50 Reasons We Love Portland: Reason No. 2 – 17

Portland's wharves Photographed by Dave Cleaveland

No. 2: The wharves are working


By John Spritz

Portland is, of course, a port, perched on the Atlantic’s edge. With ports come piers and wharves. (Technically, wharves parallel the shoreline while piers jut into the water, although in Portland, the piers are called “wharves.”) More than a dozen stretch out into Casco Bay, each with a distinct look and personality, but a convenient grouping of ten spans the Old Port’s core along Commercial Street.

1. The large building on the Portland Fish Pier is the Maine International Trade Center. It’s HQ for the harbor master, the fellow who enforces regulations for the entire harbor, and U.S. Congresswoman Chellie Pingree. Just to the left is the Portland Fish Exchange, which processes 95 percent of Maine’s groundfish (pollock, cod, haddock, hake, and their cousins). Boats pull up alongside and unload their catch, which is then weighed, sorted, and auctioned off.

2. Merrill’s Wharf was home for decades to a mostly empty warehouse, Cumberland Cold Storage. Then, in 2011, the hundred-or-so Pierce Atwood attorneys moved from Monument Square to this rehabbed space. Today, the right-hand side of the wharf houses lawyers; the left-hand side houses lobsterboats, traps, and trucks. So far, the arrangement seems to be working.

3. Union Wharf 
is happily eclectic. A spa, an architect, a ship chandlery, and others all cohabitate here, as does the Maine Responder, a 208-foot vessel that cleans up oil spills at sea and spent five months in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 after the BP explosion.

4. Widgery Wharf is a most unlikely neighbor. Widgery is the real thing. Constructed in the late 1700s, it is a barebones, unsentimental haven for working fishermen and lobstermen. In Widgery’s confined space, lobster traps are stacked higher than the surrounding shacks. Everywhere are nets, buoys, and aging wooden planks. Out front, at the wharf’s entrance, the sign reads “No Trespassing.”

5. Chandler’s Wharf
 is the former Central Wharf. When the old wharf was torn down in 1985 and rebuilt with more than 150 upscale condominiums, that’s when Portland began to get nervous about the future of its working waterfront. You don’t enter Chandler’s Wharf unless you live here, but the fortunate tenants enjoy luscious views of the inner harbor.

6. Long Wharf is rather unwharflike. Is it a parking lot? Or a marina? Or a floating restaurant? Or all three? Constructed in the seventies from two older wharves, Long Wharf was the brainchild of Tony DiMillo. His eatery is the Holy Grail for many a wandering tourist: DiMillo’s on the Water, a floating restaurant inside a former ferry.

7. Portland Pier is a curious mix-’n’-match. At the front end is J’s Oyster, where they’ve been shucking shells and pouring drinks since the seventies. At the far end is New Meadows Lobster, shipping crustaceans since 1952. And in-between is a small, unassuming stretch of condominiums and offices, all squished together.

8. Custom House Wharf greets many a tourist and local on its cobblestoned roadway. Could be that people are headed towards those handmade tote bags refashioned from old sails at Sea Bags. Could be they’re meandering to the Porthole Restaurant. But most likely they’re aiming for Harbor Fish Market, one of the finest seafood markets on the East Coast.

9. Maine Wharf was once called Randall & McAllister’s Wharf. You want to buy a wharf? This one is for sale! Maybe you’d like a place to tie up your yacht, alongside the water taxis (when your yacht is in the yard) and Sea Tow (when your engine dies and you can’t get back to shore).

10. The Maine State Pier is the largest wharf and certainly the most heavily used by the public. It’s home to Casco Bay Lines and its distinctive yellow-striped ferries connecting the mainland to the islands. The pier is also a popular place to fish, and every summer hosts outdoor concerts.


No. 3: Allagash White: Portland’s Great Export

For many, their first taste of Maine comes through a sip of the light Belgian-style beer, Allagash White, brewed in the neighborhood of Riverton on the outskirts of Portland. While most locally crafted beers are reserved for Portland’s beer bars (including many of Allagash’s own smaller brews), those outside of Maine get to taste the fuss over Portland’s microbrew scene thanks to the growth and popularity of Allagash White.

  • Seventy-five percent of Allagash’s sales are because of Allagash White
  • Ninety percent of their overall business is out of state
  • Thirty-six thousand barrels were made in 2011 (up from 120 barrels when the company was founded in 1994 )
  • Seventeen states receive the beer
  • California is the largest buyer of Allagash White

No. 4: Maine’s jobs are here 
Portland-Biddeford-Saco is responsible for 30 percent of all the current jobs in Maine. Unemployment is at 6.1 percent, two points below the national average, and 1.5 percent lower than Maine as a whole.
Numbers from Bureau of Labor Statistics for July and August 2012

No. 5 – 11: John Coleman didn’t move to Madison Avenue



John Coleman started VIA advertising agency in Portland in 1993. In 2010, Coleman relocated the business not to a more populated urban center, but the historic Baxter Building on Congress Street. Since then, the company has launched national campaigns for Klondike, Samsung, and People’s United Bank, and won the Ad Age and Creativity Magazine Small Agency of the Year award in 2011.

Why did you keep VIA in Portland even as you were trying to lure national accounts?
My wife and I wanted to stay in Maine, where we grew up, but I found that if you’re running a creative business with high aspirations, Portland is as good a place as any in the world to do it from. Being here wasn’t a compromise. It’s actually been a strategic advantage for us. It’s an incredibly inspiring place. Innovation, ideas, and creativity oozes out of the people here and it makes for an amazing place to work from.

How specifically is it an advantage for VIA to be located here?
We have a line on our Web site that says “Portland is not where we live. It’s who we are.” A lot of our people come from big cities and realize the accessibility of the city allows them to go and do more than they could have in larger urban environments. People go surfing every day of the year, play music around the city, participate in First Fridays, and because you can access so much about what makes for a better quality of life, the employees are happier and more energized, and it makes them better at doing creative work at the agency. The work environments in other cities are really intense and grueling, but it’s easier to live and work in Portland and that helps us out by having happier, energized, curious, hard-working people.

What do you love about Portland?
Got a couple of hours? Here are a few: (No. 6) The beer challenge at Novare Res, which my wife and I are working our way through. (No. 7) Oyster happy hour at Hot Suppa! 
(No. 8) Porthole for my authentic Maine power breakfast. (No. 9) The little park on the Portland side of the Million Dollar Bridge where I can quasi-legally play catch with my dog. (No. 10) Running along Back Cove. (No. 11) One Longfellow Square for introducing me to Low Anthem before they became big. (No. 12) And the PMA, MECA, and SPACE Gallery are amazing and make up the backbone of this amazing arts scene in the city.

What would your slogan for Portland be?
Oh, man. Hmm. Maybe something like “Please Don’t Share the Truth.” I just really don’t want too many people to know the secret of how great Portland really is.
 —Will Bleakley

No. 13 – 17: Local music thrives

By Sam Pfeifle

Just as the city’s residents won’t tolerate pretentions in their political leaders and business folk, the city’s community of musicians does not tolerate anyone putting on airs.

We like our rock stars to act like it only on stage.

On any given night, one group’s lead singer becomes another’s bass player. There’s even a joke going around that runs like this: “Oh, you’re from Portland? How many bands are you in?”

Portland is a place where series like “Clash of the Titans” and “Cover to Cover” feature a group of players covering their favorite albums — before playing a set of their own material without a noticeable drop off. Where a club owner like the Big Easy’s Ken Bell can hold a musicians potluck BBQ and rappers hang with singer-songwriters and recording engineer Jonathan Wyman mans the grill. Where there are at least fifteen live-music venues within walking distance of one another.

It’s easy for a fan to feel a part of it all, to feel included. The barriers between popular and outsider, underground and mainstream have been broken down, or never existed in the first place, and that just leaves one thing: the music. Which is all that ever mattered in the first place.

Four bands to hear now:

(No. 14) Old Soul
Genre: Folk Rock
Track: “Thick as Thieves”
Album: Old Soul

(No. 15) Sunset Hearts
Genre: Dance Pop
Track: “Moments in Motion”
Album: Inside the Haunted Cloud 

(No. 16) Theodore Treehouse
Genre: Indie Rock
Track: “Big Monsters”
Album: Mercury, Closest to the Sun
Available on iTunes

(No. 17) Toughcats
Genre: Roots
Track: “Lovin’ a Lot”
Album: Woodenball
Available on iTunes

Sam Pfeifle is the music critic for the Portland Phoenix.

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