When the pandemic upended the state’s tourism scene, Maine hoteliers didn’t hunker down — they got busy: acquiring, building, renovating, reinventing. We checked in with some of the ambitious proprietors who make the state’s hospitality sphere sizzle and visited new and updated properties all across the state, from a complex of captains’ houses to a mountain yoga retreat to a reinvented MDI resort. Starting rates listed here are typically for the off-season, with summer rates running 20 to 80 percent higher and varying with date and capacity. Peak summer 2022 may well be booked up already, so look at weekdays and ahead to late summer and fall — and always make your reservations as early as possible.
Lark Hotels reopened what had been the Danforth Inn, on Portland’s West End, in February 2020, just before the pandemic’s arrival gave the Massachusetts-based boutique hotelier an unsought pause to keep finessing its concept for the 1823 Federal-style mansion. “I’ve always loved that property,” Lark president Rob Blood says. “The most beautiful architecture, and the details inside are amazing.” Still, Lark didn’t want the space to be a period piece. “We wanted it to feel like a house,” Blood says, “like your well-connected friend’s home in Portland.” It does, if your friend happens to love eye-popping statement light fixtures and keep her pantry chock-full of indulgent artisan snacks and drinks. Both the guest rooms and the ample, plush common spaces are bright, mod, and eclectic, with cool art everywhere (much of it, Blood says, sourced from Route 1 antique vendors). Each room includes a note from a different Portland creative-class VIP, sharing favorite spots around town. “Blind tiger,” by the way, is Prohibition slang for a speakeasy, and the inn’s subterranean billiards room retains the feel of the illicit gin joint it was a century ago.
Perks: impressive complimentary breakfast spread; loaner picnic baskets; fireplaces in all but one guest room.
The team from Bar Harbor’s Swan Hospitality Group more or less hasn’t stopped renovating since taking over the Bayview Hotel for its 2019 season. New furniture and fixtures, new tile bathrooms, splashy new linens and floor coverings, bright new walls and botanical-print wallpapers, even a new roof. From the pop-art deer paintings in the lounge to the topiary dogs and twig chandelier in the lobby, suffice to say that if you knew the somewhat drab Bayview before, you won’t recognize the bright, fun, woodsy-campy boutique property it’s become. New this summer: a smart gift shop full of Maine-made trinkets, buzzy books, and chichi toiletries, run by Northeast Harbor’s Main Street Mercantile, as well as an expanded food menu in the Rusticator Lounge, which serves vegetarian and vegan fare (and has a great wine and bubbly list). What hasn’t changed from the old days? Every room still has a balcony with a knockout ocean view. It’s a pricier stay than some neighboring properties outside the heart of Bar Harbor, but the Bayview is a terrific MDI splurge.
Perks: some rooms pet friendly; shuttle to Village Green; complimentary breakfast.
In September 2020, as tourists were gingerly returning to MDI and Acadia National Park, Kennebunkport hotelier Tim Harrington bought Southwest Harbor’s storied Claremont Hotel, established in 1884. Overlooking Somes Sound, the one-time getaway of the Gilded Age gentry was grand but tired, and a renovation in the neighborhood of $15 million has turned it into a mash-up of old-school gentility and contemporary bougie opulence. The guest rooms are seaside chic, big on pastels and patterned wallpaper and textiles, while the cottages and cabins affect a sort of winking, designer take on a Maine camp, with fieldstone fireplaces and white subway tiles, wicker rockers and faux-fur ottomans. The playful feel — call it “mod rusticator pastiche” — extends to the rentable canopied cabanas, dockside bar (styled like a fishing camp), and clubby game room, with its table shuffleboard and wall-mounted giant Scrabble board. For decades, the hotel was known for hosting the Claremont Classic national croquet tournament, and one of its courts has been lovingly maintained (with gear and lessons available), while the other has become a heated infinity pool with a truly breathtaking view of the sound.
Perks: full-service spa; loaner bikes; on-site fine-dining restaurant; concerts and movie nights.
JennyBess “JB” Dulac, a corporate lawyer turned yogini and hospitality maven, has been running yoga and wellness retreats out of a picturesque rental property in Phippsburg for years. This summer, she’s shifting her practice from the coast to the mountains, having just taken over the Inn on Winter’s Hill, a Georgian Revival–style mansion built in the 1890s by Amos Winter Sr. (whose son and namesake founded nearby Sugarloaf Mountain Resort). On six acres abutting the Carrabassett River, the building was designed by local boys Francis and Freelan O. Stanley, inventors of the Stanley Steamer motorcar, and Dulac’s first upgrades included the addition of a roomy yoga annex and a thorough renovation of bathrooms across the property. Further facelifts, she says, will involve making the rooms “a little less Queen Anne, a little more mountain-rustic” (also, the addition of a pool), but for now, the vibe in the main house is elegant colonial (with a more relaxed, country-style aesthetic in the adjacent barn building). Guests rub shoulders with mat-toting participants in the yoga residencies, and writers’ retreats are in the works for later this year.
Perks: trails across the property; yoga and meditation classes; private dining available.
Portland’s New American fine-dining pioneer 555 had a 17-year run, and when chef Steve Corry and front-of-house maven Michelle Corry closed it in 2020, they didn’t rule out a new location. Come May, the Corrys aim to reboot the restaurant at The Federal, Brunswick’s new and sleekly understated 30-room boutique hotel. Same white-tablecloth, farm-to-table ethos, and chef Corry has teased the return of his signature lobster mac and cheese, with black truffles and five-cheese béchamel. 10 Water St., Brunswick.
New York’s sustainably sourced sushi bar Rosella has earned praise (like a “Best New Restaurant” nod from Esquire) for its delicate, creative preparations of seafood not often found on nigiri or sashimi plates — mussels, say, or smoked trout. So it’s exciting to imagine what the East Village restaurant’s first outpost, opening in midsummer at Kennebunk’s Grand Hotel, can do with daily catch from the Gulf of Maine and the state’s aquacultural bounty. 1 Chase Hill Rd., Kennebunk.
The street-level Salt Yard Café handles breakfast and lunch at Canopy, a 135-room Hilton property in the Old Port that opened last summer, but the indoor-outdoor rooftop bar, of which Portland has too few, is the more fun nosh of the two. Oysters, crudo, charcuterie, and approachable small plates (think spicy duck wings and lobster toast) complement a none-too-esoteric craft-cocktail menu (that’s disappointingly light on Maine spirits). Get a firepit table, if you can. 285 Commercial St., Portland.
On the outside, it’s an unassuming 1920s bungalow that could be mistaken for a nicely kept residential home. On the inside, the vibe is all Wyeth farmhouse, with four pleasantly spartan rooms — down from five since Pi Piraeus and Jenny Lewandowski took over in 2019, renovating the upstairs so that every room has an en suite bath with new tile, fixtures, and plumbing. There’s nothing ostentatious about the Brooklin Inn, although the menu in the dining room and pub are a bit elevated, showcasing what’s local and seasonal in a pocket of the midcoast known for both fishing and organic farming. The pandemic prompted Piraeus and Lewandowski to mow the field out back and set up picnic tables for outdoor dining; it’s now the perfect spot to toss a few balls on the bocce court while enjoying a glass from the list of small-production wines. Guests seem drawn to the backyard on summer evenings, never mind that the inn is less than an hour from Mount Desert Island. “Most of our guests are here to explore a quieter part of the Maine coast,” Lewandowski says.
Perks: pet friendly; complimentary breakfast spread; short walk to the Brooklin General Store.
When Dover-Foxcroft’s long-shuttered Mayo woolen mill reopened as a mixed-use complex in 2015, the industrial-rustic mash-up of the Mill Inn was a Maine-hospitality unicorn: a stylish boutique property in an undersung destination for well under $200 a night. The exposed wood and plumbing, the weathered-wood furnishings, the vintage bobbins and other decorative mill bric-a-brac — it all felt very authentic and connected to place (and, yeah, very Instagram friendly). After the pandemic closed both the inn and the café downstairs, they took a troublingly long time to reopen. When they did, last winter, the inn was under new management, run by Experience Maine, a Portland-based travel concierge dipping a toe into the lodging sector. The company isn’t touching the simple, pitch-perfect décor, just adding a few elements to make longer stays more practical in a town with limited amenities: microwaves and mini-fridges, plus a help-yourself closet full of extra bedding, toiletries, cutlery, and the like, as the self–check-in property has no reception. Also new: packages aiming to introduce some of the Piscataquis Valley’s cooler local businesses. Guests might arrive to find welcome gifts from Borestone Soap Co. or Bob’s Sugarhouse or gift certs to Milo’s Bissell Brothers brewery or Dover’s yummy Peace, Love, and Waffles.
Perks: great baked goods, coffee drinks, and lunches at the Mill Cafe downstairs.
Eileen Hornor ran the Brunswick Inn on stately Park Row for 11 years before the pandemic forced an atavistic pivot. Built as a private home in 1848, it had once been a boarding house for Bowdoin College students, and in fall 2020, with residence halls partially closed, Hornor welcomed students again. Then, in March 2021, an accidental fire in a student’s room caused extensive smoke damage. At first, Hornor was devastated. “Then, I had an aha moment,” she says. “I realized it was the opportunity to make the hotel of my dreams.” The reborn inn retains much of what’s made it a perennial Down EastBest of Maine Readers’ Choice pick: cozy common areas with books and board games (Brunswick-opoly, anyone?), rocking chairs on a wraparound porch overlooking food trucks and concerts on the town mall. But the refresh brought handsome new fixtures and tile floors to the (once-linoleum) bathrooms and a bolder aesthetic to the rooms, with smart antique furnishings offsetting contemporary palettes and patterns on fabrics, walls, and floors (bye-bye carpeting, hello rich wood and stylish rugs). A former breakfast nook is now Pub165, where guests and the public sip craft cocktails on an overstuffed leather couch or by the yawning fireplace, while snacking on charcuterie, crudités, and more.
Perks: if you prefer contactless, the cute carriage house is self–check-in (with its own self-serve snack bar); full-service breakfast (not included in rates).
A former textile mill transformed into an industrial-luxe, loft-like urban hotel, complete with a rooftop pool, gallery space, and an outpost of Batson River Brewing & Distilling. Expect tall windows, lots of exposed brick, and flat-screens and gas fireplaces in every room. Taking reservations for August.
Slated for July, a swish revamp of the 1940s Colony Cottages. Once-homespun cottages, with kitchenettes and porches, are updated to plush, while details around the outdoor pool, game room, and retro snack bar play up mid-century charm. From the folks who remade The Claremont, in Southwest Harbor, and guests have access to the substantial grounds and amenities there.
New from the ground up, the contemporary hotel is part of Colby College’s investment in downtown Waterville, which includes a dorm and an in-progress arts center. Art by photographer Tanja Hollander, sculptor Bernard Langlais, and basket weaver Jeremy Frey adds some Maine character. Aiming for August, but the excellent Front & Main restaurant is open now.
A pair of adjacent former B&Bs reopening in June as a single boutique property. The former 19th-century summer cottages have plenty of history, but the vibe is playful and modern, with gold-leaf doors, vivid patterned wallpapers, and a lighthearted Age of Sail motif that finds decorative globes and krakens popping up in unexpected places — there’s even a rum bar.
Another new project from Lark Hotels, this micro-campus of historic mansions in a residential neighborhood has its roots in 2004, when Lark founder Rob Blood bought what was then the Captain Fairfield Inn. Back then, other innkeepers ran B&Bs in three other 19th-century captains’ homes nearby: the Nathaniel Lord Mansion, William Jefferds House, and Acton Patterson House. Gradually, Blood bought them up, and last May, Lark reopened all four under one banner. After a $25 million investment in the purchase and extensive renovations, each house now has its own distinct personality: the James Fairfield House is modern and bright, with bold colors and furnishings; the Nathaniel Lord Mansion is sumptuous and stately, with dark woods and four-poster beds; the William Jefferds House is all white-and-cream interiors bathed in sunlight; and the four-bedroom Acton Patterson House feels like a breezy summer home, a whole-house rental for groups. Common spaces are shared, and guests are encouraged to explore other mansions. “To me, the Jefferds House feels like summer,” general manager Kristen Caouette says, “but when I walk into the Nathaniel Lord Mansion, I just want to cozy up with a bottle of wine by the fireplace.”
Perks: yoga classes in a carriage house; fireplaces in most rooms; loaner beach chairs and bikes.
Ask Lauren and Greg Soutiea why they purchased the Craignair Inn, at the end of a peninsula in St. George, out of the 20 different properties they looked at all across New England, and if you happen to be on the inn’s lovely covered deck, they’ll just gesture around silently at neighboring Clark Island and the picturesque coves on either side. You can’t beat the Craignair’s location, and since the Soutieas took it over, in 2019, they’ve done a lot to help guests soak in the surroundings: put in that deck, added 170-square-foot balconies to rooms on the inn’s second floor, and leveled out the back lawn, adding picnic tables and firepits to facilitate hanging out. They’ve also renovated guest rooms and bathrooms across the nearly century-old property, which includes eight hotel-style rooms in a former chapel and 13 cozier ones in a building that once housed workers quarrying granite on spruce-studded Clark Island — now a Maine Coast Heritage Trust preserve, accessed via a pedestrian causeway. The Causeway is the name of the inn’s terrific restaurant, where the Soutieas have added, among other things, an outdoor walk-up bar for cocktails and ice cream.
Perks: complimentary full-menu breakfast; beach and trails; rooftop solar panels providing some 80 percent of the inn’s energy usage.