Watch out, Portland, you may turn into a metropolitan city yet. Just consider how downtown’s streetscape is changing fast with the surge of luxury hotels and big-deal dining halls taking center stage.
At Tuesday’s ribbon cutting the newest of these super-hotels opened officially, and by 2 p.m. room reservations were being taken at the Hyatt Place Portland-Old Port Hotel, a virtual skyscraper standing — well, um — 7 stories high.
The building and its modernistic steel-gray sheath that has hung over Fore Street during the year-long construction phase now looms bright and shiny, giving the brick-faced pallor of Old Port architecture a little kick in the pants.
Mayor Brennan was there to officiate, greeted by the hotel’s staff and developer, Portland’s very own Tim Soley (he owns, amongst countless other buildings in the city, Canal Plaza next door).
I had my fill of glad-handing and hellohowareyous. But I returned later that evening to get the scoop on its cocktail lounge, Glass, with its extensive menu of small plates and craft cocktails in a bar room that is very skinny-tie-cool Mad Men 1960s décor within. The semi-circular banquettes, the Danish modern chairs covered in cerulean blue fabric, large canvases of modern art on the walls (by local artists, I’m told) and creative lighting and other touches contribute to this being such a swanky space.
Management had pinched master mixologist Josh Miranda from his recent perch as star barkeep at the Westin’s Top of the East. He said he loved being up high at the Westin but actually prefers the street action that you see through the huge panes of glass that front on Fore Street.
This very urbane set-up offers a small plate menu created by chef Kelsey Ryder who heads the Metropolitan Club, a staunch mid-western haunt for private dining in downtown Cincinnati under the flagship of Commonwealth Hotel Management Company; they also oversee the operations at Portland’s Hyatt.
His menu covers all the basics using local foods including tacos with Maine lobster, panneed oysters with creamed spinach and caramelized onions, peeky-toe clam poppers, lobster sliders and more (priced at $9 to $16). I tried the lobster tacos and they were filled with large chunks of briny meat and a sweet combination of spicy-sour chipotle lime aioli and tomato-avocado relish, which lent it a walloping zing of flavor. The panneed oysters were awash in a somewhat soggy coating but the mash of caramelized onions offered a redemptive spicy splash.
As for the very popular Miranda and his list of craft cocktails up his sleeve he proudly brought out his smoking glass Manhattan with billows of steamy vapor scented with hickory wood. Even though I’m not a whiskey drinker, this was a sensational blend, the smoke adding great flourish and flavor.
The Hyatt doesn’t have a restaurant, unlike its nearest competitor, the Portland Harbor Hotel or the nearby Westin and its dining facilities off the lobby and the rooftop lounge.
Glass is the only food and drink venue at the hotel, unless you consider the lobby’s Starbucks counter that looks more like a patisserie than macchiato hangout. But I was told that as the hotel gets its bearings, with those small plates perhaps getting larger, the space could morph into a downtown bistro-bar lounge.
On the other hand right across the street is the ultra-cool Central Provisions, which is now open for lunch, and a hot spot indeed for dinner as well as all the other Old Port fine dining dragons like Miyake, Piccolo, Walter’s, Fore Street, HLS’s Rooms and the soon to open Timber.
The next member to join Portland’s growing Mecca of glam hotels is the upcoming Press Hotel, the former Portland Press Herald building, currently under renovation. I have it on good authority that their future restaurant is going to be a big deal — housed in a 4,500 square space opposite City Hall. As I alluded to several months ago in this space, a nationally acclaimed chef will be at the helm. Stay tuned as that story unfolds.
For sure, Portland is becoming more than just a small foodie town in a larger world. Instead it’s getting big in its own right and the world just seems that much smaller. Or to re-phrase Bette Davis’s immortal parting words in the 1942 melodrama, Now Voyager, “Who needs the moon when we have the stars!”