Portland: A Weekend Escape

Last weekend, the long weekend, my wife and I had the unique opportunity to escape for a few days alone – sans children. Of course it’s always hard to leave your kids for any period of time as you perpetually worry about them but sometimes you just need to re-charge the batteries and remember ‘your everything.’

We were only going to be gone for two nights/3 days but we still needed to pack up two cars to get 3 kids, 2 adults, 1 dog, 5 suitcases, toys, stuffed animals, pillows, dog food, and a dog bed over to Nannie and Grandpa Bob’s house. The sleds just wouldn’t fit.

We pulled into the driveway and quickly and systematically unloaded the cars.

We left one car running.

“Be good. Behave. Thanks for watching the kids. Mummy and Daddy love you. See you in a couple days. Bye.”

Out the door we went, jumped in the car and sped out of the driveway.

About two blocks down the road, we pulled over on the quiet snow-covered road. I reached over and grabbed my wife’s hand. We looked at each other, smiled like two teenagers who just snuck out of the house at night, and sat in silence for a good 3 minutes taking it all in.

I then programmed the GPS for Portland, ME. 84 miles. And punched the gas pedal.

A few hours later (after a short detour at the Kittery Outlets) we arrived in Portland, ME, just a short jaunt up the road from Boston (about 1hr. 45 mins without the outlet excursion).

Portland offers a wide array of lodging options for all budgets. And because it is such a walkable city, it doesn’t really matter where you stay geographically as long as you’re near Old Port. We were splurging that weekend so we stayed at the Portland Harbor Hotel. Being off-season, we were able to get a room for about $200/night and it was worth every cent. The hotel was in the heart of Old Port and walking distance to everything. It boasts a beautiful decor, valet parking, dark wood trimmings and modern rooms. The staff was wonderfully accommodating and friendly and complimentary car service is available for those destinations that you may think are a little too far to walk or during inclement weather.

We checked in early. Dropped off our bags, freshened up and we were off.

Fore Street Kitchen

Just down Fore Street about a block from the hotel is Gritty McDuff’s Brew Pub and Restaurant . It was a little after lunchtime and we hadn’t eaten yet so we popped in. The crowd was lively but not loud and the staff were friendly and laid back. We ordered a couple of pints, some tenders, a burger and the fish and chips. All were great and just what we needed to try and relax.

Typically, when eating out with the kids, we are stressed and trying to appease our short little friends as well as trying to keep them quiet so this was a rare treat. We had a chance to talk to each other, about grown-up things, and even flirt a little. But we were still having a hard time relaxing and were both still on edge. It’s hard to turn it off when you are so used to going 100 miles an hour and by the time the kids go to bed you’re practically asleep on the couch 1/2 hour later. But we were determined.

Next: time to explore. Portland boasts a myriad of shops, restaurants, bars, museums, music halls, galleries, bakeries, and people watching. We walked around for a few hours just getting our bearings and popping into stores and coffee shops when it got a little too cold and we needed to warm up. Eventually, we headed on down to Commercial Street and along the water’s edge was a large, oddly shaped but modern-looking building. Not only did the building’s structure catch our eye, but also the name that flashed across the front: In’finiti Fermentation & Distillation.

As it turned out, In’finiti is a brewery and distillery – hence the name. The beer was fresh, cold, and interesting. The bar was purposefully simple but just behind it was a floor to ceiling glass window into the brewing area which afforded us the opportunity to watch the brewers go about their craft. It is certainly worth a visit not only for the beer but also for the ice ball whiskey cocktail. And if whiskey is not in your beverage repertoire, watching the bar staff create a baseball-sized ice ball out of a square block of ice with a funky stone-aged and heated contraption is interesting enough to warrant a peek.

Eventually, we headed back to the hotel for an afternoon nap. Yes! An afternoon siesta!!! When was the last time you got to do that?

When we awoke from our slumber, we got ready to head out again. First stop was The Portland Hunt + Alpine Club at 75 Market Street. Another great spot with a great name. You’d think I would need a shotgun and/or skis, but it is actually a self-described CRAFT COCKTAILS + SCANDINAVIAN FARE venue which is known for its fresh and house made ingredients that range from their own grenadine to their custom bottled Americano cocktails. Vermouth lives on! Eclectic, hip, but not pretentious with a friendly staff and chic decor, this is a fun place to pop in for a before/after dinner cocktail for those looking for something different.

Time to eat.

Even in the off-season, reservations at most restaurants are required or strongly suggested. We had made a reservation at Five Fifty-Five not so ironically at 555 Congress Street.

The atmosphere was lively but subtly charming if not romantic. The wine list was impressive and about 28 pages long although bound loosely with a feeble clip that was somewhat annoying to handle while perusing the mouth-watering list of varietals from around the world. The food was simply superb, and the service was even better. Truly a perfect dining experience.

We spend several hours there enjoying a festival of food, wine, and conversation. We laughed and talked and reconnected. It was a subtle reminder of how much we enjoyed just talking and being together. And it gave us an opportunity to talk about the kids as well as some more important things that we had trouble finding the time to do so with our hectic schedules.

Next: Music!

Just down the hill from Five Fifty-Five is the Asylum Concert Venue at 121 Center Street. We weren’t sure what we were getting into and we weren’t familiar with the artist playing that night. We got there late after our amazing dinner, but our timing worked out well as the band took the stage shortly after we walked in. The general admission venue was very crowded but not uncomfortable. The mostly college crowd was younger and animated, and it was fun to reminisce about years gone by and the great times we too had back in our college days. It had that feel.

The acoustics were rough towards the back of the room, so you’d do better if you worked your way up towards the stage or at least beyond the sound board where the sound was much improved. Regardless of the acoustics or anything else that may not have been perfect, we had a great time and did our old-married-couple-with-kids-weekend-away-sway back and forth with blind enthusiasm and not a care in the world.

Although one girl called me ‘sir’. Meh.

The next morning, we slept in. Until 7. I guess we weren’t mentally relaxed just yet. But we took our time getting ready, watched some TV that did not include Ninja Turtles, Dora, or any cartoon character for that matter and then eventually headed out to brunch.

The hotel complimentary car service took us to Bintliff’s American Cafe at 98 Portland Street which was a bit farther than we wanted to walk in the snow. If there is one word to describe Bintliff’s it would be character. This place is riddled with charm and Americana and the food is creative, portions are large, and people are exceptionally friendly even amidst a semi-chaotic waiting time. Be patient. It’s worth your time.

A short walk up the hill from Bintliff’s is the Portland Museum of Art at Seven Congress Square. This may have been the highlight of our weekend. It had been quite a while since we had been able to enjoy the magnificence of an art museum since the kids were born. We look forward to the day when we can introduce the kids to such things but in the meantime, it was amazing to spend several hours admiring the works in this impressive museum and talking to each other about history, politics, and meaning. Simply a joy to be here and I would highly recommend visiting. It’s not every day that you get to enjoy an original Renoir.

Next: Sports!

A few blocks down towards Old Port is Rivalries Sports Bar at 10 Cotton Street. We popped in here to watch the Patriots take on “Mr. Omaha” but as we all unfortunately know, the outcome wasn’t what we had hoped. But, that being said, this is a great sports bar with lots of TVs and a festive crowd. All the makings of a fun time for any sports event.

Our final stop of the day was dinner at Fore Street – 288 Fore Street. With an extensive wood decor, elegant lighting and an open kitchen, this restaurant is simply the personification of charm and elegance. Without a standing menu, the chefs create a culinary soiree each night with a medley of choices for any palate and a matching wine list that would impress just about anyone. A dining experience to remember for sure.

The next morning on our way out of town, we found yet another gem: Standard Baking Company at 75 Commercial Street. The coffee is superb and the pastries even better. Not to miss for sure.

The weekend had come to an end and it was time to head home to the little people who we missed very much. We had an amazing time and loved every precious and rare moment together. Our weekend reminded us that we must never forget our everything. Every once in a while, we all have to make time to cultivate our relationships and re-charge our batteries.

As you know, parenting is hard and it takes a lot out of you, individually, and you, as parents. So find a babysitter, jump in the car, and remind each other just how much you appreciate your time together.