Recently, Nick and I celebrated our 2nd anniversary. I can’t believe it’s only been two years! Most of the time it feels like I’ve known him my whole life. We love going to Maine to celebrate special occasions like this together. This time, we decided to spend a weekend in Portland. I’d never been before, and was excited to experience this coastal New England city that I’d heard such rave reviews about.
Let me tell you – if you’re looking for anywhere to do a culinary or bar tour of in New England, Portland is a MUST visit. Everywhere you turn there is a restaurant, bar, or other food or sweets shop. I’d heard tell of this from friends when I asked for recommendations of what to do in the city, as well as from our various cab drivers. I’m not ashamed to admit that most of our time is occupied with thinking about food, making it, or going out to restaurants and bars. There are just so many options these days! So, when we arrived in Maine, checked into our hotel in Scarborough (it saved a lot of money to stay outside of the city), and got dropped off in Old Port at dinnertime, finding something to chow down on was first on my list.
We walked around Old Port, a bustling and historic part of Portland, looking in windows and doorways of numerous bars, restaurants and shops – it was slightly daunting! When faced with too many choices, I sometimes begin to withdraw. Decision making is not my forte! We chose to just continue walking around to view more of the city. We ended up in the eclectic Arts District. People-watching in this area was top notch! We kept on the hunt for somewhere to grab a drink and eat, and finally settled on Congress Bar and Grill because they had tables and chairs on the sidewalk and we wanted to eat outside.
Our waitress, Jen I believe, was incredibly friendly and welcomed us to the city. My day was absolutely made when I saw Haddock Chowder on the menu. If you’ve followed the blog, you may know that I’m allergic to a majority of shellfish and can’t have clam chowder. Living in New England my whole life, this is something that has haunted me. I’ve longed for that seafood taste in the comfort of a chowder, but always had to settle for something else as clam chowder was usually the only offering. However, not here! The Haddock Chowder was heavenly and all the feelings of being left out of the seafood chowder club instantly melted away. I could have eaten ten bowls of this stuff, never mind the tasty grilled biscuits it came with!
As for drinks, I had the Strawberry Vodka Lemonade, which included Svedka vodka and lemonade with house infused Grand Marnier strawberry purée. The purée really added a nice, fresh touch to this already yummy cocktail.
Jen, the waitress, recommended if we wanted to continue getting drinks after leaving Congress, we should head to Top of the East, on the last floor of the Westin Hotel down the street. That sounded like a great idea to us, so we headed over there after paying the bill.
If you ever visit Portland, take my word when I say you cannot leave before having a drink (or two, or three…) at Top of the East. After taking the elevator to the top floor and walking up some stairs, we entered a beautiful, elegant lounge with floor to ceiling glass windows on all sides, providing the best sunset views of Portland that we could imagine finding indoors.
The bartender that night, Jaren, hails from Miami and was fantastic at his job. We would sit just watching him mix drinks with flair, and he was so outgoing as well. I wanted one of the non-alcoholic drinks (called Temperance Cocktails here), but with alcohol of course, so Jaren added gin and it quickly became my new favorite. I can’t remember the exact name of the drink (it looks like their online menu has been updated in the past week to reflect newer autumn cocktails) but I know it had Maine blueberries in, that’s for sure, and I believe it had mint as well.
For the most part, Nick stuck to Allagash beer, which is brewed right in Portland. We had the best time just enjoying the luxurious yet upbeat atmosphere of Top of the East and the company and chatter of the bartenders and barbacks. It felt like we were there for hours, and we probably were. Everyone we had interacted with thus far in Portland was really friendly and inviting. It made us feel at home there.
We rounded out the evening by splitting a margarita, another masterfully made drink by Jaren. We then took an Uber back to our hotel, although I wished we were staying at the Westin! Maybe next time when we have just a bit more money to spend 🙂
Overall our first night in Portland was a success, and we didn’t even have to visit a hundred places to be happy. Sometimes, it can be overwhelming visiting a new area because you feel like you have to fit every single activity and must-see place in at once. But, if you’re having a great time right where you are, why rush it? That’s what we learned from this mini-vacation. Stay tuned for Part 2!