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Portland Maine Gay Bars Guide - Best Portland Gay-Friendly Restaurants

Including Gay-Friendly Eateries and Cafes

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Here's a guide, with listings in alphabetical order, to the best nightlife and dining for gay travelers to Portland, Maine. To be sure, it would be a slight stretch to come up with a significant list of gay bars in Portland - as gay-friendly as this city is, it's home to just 67,000 residents, and there are really just a couple of full-time gay nightspots, plus a few other places with fairly mixed followings. So why the long list here? In Portland, as is increasingly true in many hip cities, the social scene - whether you're gay or straight - revolves heavily around restaurants, and this town has an astounding number of truly sensational places to eat. Plenty of cities five or six times larger would be lucky to have even half as many great restaurants.

On this list, then, you'll find the handful of gay bars (if you're looking for more, also take a look at my similar nightlife/dining guide to the nearby gay resort town of Ogunquit), along with a more extensive selection of some of the fantastic places to eat in Portland, with an emphasis on establishments with a particular following in the gay community. This is a fun city for dining and drinking year-round, by the way, although summer and fall are especially nice. Each June, Portland is the host of Southern Maine Gay Pride, and in late October, foodies and oenophiles arrive to partake of the Portland Harvest on the Harbor Food & Wine Festival.

Portland Maine Gay Bar Guide - continued on Page 2

1. Aurora Provisions Cafe & Market - restaurant

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photo by Andrew Collins
Head to Aurora Provisions (64 Pine St., 207-871-9060), a favorite source of breakfast and lunch as well as to-go snacks and groceries - perfect for stocking up before you go to the beach or out for a hike in the area. Burritos, smoothies, scones, creative sandwiches, salads, and sweets are available, and there's also a terrific wine selection. This is favorite of the West End's large gay community.

2. Blackstones - gay bar

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photo by Andrew Collins
A somewhat dive-y neighborhood gay bar that's toward the West End side of downtown, Blackstones (6 Pine St., 207-775-2885) has been serving the LGBT community since 1987, and is popular for shooting pool. The crowd tends toward 40s-and-up, and 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 juke box.

3. Brian Boru Pub - mixed bar

photo by Andrew Collins
Having occasionally hosted events of local gay organizations, homey and convivial Brian Boru Pub (57 Center St., 207-780-1506) 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.

4. Bubba's Sulky Lounge - mixed bar

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photo by Andrew Collins
It's gay, it's straight, it's a little of everything - Bubba's Sulky Lounge (92 Portland St., 207-772-6406), which is near Deering Oaks Park but just a few blocks from the heart of downtown, 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 from '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 in the late '80s (or even after).

5. Caiola's - restaurant

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photo by Andrew Collins
Partners Lisa Vaccaro and Abby Harmon (the chef) run one of the best contemporary-rustic Italian restaurants in Maine, a low-keyed yet romantic neighborhood restaurant called Caiola's (58 Pine St., 207-772-1110) in the GLBT-popular historic West End. Dishes like little gem salad with bacon, oven-roasted tomatoes, and gorgonzola dressing; and chili-and-orange-marinated grilled swordfish with chorizo, chickpeas, and spinach reveal Harmon's considerable skills. There's a terrific burger, too, topped with bacon and cheddar. And Caiola's is one of the favorite Sunday brunch options in the city. There's an exceptional wine list, prix-fixe multicourse dinners, a lighter bar menu featuring the likes of sweet rutabaga soup with ginger meringue and roasted hen leg with butter-glazed vegetables - lots of variety, and something for every mood.

6. Coffee by Design - coffeehouse

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photo by Andrew Collins
Micro-roaster Coffee by Design has three locations around Portland, all of them brewing wonderfully rich, carefully crafted coffees - the centrally situated one at 620 Congress Street (207-772-5533), which is fairly close to the West End, is arguably the most popular with the gay community, but 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 till 9 pm on Friday and Saturday nights, closing a bit earlier the rest of the week. Other branches are on the east edge of Old Port at 67 India Street (207-780-6767), and in the East End at 43 Washington Avenue (207-879-2233) - these two have shorter hours, especially the East End one. There's also a branch in Freeport at the famed L.L. Bean Flagship Store (207-865-2235), an excellent place for a refreshment if all that shopping wears you out.

7. David's Restaurant - restaurant

An elegant eatery overlooking the tree-shaded redbrick Monument Square, right in the center of downtown, David's (22 Monument Sq., 207-773-4340) 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, his food plenty interesting but 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.

8. Downtown Lounge - restaurant/mixed bar

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photo by Andrew Collins

Looking just a bit like a well-worn dive bar and enjoying popularity among hipsters, students, gays, artists, and fans of late-night snack, Downtown Lounge (606 Congress St., 207-828-9944) is right by the Portland Museum of Art, the new Westin Portland Harbourview, and the many attractive old houses of the West End. DTL is all about the atmosphere and the easygoing crowd - you can grab a seat at the bar or in one of the cozy booths, and order from a decent-size menu of affordable bar snacks (burgers, Greek salad, hot wings, hummus plates) and drinks (a fairly standard selection of cocktails, beers - with great deals on pitchers, and a few wines).

9. Duckfat - restaurant

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photo by Andrew Collins

The owner of Duckfat (43 Middle St., 207-774-8080) describes this always-packed establishment rather modestly, as a "small sandwich shop." Technically, that's right, but this place that often has lines out the door (and long waits, so prepare for that) 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 - of course - duck fat are other notable treats at this storefront space open daily from late morning till about 10 at night.

10. El Rayo Cantina & Taqueria - restaurant

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photo by Andrew Collins
El Rayo Cantina & Taqueria (85 & 101 York St., 207-780-8226) comprises a cozy cantina serving mostly small plates (queso fundido, hibiscus-pickled deviled eggs, corn-jalapeno fritters), a few entrees, and premium tequilas and other cocktails, and a festive taqueria with a good-size outdoor patio and a menu of tasty snacks (papas fritas, chips and guac), tacos (barbecue pulled pork, al carbon, black bean, carne asada), as well as chilaquiles, burritos, rice bowls, and other Mexican fare. These neighboring establishments are affordable and reliably good.

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