Portland, Maine, is a gay-friendly city. Home to just 67,000 residents, there are really just a couple of full-time gay nightspots. The long list here is due to the amazing social scene. No matter whether you're gay or straight, the scene revolves heavily around restaurants, and this town has an astounding number of truly sensational places to eat.
On this list, you will find a handful of gay bars (if you're looking for more, take a look at the nearby gay resort town of Ogunquit). There is an extensive selection of some fantastic places to eat in Portland. The restaurants listed are frequented by the gay community. This is a fun city for dining and drinking year-round, although summer and fall are especially nice. Each June, Portland hosts the Southern Maine Gay Pride, and in late October, foodies and oenophiles arrive to partake of the Portland Harvest on the Harbor Food & Wine Festival.
Head to Aurora Provisions, a favorite source for breakfast and lunch as well as to-go snacks and groceries. It is perfect for stocking up before you go to the beach or out for a hike. Burritos, smoothies, scones, creative sandwiches, salads, and sweets are available. There is also a terrific wine selection. This is favorite of the West End's large gay community and a great spot for picking up picnic supplies to take to the beach or park.
A somewhat dive-y neighborhood gay bar that is toward the West End side of downtown, Blackstones has been serving the LGBT community since 1987 and is popular for shooting pool. The crowd tends toward 40s-and-up. The bar is especially frequented by leather and Levi's types especially members of the statewide gay leather social group, Harbor Masters of Maine, which has club nights here regularly. There's no dance floor at this cozy pub, but there is a pretty good jukebox.
Homey and convivial Brian Boru Pub is a friendly, mixed nightspot. It's fun for knocking back a few beers, listening to live music (usually Thursdays and Sundays), partaking of game and trivia nights, and enjoying consistently tasty Irish and American pub fare.
It's gay, it's straight, it's a little of everything. Bubba's Sulky Lounge is near Deering Oaks Park just a few blocks from the heart of downtown. It is chockfull of bizarre objets d'art and campy decorative items (including an amazing collection of old-school lunch boxes). Bubba's is most famous for its Friday '80s nights. Diehards really do don their best '80s attire (and hair) for this infectiously weird and enjoyable event. You'll still hear '80s tunes on the also quite popular Saturday nights, but the DJ mixes in plenty of contemporary stuff, too. The crowd ranges greatly in age, from those who remember partying in the early '80s to those born much afterward.
Micro-roaster Coffee by Design has four locations around Portland, all of them brewing wonderfully rich, carefully crafted coffees. The Congress Street location is fairly close to the West End, arguably one of the most popular stores with the gay community. All of these cheery cafes are comfortable venues for hanging out, reading, working on a laptop, and enjoying a beverage. This cafe in the downtown Arts District is open until 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, closing a bit earlier the rest of the week. The other shops are on the east edge of Old Port and in the East End. There's also a branch in Freeport at the famed L.L. Bean flagship store.
A first-rate neighborhood bistro and nightspot, Congress Bar and Grill has been a sponsor of Portland's Pride festival and is a favorite West End destination for well-prepared lunch and dinner fare. A good range of creative salads, sandwiches, and grills are served throughout the day and evening, from grilled lamb salad with feta to classic fish-and-chips. Prices are reasonable, too.
An elegant eatery overlooking the tree-shaded redbrick Monument Square, right in the center of downtown, David's merits serious kudos for the creative, masterfully prepared regional American cuisine of chef-owner David Turin, who also runs the excellent David's 388 in South Portland, as well as the tiny 18-seat David's Opus 10, which is adjacent to David's Restaurant and serves prix-fixe, multi-course dinners. For a date, or before catching a show at a nearby theater, David's is highly recommended. The food is interesting and approachable, too. Consider ginger-and-scallion-crusted salmon with wasabi-mashed potatoes, or the fantastic steak-and-lobster pizza, a white pie with garlic butter, roasted tomato, caramelized onion, goat cheese, arugula, and Parmesan cheese.
The owner of Duckfat describes this always-packed establishment rather modestly, as a "small sandwich shop." Technically, that's right, and this place often has lines out the door (and long waits, so prepare for that). It serves not only wildly good sandwiches (olive oil-poached yellowfin tuna, duck confit with stone-fruit compote and rosemary mayo) but also outlandishly delicious milkshakes in novel flavors like burnt Maine honey and wild Maine blueberry. Craft sodas, duck-fat-fried doughnut holes, poutine, and hand-cut Belgian fries cooked in duck fat are other notable treats at this storefront space open daily from late morning until 10 p.m.
El Rayo Cantina & Taqueria is a cozy cantina serving mostly small plates (queso fundido, hibiscus-pickled deviled eggs, corn-jalapeno fritters), a few entrees, premium tequilas and other cocktails, and tacos. It has a nice-sized outdoor patio and a menu of tasty snacks like papas fritas, chips and guacamole, tacos (barbecue pulled pork, al carbon, black bean, carne asada), as well as chilaquiles, burritos, rice bowls, and more.
James Beard-recognized chef Steve Corry helms the kitchen at sophisticated but unpretentious Five Fifty-Five, a dapper bar and restaurant that is well-suited for a long and memorable dinner with a significant other or grabbing drinks and some late-night snacks with friends or brunch on Sunday. The same team here also operates the terrific little neighborhood bistro, Petite Jacqueline.
Flask Lounge is a cool mixed neighborhood bar in the West End, right by the Portland Museum of Art. It offers a fun mix of diversions such as live music some evenings, open-mic nights, a particularly gay-popular karaoke night, occasional queer-themed dance parties, and good drinks and pub food. It's a welcoming place, drawing an eclectic crowd that varies in style and vibe from night to night, though it tends to draw a mostly 35-and-under crowd. While in the vicinity, also worth a visit is a gastropub next door, the Little Tap House, which serves stellar burgers and more finely crafted comfort fare. It has a great selection of Maine microbrews.
Romantic, spacious, and much-celebrated Fore Street is a stalwart of Portland's dining scene. It is a handsome place clad in vintage redbrick and situated above Standard Baking, which the owners also operate, and it's been delighting foodies since it opened in 1996. The menu here changes daily, based on what is fresh and seasonal. You can count on oven-roasted mussels, other seafood specialties, grilled hanger steak, and plenty of accompaniments fresh from area farms.
A gay favorite for brunch and dinner on the east side of town, on Munjoy Hill not far from the scenic Eastern Promenade park, the Front Room is an inviting, cozy neighborhood spot open daily and highly popular morning and night, as a place to eat, drink, and mingle with locals. Brunch specialties include huevos rancheros, a grilled duck and goat cheese sandwich, and croque Madame. At night, you might nosh on house-smoked salmon pastrami, lamb shepherd's pie, a burger with tomato tapenade, or pan-fried potato gnocchi.
Few restaurants in Portland can claim a more dramatic setting than Grace, which opened in 2009 inside a stunningly transformed 1850s church with dramatic high ceilings and arched Gothic Revival windows. Given the snazzy trappings, it is not surprising that this is a favorite venue for celebrating special occasions. Contemporary takes on Maine lobster, rib-eye steak, pan-roasted pheasant, and veal sweetbreads "Oscar" are featured on the often-changing menu.
Two of the gems of Portland's dining scene are side-by-side sister establishments: Hugo's and Eventide Oyster Co. Hugos is a special-occasion spot, at least as casual Portland goes. It has a handsome, modern take on a corner tavern where casual threads are fine. But dining here from the oft-changing menu of exquisite small plates can be expensive. You can choose two courses for $45 or five courses for $90. Dishes might include roasted venison with escarole, hakurei turnip, and wort, or udon noodle salad with Chinese sausage, citrus foam, and radish. Just as much care is taken with the cocktails and desserts (like the s'more with smoked-chocolate ice cream, spruce shoot, and toasted marshmallow). Next door at the breezy and less spendy Eventide Oyster Co., you can feast on numerous varieties of both local and distantly harvested oysters on the half shell, or nibble from the menu of cold and warm small seafood plates like lightly cured Arctic char, charcuterie, lobster stew, and grilled swordfish belly. It is a playful antidote to Hugo's, although there's no reason you can't make a night of dining at both.
Located in the defunct White Heart Lounge space in the downtown Arts District on a trendy stretch of Congress Street, Nosh Kitchen Bar is every bit as enjoyable and gay-popular a restaurant as its predecessor. Modestly billing itself a sandwich shop, Nosh turns out artful creations like the much-raved-about Apocalypse Now Burger (topped with a patty, cheese, crispy pork belly, foie gras, mayo, and cherry jam), a delectable "Oyster Rockafella" on a hoagie roll, and a crisp avocado sandwich made with citrus crema, cilantro, chipotle sauce, and queso fresco on naan bread. Don't miss the "Nosh fries," which are dusted with bacon. It's just the kind of food that makes utterly good sense late at night after bar-hopping. You can also grab a cocktail or beer here, as there's a full bar, and Nosh is open until 1 a.m.
Burgers, mac and cheese, cured meats, and other classic comfort fare prepared with integrity and high-quality ingredients are the reason this hipster-frequented neighborhood tavern and grill near the West End has become a favorite for drinking and eating just about every night of the week (Thursdays seem especially popular). LFK has an impressive selection of beers and wines, too, and the bartenders know their way around a craft cocktail. In nice weather, take a seat out front overlooking charming Monument Square. On cooler evenings, dine inside amid the literary paraphernalia. Note that neighbors Pai Men Miyake and Petite Jacqueline are also terrific.
Nirvana for craft-beer enthusiasts but really anybody seeking a cool Old Port venue for drinking, hobnobbing, and eating inspired gastropub-style food, Novare Res has an astounding list of brews from all over the world including more than 30 rotating taps. It has everything from relatively local favorites like Smuttynose Zinneke and Marshall Wharf Big Twitch IPA to pours from Belgium, Germany, and elsewhere around the United States. This warm and inviting space also has nice selections of cocktails and wine, and the food is tasty. Selections include tuna tartare, a brisket sandwich with kimchi and red-eye mayo, or a Belgian waffle topped with Young's Chocolate Stout ice cream, fresh raspberries, and toffee sauce.
One of several terrific spots to eat around the West End's regal Monument Square, unpretentious Petite Jacqueline is a light-filled dining room set behind tall plate-glass windows, an elegant bar (perfect for dining alone or with a friend), and a couple of tables on the sidewalk looking across the street toward the big statue of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Popular for lunch and dinner (and afternoon happy hour), this beautiful little bistro opened by the team behind similarly superb Five Fifty-Five turns out exquisitely prepared French classics like salade Lyonaisse, bone marrow with sea salt and warm bread, local fish of the day with caper butter, and Boeuf Bourguignon. The food here is simple and super-fresh. Note, too, it has a raw bar. There's a nicely balanced wine list, and brunch is served on weekends.
The West End's Yordprom Coffee Shop is a member of the city's LGBT Rainbow Business & Professional Association. It is a cute spot for organic teas and coffees including richly sweet Vietnamese iced coffee, jukebox pastries, and light Thai and Vietnamese lunch fare. The food here is fresh and healthy. You can enjoy smoothies, salads, and curries on the comfy wooden tables out back on the patio if you want.