Portland, Maine may be my new favorite city. In short, it’s beautiful and walkable, friendly and weird, surrounded by water and regularly serenaded by the songs of seagulls, and it has perfect weather in early August, which is when I was there! However, the reason I’m most impressed with Portland is because it has an amazing vinyl and beer scene, and so you can enjoy the experience too, provided below is a quick reference guide to hitting up the right spots on your next, or your first, trip to the “other” Portland in Maine.
Nestled downtown and on (or right off) Congress Street are five record stores (yep 5!) within a few blocks of each other. Starting from north to south, pop into Electric Buddhas, which has a small but decent selection of vinyl plus other fun stuff like vintage boomboxes, retro video games and lava lamps for sale.
On the same block and a few paces south is Moody Lords Vinyl, which is hands down my favorite record store in Portland. Moody Lords has an amazing and eclectic collection of mostly used and some new vinyl that is meticulously organized and thoughtfully laid out. I found psychedelic gems in their record bins I had been searching for for years, such as Zabriskie Point and Here We Are Again by Country Joe and the Fish. While checking out, I also learned that the record store is cooperatively owned by three locals who combined forces to sell their collections in one convenient location, which also has carefully curated vintage clothing for sale.
A few more paces south on Congress Street is Strange Maine, which is a fitting name for an intentionally strange record store. The vibe is metal but friendly and the layout is chaotic. Half organized record bins line the walls and a middle island in a poorly lit room, in addition to VHS tapes for sale, odd and expressive art and old school video games. I was able to pick up a nice copy of the self-titled live album, Hot Tuna from their dollar bin that includes a solid rendition of the legendary blues song, Death Don’t Have No Mercy, originally by the Harlem gospel and blues musician, Reverend “Blind” Gary Davis, as well as an upbeat version of a blues classic often played by the good ole’ Grateful Dead, I Know You Rider. When checking out, I paid with a $5 bill and received $4 in change in quarters (which I thought was strange … fitting?), and I also noticed a grassroots flyer urging Strange Maine’s patrons to put a stop to KKK activity further north in the state. Again, the experience was bizarre but enjoyable.
Last but not least is Enterprise Records, which is right off Congress and on Park Street. Enterprise is owned by an older guy who obviously knows his music and seems to be living his dream by owning a record store. The shop was open but it looked under construction, which may be the perpetual vibe. The owner was super friendly and offered to play anything I was interested in on his main record player. When fingering through his blues and jazz bins, I was tempted to take him up on his offer and test out John Lee Hooker’s Endless Boogie, but I decided not to, strictly because what he had spinning was incredible and obscure – Orchestre Massako, an afro-Cuban folk gem. It also spoke to the owner’s impressive international selection, which wasn’t huge but curated with care.
In addition to having an amazing and eclectic array of record stores nicely nestled together on Congress Street, Portland also has breweries galore grouped together close to the city’s East End. Their proximity makes it easy to pop into five different breweries (yep 5!) in one afternoon. The breweries, all within a short walk from each other, includes Austin Street Brewery, Rising Tide Brewing Company, Belleflower Brewing Company, Urban Farm Fermentory & Gruit Brewing Co., and Lone Pine Brewing Company, each of which offers something tasty and a little bit different. My favorite among the bunch was Belleflower thanks to their super chill and pleasant outdoor seating area, densely hazy New England IPAs and regular solid food truck options like Great Wave Sushi, so you can pair your beer with a delicious sushi burger or poké nachos.
If you’re looking for a lot of variety in one spot, including non-alcoholic options, check out Urban Farm Fermentory, which offers craft kombucha, cider, beer, gruit, mead and jun all using local and foraged seasonal ingredients, when available. Or, if you’re willing to drive 20 minutes north of Portland to Freeport, you can grab one of the best IPAs ever made and enjoy “Lunch” or “Dinner” at the one and only Maine Beer Company!