On Visiting Maine
Each of the Parker books is set, to a greater or lesser extent, in Maine. Charlie Parker's home is in Scarborough, just south of the larger city of Portland, which is the center of Maine's cultural and social life. If you're planning to visit Maine, Portland is your logical base of operations. These are John's personal recommendations for your visit to Portland.
Maine is known for its beautiful summers and harsh winters, and prices of hotels and other tourist attractions can vary widely according to the season. Although the Maine winter is not for the faint of heart, Portland is beautiful at Christmastime, and visitors who want to see "the real Maine" will get a better sense of it in darker weather.
PLACES TO STAY
The Inn at St John
939 Congress Street
207-773-6481 or 800-636-9127
The Inn, a former railroad hotel, figures in both Every Dead Thing and Dark Hollow, and for many years, it was where John stayed when he visited Portland. The staff are warm and welcoming, and the hotel is pet-friendly. The Inn at St. John is about 15 minutes up hill from the Old Port area, Portland's tourist center. Rooms are comfortable and furnished with an eye for period detail. Some are larger, some are smaller, and some are economy-priced, with shared bathrooms. Costs vary depending on the time of year, but range from about $60-$180 a night. A continental breakfast is included.
The Westin Portland Harbor
157 High Street
Formerly the Eastland Park Hotel, the Westin Portland Harbor is Portland's largest and newest hotel, right in the center of the city's business district. It's an easy walk from the Westin Portland Harbor to anywhere in the Old Port, including Portland's independent bookstores. Room rates range from $200-$400 a night in summer, but are lower in the off-season, and promotional packages may be available.
20 Milk Street
207-774-4200 or 800-727-3436
The Regency is situated in the old armory building, in the heart of the Old Port. It has a lot of character, and the location is terrific. The Regency is Portland's luxury hotel, and priced accordingly: room rates in high season range start at $199/night, though rates can be considerably lower in winter, and it's worth calling the hotel to inquire about promotional packages.
163 Danforth Street
207-879-8755 or 800-991-6557
This boutique hotel describes itself as "swanky old school." It has been, in its time, a Bishop's residence, a private school, and a prohibition-era speakeasy. It stands at the south end of Portland's waterfront district and is a popular site for weddings and special events. Guest rooms are unique, beautifully furnished, and priced from $150 to $325/night, depending on the season. Most rooms have working fireplaces, and breakfast is included with your room.
Portland has many other hotel and inn options available, for all budgets and tastes. The Greater Portland Convention and Visitors Bureau is an excellent resource for information about hotels, and a good place to start your planning.
Portland, for a relatively small city, has an almost indecent number of very good restaurants. These are some of John's personal favorites.
Back Bay Grill
65 Portland Street
Expensive, upsale restaurant, with a very extensive wine list. The New York Times liked it a lot.
Bintliff's American Café
98 Portland Street
It's consistently rated Portland's best brunch, and the lines out the door (and around the block) confirm it. They're only open for breakfast and lunch—7:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.—they do take reservations, and they even have outside seating when the weather permits. Try the corned beef hash.
288 Fore Street
With a chef recently voted the best in the northeast, Fore Street offers the kind of fine dining one would expect in a larger city, but without big city prices. The main restaurant is a little noisy, perhaps, but that's just carping. The only other criticism one might have is the limited number of wines available by the glass, a situation which could be rectified very easily. The food, though, is uniformly excellent.
Nosh Kitchen Bar
617 Congress Street
Carnivores will love the bacon-dusted fries and the Nosh burger, which is topped with a fried egg. Local ingredients and a stellar beer and wine list make this deli a standout.
Custom House Wharf
I love the Porthole so much that I'm almost reluctant to recommend it, but it seems a shame to deprive it of any additional custom. A throwback to another era, with a long bar, mismatched tables and chairs, and a deck on the water for summer dining, this place still does one of the best breakfasts in the city, and during the summer opens for dinner too. Just perfect.
Maine is blessed with an abundance of microbreweries, which are showcased in the bars of Portland. Charlie Parker works part time at The Great Lost Bear, 540 Forest Avenue, which has a spectacular beer list and serves food until 11:30 p.m. Novare Res, 4 Canal Plaza, is a Belgian-style biergarten with a large outdoor patio and a beer menu the size of a phone book. Gritty McDuff's, 396 Fore St., was Portland's first brewpub since Prohibition, and Rosie's Restaurant & Pub, 330 Fore Street, is a friendly place to have a beer and throw a few darts.
THINGS TO DO
How much time do you have? Visit the Portland Museum of Art at Congress Square (207-775-6148); the Children's Museum at 142 Free Street (207-828-1234); or the Longfellow House and the Maine Historical Society at 485 Congress Street (207-892-0427). Take a stroll through the Old Port, or go book shopping at Longfellow Books in Longfellow Square, Sherman's Books on Exchange Street, or The Green Hand on Congress Street.
Outside Portland, there's outlet shopping at nearby Freeport, or take a trip to Scarborough. Prouts Neck is where the painter Winslow Homer made his home, there's a lovely strand at Higgins Beach or there are the lighthouses at Cape Elizabeth.
Check the Portland Phoenix for listings for concerts etc. During the baseball season, the Portland Sea Dogs play at Hadlock Field, while Portland's ice hockey team is the Pirates.