Restaurants, bars and arts springing to life

Springtime is the season of resurrection, a cycle that applies not only to nature, but also to the arts and culinary scenes in Portland, which are poised to undergo an unprecedented rejuvenation before the summer solstice this June. A remarkable number of businesses that seemed dead and gone are springing back to life, while new enterprises are sprouting in long-empty spaces.

Two of the most notable new developments are within a couple blocks of each other downtown.

This past Tuesday, the Masonic Temple Foundation, a non-profit established to restore the historic Masonic headquarters next to City Hall, formally launched a new series of arts and cultural events that promises to greatly expand the public’s access to the temple’s stunningly beautiful rooms in the months and years to come. The series opens this Sunday with a choral performance of “Sunday in the Park with George,” the Stephen Sondheim musical inspired by the work of French painter Georges Seurat, presented by Cast Aside Productions, a new local theater company. The Foundation will also begin presenting First Friday art exhibits beginning next month. (Full disclosure: the temple’s artistic director is my partner, Sarah Bouchard.)

Last April, I was bemoaning the loss of live-music venues in Portland, especially The Big Easy, a beloved club on Market Street that got the boot from its landlord the year before. Big Easy proprietor Ken Bell recently signed a lease for a new space at the corner of Temple and Federal streets, where Minott’s Flowers previously did business.

The Portland House of Music and Events (HOME, for short) will have more than twice the capacity of Bell’s former venue, plus about 70 seats for outdoor dining and drinking. In an interview this week, Bell said patrons can expect a similarly diverse mix of music at HOME (rock, funk, hip hop, roots), plus deli-style appetizers and sandwiches for lunch and dinner. Bell expects HOME will be open in late May or early June.

Speaking of delis, Portlanders were stunned when Full Belly Deli abruptly closed its location on outer Brighton Avenue this winter. Now comes word that Full Belly’s mile-high pastrami sandwiches and other indulgences will reappear at the corner of Market and Fore streets, in a space most recently occupied by a failed link in the Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt chain, according to landlord Joe Soley, who has an avowed taste for tongue. Soley also said the deli may apply for a license to serve beer and wine.

West Enders won’t even have to walk into town to get their deli fix, thanks to caterer (and renowned local DJ) Matty Chamberlain, who’s opening a sandwich shop in the small Spring Street spot made famous several years ago by the classy Japanese joint Miyake. Home (no relation to Bell’s business) will also sell beer and wine when it opens this spring, filling the tiny void created when the adjacent West End Deli moved to Congress Street (the buzz-worthy Bao Bao Dumpling House recently opened in that space).

Meanwhile, back in the Old Port, the long-vacant space at the corner of Market and Milk streets once occupied by the restaurant and bar Squire Morgan’s is being reborn as Portland Patisserie and Grand Café. Restaurateurs Steve and Michelle Corry (of Five Fifty-Five and Petite Jacqueline fame) plan to start serving French-inspired breakfast, lunch, dinner and desserts in May.

A couple steps down the sidewalk, the subterranean space beneath Market Street Eats is poised to become Lincolns, a speakeasy-style lounge founded by MJ’s Wine Bar owner Mark Ohlson and Old Port bar vets Stephen Briggs and Nate Drinkwater. The hook: drinks, food and admission to music and comedy nights will all cost $5 (cash only).

On Fore Street, look for the rebirth this spring of Mark’s Place and Joe’s New York Pizza (both now owned by Rosie’s and Pearl proprietor Mark Deane) in the Soley building damaged by a fire a year-and-a-half ago. And on the Wharf Street side of that building, keep an eye out for a new brewpub called Portland Mash Tun, backed by the guys behind The King’s Head on Commercial Street.

Add in The Press Hotel’s new restaurant and bar in the former Portland Press Herald building, plus a new place called Crooners & Cocktails on Exchange Street, and you’ve got 10 new drinking-and-dining establishments opening within half as many blocks this spring. Take that, Mayor Dow!

Chris Busby

About Chris Busby

Chris Busby is editor and publisher of The Bollard, a monthly magazine about Portland. He writes a weekly column for the BDN.