A Vaccination Vacation at the Portland Harbor Hotel
By Bart Beeson
Sitting on the deck of a waterfront restaurant in Portland, Maine, on a warm spring afternoon, enjoying some fish tacos and a cold beer, it was hard not to sense the optimism in the air. While there were still social distancing requirements in place, there seemed to be more people out and about, and several people had told me about restaurants that were re-opening after going into hibernation mode during the winter. I had come to Portland with my sister on a quick “vaccination vacation,” to celebrate being fully vaccinated and to see if the city lived up to its reputation as a top foodie destination.
Our base for the weekend was the Portland Harbor Hotel, and I couldn’t have wished for a better spot for exploring the city. Located in the city’s Old Port, the hotel is just a few minutes’ walk from the waterfront and directly across the street from the restaurants and bars of lively Wharf Street (the cobblestones of which might prove to be challenging to those sporting high-heels or perhaps having had one too many). Portland is an eminently walkable city, so not having to worry about driving or parking for our two-day stay made it that much more enjoyable.
Recently under new ownership, the boutique Harbor Hotel features 101 guest rooms, with views varying depending on room type and location. Some suites overlook the spacious interior courtyard, while guests in other rooms will enjoy people watching from their view of Wharf Street. The hotel is also home to three event spaces, and Director of Sales Lisa Reeser was excited to share that the week we were there they were hosting their first event in over a year. In the courtyard there is a full-service bar and restaurant seating during the summer season, as well as a fire pit – a great spot to put your feet up and unwind after a day out on the town. And while most visitors to Portland will want to explore the extensive dining options throughout the city, guests should know that there’s a great dining option right in the hotel at BlueFin North Atlantic Seafood. Having heard that the restaurant gets its seafood from the wharf across the street, I dined in the first night and enjoyed some very tasty lobster ravioli.
Of course we did want to explore the city as well, so on our first day we made our way the waterfront to grab an early lunch, and then headed up India Street, pausing to take in some of the Portland Brick art exhibit, consisting of engraved “On This Spot” bricks that tell stories of the city’s history. Eventually we made our way to the Rising Tide Brewery to sample a few of the local craft brews. Both Rising Tide and the Austin Street Brewery, located one door down, have expansive patios with plenty of outdoor seating, perfect for getting some sun while enjoying a tasting flight.
From there, we headed to the renowned Eventide Oyster Co., where years ago I had enjoyed the best lobster roll of my life. I was slightly worried that the roll would have a hard time living up to my memory of how good it was, but after the first bite of the mouthwatering brown-butter roll piled high with lobster meat, my concerns were put to rest. Between the lobster roll and the IPA from local brewery Mast Landing that accompanied it (the humorously named Stamos on Drums), the words that popped into my mind to describe my state of being were “fat and happy.” To cap off the day, we stopped by the hotel for a rest by the fire pit, and then for a change of pace from seafood, decided to get some authentic Italian food at Paciarino, a cozy spot located just next to the hotel.
While it was only a two-day stay, it was the closest I’ve had to a “getaway” vacation since the start of the pandemic, and it felt both novel and completely normal at the same time. And after a long 14 months, just being able to relax a little, getting back to the things we enjoyed doing pre-pandemic, and having a little taste of normal really hit the spot (and the lobster rolls were pretty good too).
Bart Beeson is a Plymouth, New Hampshire-based freelance travel writer and photographer. He is a regular contributor to Travel Weekly, and has published in The Washington Post, Foreign Policy and other media outlets. When he’s not traveling, Bart can be found hiking with his dog Kesey or spending time at his family’s New Hampshire lake house.