Morning and evening commutes in the West End often necessitate a stop at gourmet cafe, bakery, and market Aurora Provisions (auroraprovisions.com)—even if it’s just for a cappuccino and one of their house-made tarts. You can also pick up a bottle of wine from a selection of 500 labels. Many locals also start their day at OhNo Cafe (ohnocafe.com) and Omi’s Coffee Shop (facebook.com/OmisCoffeeShop) before heading off for work. The former serves up fresh coffee and breakfast sandwiches until close, the latter dreams up frothy latte concoctions.
If it’s lunchtime and you’re craving a sandwich, the butcher shop at neighborhood deli Fresh Approach (freshapproachmarket.com) is well known for its selection of meat, and the butcher will happily give you a custom cut. It’s the kind of place that takes an old-school approach—even the website features retro, 1950s-style photos.
There are five city parks located in the neighborhood, including Clark Street Park, Harbor View Memorial Park, Tate/Tyng Playground, and McIntyre Park. The largest—and best known—is the historic Western Promenade. (It would be the perfect place for a picnic, if you’ve ordered that sandwich to go.) On a clear day, it’s possible to see all the way to New Hampshire’s White Mountains, including Mount Washington. At the southern end of the Prom, you’ll find the shaded 12-acre Western Cemetery (portlandmaine.gov). Its paths, which were planned by civil engineer James Hall in 1840, are still popular with walkers and joggers today. To the north is the state’s largest hospital, Maine Medical Center, while in between are landmarked mansions by architects like Frederick A. Thompson and Charles A. Alexander. Visit the website of Portland Landmarks (portlandlandmarks.org) for the full walking tour.
If you’re on foot, don’t miss Natasha Mayers’s Art Underfoot (publicartportland.org), a Portland Public Art Committee commission on the sidewalks of Longfellow Square. The artist enlisted students at Reiche to help cast 125 tiles in bronze, which feature images of leaves, flowers, acorns, shells, and insects. It’s located beneath the statue of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who was born in Portland in 1807. (If you’re there in December, you may find him decorated for the holidays, appearing to open a beautifully wrapped present.)
Bordering the Arts District, Longfellow Square has become the home of the neighborhood’s restaurant and bar scene. If you fancy a good night out, one can be had without ever leaving the square. You’ll find a cool bistro style, ramen-noodle restaurant Pai Men Miyake (miyakerestaurants.com), and, on the corner, hip watering hole LFK (facebook.com/LFKportland). The latter serves up beers from favorite Maine breweries alongside burgers and bookshelves. Across the street, the nonprofit, 200-seat performance space One Longfellow Square (onelongfellowsquare.com) has seen musicians like Dar Williams, Shawn Colvin, and Charles Neville on its stage, while around the corner, Portland’s oldest gay bar, Blackstones (blackstones.com), has a great welcoming vibe and an always-in-demand pool table.
If you’re more in the mood for a slice, you’ll find Bonobo Pizza (bonobopizza.com) just down Pine Street. These aren’t your typical pies. Bonobo makes wood-fired pizzas with gourmet toppings such as local asparagus, arugula, and almond pesto, as well as gluten-free dough, for dining in and out.
If you’re looking for an after-dinner drink, Ruski’s Tavern (207.772.5656) is a neighborhood institution with a jukebox, plenty of vintage beer signs, a rotating cast of colorful characters, and an all-night happy hour. Heading towards High Street, you can grab a craft beer at Little Tap House (littletaphouse.com). The gastropub also serves lunch, dinner, and brunch on the weekends—look out for local singer and songwriter Sam Chase, who plays live acoustic music on Sundays.
While the West End has dozens of landmarked buildings, most are private residences. You can, however, tour what’s perhaps the grandest of them all: the Victoria Mansion (victoriamansion.org). It was built around 1860 as the summer home of Mainer-turned-wealthy-hotelier Ruggles Sylvester Morse. Incredibly, 90 percent of the original furnishings are still in place, and the interiors remain opulent with rich gilding, intricate plasterwork, and trompe l’oeil wall and ceiling decoration.
Another way to experience the West End’s Victorian architecture firsthand is through one of the several nineteenth-century homes turned hotels, which are nestled into the neighborhood. Raymond Brunyanszki and Oscar Verest, who transformed the Camden Harbour Inn into a world-renowned boutique hotel, have recently taken over the Danforth Inn (danforthinn.com), and have big plans for the elegant nine-room hotel. In addition, there’s the West End Inn (westendbb.com), the Pomegranate Inn (pomegranateinn.com), the Inn On Carleton (innoncarleton.com), the Morrill Mansion Bed and Breakfast (morrillmansion.com), and the Percy Inn (percyinn.com), which are all located in the heart of the West End, yet still within walking distance of the Old Port.
Read the full story on the history and culture of this western neighborhood: West End Story.