Every new year brings plenty of change, specifically when it comes to restaurants and bars in Portland, Maine. 2021 saw a few longtime favorites say goodbye, but also brought a lot of new faces, tastes and experiences to the Portland food and drink scene. Here’s a snapshot of the openings and closings for 2021 throughout the city.
Binga’s Stadium decided to move their operations into the old diner that was once Maelily Ryleigh’s on Forest Avenue. The massive space left behind was snapped up and reimagined as Free Street. The restaurant/bar will offer two floors of dining and entertainment, including a stage space for live music on the basement level.
Rathskeller On Wharf
Once home to the dance club 51 Wharf, Rathskeller is already finding their footing as an underground hotspot for locals and visitors alike. Similar to other establishments in the family like Tomaso’s Canteen and Samuel’s, Rathskeller is focused on providing quality food and drink that caters to the crowd Wharf Street brings in.
With the closure of Five Guys and B.Good, there was a clear opening for a new burger joint in Portland and Butcher Burger has arrived to fill the void. Piggybacking off their popularity in Bethel and Old Orchard Beach, Butcher Burger offers a variety of upscale burgers, sandwiches and lobster rolls that are unique. Don’t sleep on their fries either.
Luna Rooftop Bar
Atop the Canopy Hotel sits Luna Rooftop Bar that may have perfected the rooftop bar experience for the Old Port. Remarkable views are paired with inventive cocktails and a focused menu. That combination led to Luna being one of the hottest spots in town when they opened this past summer.
Crispy Gai has an unassuming exterior but packs a powerful punch when you walk through the door. Their fried chicken has already grown a cult following in Portland within a few short months and time may be running out for you to experience Crispy Gai without lines stretching out the door next summer.
Portland probably didn’t realize it wanted a hard seltzery until it got one. After the first weekend Apres opened, it was clear they’d be a massive hit. Their creative hard seltzer offerings and their chic tasting room have brought crowds in and there appears to be no shortage of hard seltzer lovers in the city.
Something so simple, yet so damn delicious. Cheese Louise has taken grilled cheese sandwiches up a notch in Portland with a serious of mouthwatering options. Their street side seating was a huge hit in the summer and fall and they may become the go-to late night place in the not-too-distant future.
After finding plenty of success in Freeport and Yarmouth, Brickyard Hollow opened a new location on Commercial Street in Portland. Just like their other locations, they specialize in gourmet pizzas and offer a selection of craft beers to pair with them.
After the closure of MJ’s Wine Bar, people were curious what would take over the vacant space. The answer was Citrus. It’s definitely not a juice bar but instead the kind of pure dance club that Portland really hasn’t had in years. They feature regional DJs several nights per week.
Sandwiches have always been a big deal in Portland and one of the newest sandwich purveyors in the city is Cera. Located on the ground floor of an office building at Monument Square, Cera offers up a wide array of ‘elevated’ wraps, paninis and salads.
Initially intended to be the new location of A&C Grocery, Dirty Dove came out of nowhere as one of Portland’s latest cocktail-forward establishments. Dirty Dove successfully gives off a unique vibe, with a select menu of hot and cold drinks and pretty plates of food to go along with them.
Tokyo Sushi and Ramen Bar
After BRGR Bar quietly disappeared, Tokyo Sushi and Ramen Bar took over their vacant space on Brown Street. Tokyo Sushi’s menu is huge (almost too big) and features a wide selection of sushi rolls, ramen bowls, classic Asian dishes and Hibachi offerings as well.
Old Port Nutrition
Right next door to Portland House of Music and Events, you’ll find a new pick-me-up shop called Old Port Nutrition. They serve up a menu of teas and shakes that feature some wild flavors but also some add-ons like collagen, probiotics and protein.
Friends & Family
Taking over the space formerly occupied by Vinland, Friends & Family is a laid back mixture of all good things. Part market where wine and other goodies can be purchased, part bar/restaurant serving small plates and some pizza that has quickly become a townie favorite.
Formerly Flood’s at the Francis Hotel, Wayside Tavern serves the dual purpose of being a place to come together with friends for a drink and some bar snacks as well a great date spot for an upscale meal with a delicious wine pairing.
Starting out as a coffee cart, Buzz Coffee has officially opened their underground coffee shop on Exchange Street. They serve everything from espresso to cappuccino to cold brew to a rotating drip of coffee goodness.
Helm Oyster Bar + Bistro
Located on the ground floor of the new WEX building, Helm offers a raw bar filled with different oyster and clam choices. The rest of their menu rotates seasonally and can be paired with their natural wines, craft cocktails and New England-born beer offerings.
Don’t worry, you’re not seeing double. Earlier in 2021, Flores opened a second location serving up their most popular Salvadoran dishes including fried taquitos, enchiladas and pupusa. Their other location, Flores Uptown, remains open as well.
Located on the ground floor of the Canopy Hotel, Salt Yard Cafe is a cozy spot to grab a salad, a cup of chowder, house-made pasta or even a plate of fried chicken. They also have an extensive menu of craft cocktails.
Formerly a Papa John’s location, Falafel Time has opened and is serving up vegetarian Middle Eastern options as well as Halal Pepperoni Pizza and Beef Kebab plates.
One of the more unique dessert shops in Portland, Zephyr Ice is a food cart turned brick-and-mortar location. They serve up the Hawaiian favorite, shave ice, with homemade ice cream and homemade syrups.
Another unique space that opened in 2021 was the Maker’s Galley on Commercial Street. It features a fully built-out home kitchen for cooking classes and other presentations. Beyond that, they serve up a menu of small plates with wine and beer offerings. They also host a collection of Maine-made products for customers to browse.
One of the most iconic late-night stops in Portland’s history officially closed. Bill’s Pizza, who had a prime position along Commercial Street, officially shut their doors in early-2021. The vacancy didn’t last long, as The Holy Donut took over the space and opened their new location this past summer.
One of the coziest restaurants on the West End, Little Giant, surprised the entire city when they announced their closure and sale to Gin & Luck in 2021. The closure caught many employees and fans of the restaurant off guard and the space remains closed with Gin & Luck likely opening early in 2022.
One of true gems of Portland, Figgy’s, officially packed up shop in 2021. Serving up some seriously delicious fried chicken and biscuits, Figgy’s had grown a cult following. Not all is lost, as Figgy’s will continue to do occasional popups around the city for the foreseeable future.
MJ’s Wine Bar
One of the best after-work decompression spots in Portland shut their doors in 2021. MJ’s Wine Bar, citing a desire to shift their business model, closed in March. The business model turned into a true nightclub, called Citrus, that offers a vastly different experience than MJ’s.
All about their fresh pasta, Ada’s brought some of their Rockland-born charm to Congress Street. They announced the permanent closure of their Portland location after Christmas, with intentions to continue operations in Rockland.
Big Sky Bread Company
For more than a decade, Big Sky Bread Company was a fixture at the Portland Public Market in Monument Square. The pandemic crushed a lot of lunch-forward businesses and that includes the Big Sky location at PPM. Their location on Deering Avenue remains open.
A really tasty Thai restaurant located right in the heart of the Old Port, Cheevitdee closed their doors for good in February of 2021. They left the door open for something to come about down the line. Their space was taken over by Cheese Louise.