many have not been moved from the house for 200 years. The last person to live here was Henry’s sister, Anne, and she left the property to the Maine Historical Society upon her death. Don’t miss the lovely garden in back; there’s a lilac flower there that dates back to the turn of the 20th century.
To further whet your literary appetite, head to Longfellow Books, which sells both new and used books and hosts author readings.
Carlson Turner Antiquarian Books & Bookbindery is another bibliophile must-see, housed in a Victorian-era building that is packed to the ceiling with more than 40,000 antiquarian, scholarly and used books.
The Telling Room is the literary heart of the city, with writers workshops and many public events. The nonprofit center’s Super Famous Writers Series has hosted Ann Beattie, Dave Eggers and Elizabeth Gilbert, among others.
If you need a java boost, Bard Coffee at Maine’s historic Old Port is steeped in beans as well as all things bookish.
Bars and Breweries
With more than 60 small craft breweries in the state, and many of them in the Portland area, you have a lot to choose from. Start at the Novare Res Bier Café, which means “start a revolution” in Latin. Theirs is a beer drinking revolution (all local brews are on tap here), but also a community gathering place that is quite artistic in nature. Local author Ron Currie, Jr. can often be found here.
LFK Portland is another bar and restaurant with an extensive craft beer list (much of it local), along with wines and handcrafted cocktails. LFK also has a thriving literary crowd, with a monthly reading series called Word Portland. Other top-notch local microbreweries include Allagash, Shipyard Brewing, Bissell Brothers and Bunker Brewing Company.
A great way to get an overview and tasting is to hop on The Maine Brew Bus, a unique experience that features a snack or meal, trivia, behind-the-scenes looks and, of course, delicious beer.
Portland Beer Week takes place the second week of November, celebrating the area’s vibrant beer culture with a variety of events. Dozens of breweries, restaurants, live music and other fun happenings are part of the weeklong party.
Shelley Seale is a travel and lifestyle writer and author based in Austin, Texas.