If local color is what you like to experience when you visit a new city, Portland is a veritable rainbow. With almost too many distinct neighborhoods to name (it seems every intersection has its own unique appellation, e.g. Monument Square, Woodford's Corner, Longfellow Square, to name a few), there are lots of places to sit and sip a cup of coffee or tea, enjoy non-chain restaurant fare, or just breathe in fresh air while people watching because like Boston and other older cities, Portland is a place for walkers and bicyclists. The best part about Portland is that every neighborhood can be considered "gay friendly," but a few recommended areas to check out are listed below.
The East End
About a mile from Portland's downtown, this district begins at the foot of Munjoy Hill, rises to the landmark Portland Observatory
overlooking the city and the bay, and ends at the spectacular Eastern Promenade, a park that slopes to the sea and offers amazing views of the waterfront. The Hill is largely residential and features some of the most beautiful mansions in the city, some of which are now some of the most beautiful and affordable condominiums and apartments. Stop by The Front Room
for one of the best brunches in town, grab a cup of joe at Coffee By Design
, or find that cookbook you've been looking for at Rabelais. The East End is only a short walk from downtown and definitely worth the walk.
The West End is rapidly becoming to Portland what the South End has already become to Boston - a section of the city for gays and lesbians looking for a place that's not too urban, but urban enough to be hip and full of extraordinary places to renovate. It's also the place to go if you want to eat amazing, local food at gay-owned or gay-friendly restaurants such as Caiola's, Aurora Provisions, and Bonobo. For a charming place to stay, The Chadwick Bed and Breakfast
is only minutes from the arts district.
Every city has its best-known visitors' magnet and this is Portland's, and for good reason. So good in fact, that even the locals continue to frequent it. A revitalized former warehouse district and waterfront, the Old Port is the place to go for dining, shopping and nightlife. A dining experience that is not-to-be-missed is the famous DiMillo's On the Water
, a family-owned business serving popular seafood dishes. Other recommended eateries include Ribollita
, Becky's Diner
and NOSH Kitchen Bar. Between meals, you can find snacks to die for at the Old Port Candy Co.
and Maine's Pantry
. And then there are the shops (and shops and shops), featuring everything from kitchenware to pottery, souvenirs to yarn, condoms to high-end clothing. While shopping, you can enjoy the street vendors and buskers, as they adorn the charming and characteristic cobble stone streets.
Not every city can claim that its main street thoroughfare, in this case Congress Street in downtown Portland, is also a hotbed of art galleries, artist studios, museums and antique shops. Once home to department stores and other retail emporiums, some of those once defunct establishments have been reborn as the Maine College of Art
, the Center for Cultural Exchange, and the State Theater. Anchoring the excitement at opposite ends of Congress Street are the prestigious Portland Museum of Art
and Merrill Auditorium. On the first Friday of every month, galleries throughout the area open their doors to the public and the whole district turns into one big street party. There is even a gay-owned gift store in the mix, aptly named Emerald City. And don't miss the First Friday Artwalk each month where you can share the experience with locals and visitors alike.
Back Cove/Baxter Boulevard
The 3.5-mile trail that surrounds Portland's tidal basin is a stunningly beautiful path to walk or sit (on one of several strategically placed benches) and watch the joggers, dog walkers and bicyclists cruise by. Almost perfectly circular, the cove is ringed by Baxter Boulevard, home to some of the most exquisite residences in Portland. Dartmouth Street connects the Boulevard to nearby Forest Avenue, where you can find such gay-friendly or gay-owned businesses as the Greenlight Studio, "a place for kids and their grown-ups;” Bikram's Yoga College of India, where you can drop in for a class; Phoenix Studio, a full-service stained glass art studio; and Leapin' Lizards, a funky new age gift store.
by Christine Palmer