Wandering around Maine's biggest city, it's hard not to wonder where all the boat-shoed Republicans have gone. The vibe in Portland these days melds Mainers' natural druthers for all things woodsy and homespun with a bohemian, creative-class streak that's more commonly associated with that other Portland.
Both the rocky coast and the New England high country sit on the city's doorstep. On weekdays during the warmer months, nine-to-fivers will often put in for an evening paddle on Casco Bay or crowd the waterfront decks at Boone's Fish House & Oyster Room. Just north of city limits, the suburb of Falmouth offers a 45-mile network of forested, mostly singletrack trails protected by a local land trust. "You can stay pretty close to town but still be out in the woods, and ride for hours," says Matt Robbins, an ad agency production manager. And the surfing (that's right, surfing) is even closer. "I can drive to Higgins Beach in 10 minutes, surf over lunch when nobody's there, and be back at work within an hour," says Eli Cayer.
Cayer, 41, is the founder of Urban Farm Fermentory, a purveyor of hard ciders and kombuchas housed in an old warehouse in the rebounding, postindustrial East Bayside neighborhood (it's nicknamed Yeast Bayside for all the microbreweries located there). Yet even as it trends artisanal, Portland's waterfront has retained its working-class vibe (and slightly fishy smell), with plenty of lobstermen and seafood processors. Home prices have stayed steady, too. For $230,000 you can get a single-bedroom condo in the East End, within walking distance of the Old Port nightlife as well as the trails and beaches of the Eastern Promenade. Across the Fore River in South Portland, the same sum will get you a yard and a three-bedroom bungalow. Winters in Maine are no joke, with nor'easters dropping heavy snow well into April. But nearby are a half dozen ski resorts, as well as a host of innovative yet unpretentious farm-to-table restaurants. In the new Portland, that's one way residents stay cozy and satiated through the freeze.