The charm and hospitality of Maine always draws me back in. I’ve lived away from the state for almost 10 years, but do look at any opportunity to return home. The holidays beckoned me back to Maine “The Way Life Should Be.”
I had moved away from Portland in 2013 and soon after, the city experienced a hotel boom. Large hotels and great boutique hotels with amazing dining options flooded the Portland peninsula. “Did you hear about this restaurant” and “you did try this place out, yes?” were messages I often received from friends still living in Portland and personally enjoying the boost to the already national and international award-winning dining, coffee, and brewery scene.
This journey found me checking into the Cambria Hotel. Just 2 months old, I was fortunate enough to take a spin in a brand new hotel, and yes, it still had that new car/hotel smell. Pulling up to the hotel, you’re greeted by the valet as he directs you to the lobby on the 4th floor. Throughout the hotel, the design incorporates a deep historic blue, soft rope beige and a mix of metals, predominantly black rubbed fixtures. Embracing the nautical history of Portland, it seems every room has a focal art wall which is a real photograph of ships built in Portland, Maine. My room actually looked across Casco Bay to South Portland and the spot where Liberty Ships were build for WWI.
Cambria Portland Downtown – Old Port opened in October 2022 in the center of the Old Port neighborhood of Portland, ME adjacent to Shipyard Brewing Company. Cambria Old Port has 102 rooms and boasts a 4th floor lobby that is home to ALTO Terrace Bar + Kitchen, a destination restaurant with an elevated outdoor dining patio. The hotel is walking distance from Portland’s waterfront, shops, galleries and cultural attractions.
I know I had the best room in the place (Room 601) as I could see downtown, the ocean and the rest of the hotel. It was also flooded with light all day which was very energizing during my winter stay. The luscious bed, spa-like shower, and room darkening shades finished the room off well.
Portland has great eateries and brewery options, but my first night back in the city, I wanted to go easy so I stayed on property and ate at the ALTO Terrace Bar + Kitchen, located on the 4th floor of the Cambria Portland Downtown – Old Port. There were ample choices and to our delight, there were seasonal offerings of both beverages and food. ALTO offers a variety of handcrafted signature cocktails, locally sourced craft beer, and thoughtfully selected wines. I actually had them do a non-alcoholic twist on one of their cocktails which ended up tasting like a blueberry pie. For dinner, I enjoyed the appetizer of Potato Croquettes followed by the Bistro Filet which I substituted Brussel Sprouts for the Broccoli Rabe. The happy hour offerings are great with small plates, sharables, great draft beer options. I do want to return when the weather is more inviting as I am sure a happy hour afternoon in the summer on the terrace will be very enjoyable.
Since we were there on the weekday, the restaurant was offering a grab-and-go option for breakfast (which I did the first morning) OR guests could go over to the Portland Harbor Hotel and experience breakfast there at Harbor Bistro + Terrace (my second morning’s experience). I had the special of the day, Croque Madame (challah bread, ham, egg, béchamel sauce) with potatoes, which I would eat every.single.day.
This stay at the Cambria Portland Downtown was my trifecta of stays with the Colwen Hotels management company’s properties here in Portland. Each of these hotels, Portland Harbor Hotel , Inn at Diamond Cove , and Cambria Portland Downtown – Old Port embrace the New England hospitality I was born and raised with, have a focus on food and beverages of the region which add another layer of comfort for guests, and work to represent the area where the hotel is located. These Colwen Hotels feel like home, the staff is there to accommodate like a family member would, they just have the Maine Hospitality down. If you have a chance, head over to my other posts about the other two lodging offerings.
What I like about Portland is that the main part of the city is on the peninsula and you can walk anywhere within a short time. So any hotel on the peninsula is a great location. I actually walked from the Cambria to the Portland Harbor Hotel and back, a 12-minute walk each way. Well, it would have been 12 if I did not keep stopping and going into the little shops.
While in Portland and looking for a place to check out and walk, check out any of the bars, restaurants that you will find. Seriously, I don’t think there’s any bad ones left as the competition is fierce.
Tacos – Taco Escobar is the place to go. Bring quarters or make sure the app works for the parking meters as they don’t have change for you, but what they do have are great food options and drinks. An eclectic design with skeletons and lights. Al Pastor Burrito was my poison for the day. The cabbage was a great addition more places need to use.
Thai Food– Portland has some of the best Thai food I’ve ever had. It has some of the best sushi, too. Near Cambria, just one block away, bar seating was for me at Dok Mali. Plenty of options await, but I am a sucker for a Pork Bao which I paired with some Thai Tea (cold) and for the main, I had the Thai Noodle Soup, very warming on a cold Maine wintery day.
Gay bars – Blackstones (Facebook, reviews) is the only true gay/LGBTQ+ bar in town, but all bars are welcoming as Portland is very liberal. If you go to Blackstones, bring your cash and your acceptance of all attitude for it is a cash only bar and you will see everyone from homeless clientel to transgender regulars to fur coat wearing bears, pool sharks, young, old, drag queens, and everyone between. It is a true melting pot of about 1000 sq ft. that is the oldest operating gay bar in the city. Check out Flask Lounge as well as the girls do put on a good time there, but it is more mixed than Blackstones. There used to be more than just Blackstones in town where the LGBT crowd would specifically go on a nightly circuit, but in recent years, other well-known gay watering holes have shut down. If you ask anyone in Portland, it’s not because of sex/hook-up apps, but it’s more the fact that every bar in Portland is a gay bar. At most any night spot in Portland, you will see a friend of Dorothy alongside other residents having a good time with no issues. The city has per capita numbers for restaurants, coffee shops, and a gay population like that of San Francisco, but does not have a hearty and separate gay nightlife.
Some of us run and run hard away from where we grew up. The grass is always greener or more rainbow colored on the other side of the state line. Maine has a special spot in my heart as it was where I spent most of my life. It was a great place to grow up, find myself, flourish, and be me. When I get the chance to return to the state, I take it, even in the winter time. That’s where I spent my last three weeks, which reminded me that it will always be home.
SURPRISE! As I was relaxing in Maine, one of Instinct’s and my friends Ryan Young posted a video to his Instagram of his brief stay in Maine. Ryan runs, we don’t have that in common, but Ryan’s running has turned into Run With Ryan. HE had never been to Maine before and as I scolded him for not asking me for recommendations, he said that he texted, “I instantly and absolutely fell in love with Maine.”
Cambria Portland Downtown – Old Port is a lifestyle brand by Choice Hotels offering design-forward accommodations and little indulgences, such as a terrace bar featuring a curated selection of local craft beers, signature cocktails and wines, Cambria Contactless Concierge, free WI-FI and tech-friendly rooms, spa-inspired bathrooms with signature Bluetooth® mirrors, a state-of-the-art fitness center and valet parking. A 1400 square foot private event room accommodates meetings and parties up to 120. Hotel guests can take advantage of the Choice Privileges Rewards program.