Cheese, beer, and Bunyan
My husband, Byron, and I hop in the car on a beautiful blue-sky Maine day and point the car north. After what feels like a very fast ride we arrive in Bangor. We make a quick stop at Bangor Wine and Cheese Company and are quickly taken in by the incredible selection of wine, beer, and local cheeses. Since it’s a cheese shop, fresh breads from local bakers are also on display. Morgan Wren, the store’s manager, shares tastes of a few cheeses and tells us about how the store supports Maine businesses.
It’s getting to be check-in time, so we make our way to the Charles Inn, the only hotel in downtown Bangor, and are welcomed with a big smile by Kristin Jenkins, who gives us keys to what will be our home for the next few days, Our expansive room has a very comfortable four-poster bed and looks out over Broad Street. A former walk-in safe in the room has been converted into a well-stocked library.
We set our bags down and decide to take stroll around town. We stumble upon the jewelry store Designs by Aaron. Owner Aaron Jenkins, who has been in town for only three years, shows us his work, which is nothing short of breathtaking.
Since it’s late afternoon and we skipped lunch, we hop back in the car and take a short drive to Geaghan’s Pub and Craft Brewery for some midday sustenance. The pub is filled with locals who, by the tone of the banter, are most definitely regulars. We order a few beers, boneless buffalo chicken wings, and an epic warm blue cheese dip. Feeling satiated, we take a short walk to Hollywood Casino. While neither Byron nor I are big gamblers, we play a few slot machines, and Byron hits pay dirt: he wins two cents.
Just across the street from the casino is a giant statue of Paul Bunyon so of course we walk over to snap photos of this gentle giant.
Drinks and locally sourced dinner
After taking a power nap at the inn, we make our way to Timber Kitchen and Bar, where there is an ice bar complete with a life-sized sculpture of a snowmobile. We warm up with a drink called the Nor‘easter, which is a close cousin to a Manhattan, and make up our minds about dinner.
We decide to head to Novio’s, where owner Bob Cutler explains that the restaurant is working to grow 80 percent of its own produce. The menu changes daily and is filled with vegan and gluten-free dishes. Our meals are amazing—I have Szechuan pepper ahi tuna, and Byron chooses the risotto with cider-roasted butternut squash and lobster.
Exploring local haunts
We start our day with a stop at Bagel Central and immediately know we are in the right spot. Even at 8:45 a.m. the place is humming, and the selection of bagels, cream cheeses, breads, and breakfast sandwiches is almost overwhelming. I am glad to see they have gluten- free bagels, and we both go with the egg, lox, and onion bagel sandwich.
We then stroll down to the newly opened Grind House for a couple of lattes to charge us up for the day. A store across the street catches our eye, so we wander over to Epic Sports, which is an outdoor lover’s dream store. Byron grabs a new winter hat, and we take note of a new lightweight tent that’s now on our wish list for this summer’s camping trips.
From there we make our way to Antique Marketplace and Cafe and get swept away by the variety of furniture, old records, ephemera, antique toys, clothes, and home decor items that seem to fill every nook and cranny.
Of course, being in Bangor means we have to make a pilgrimage to Stephen King’s home. Not hard to find, the house has a fence with bats on it. We do a respectful drive-by of this majestic home and take a photo. We decide to keep it spooky, so we head to the Mount Hope Cemetery and Crematory, Bangor’s oldest cemetery. It’s a gray day, and as we pull in we see a herd of deer at the top of a hill. We park the car and walk the grounds and are swept away by not only the beauty of the place but also the sense of real history.
Downtown shopping and contemporary art
Back in town, we stop at Mexicali Blues. The store got its start as a small shop in Portland 30 years ago and features an eclectic mix of clothes, jewelry, tie-dye items, and prayer flags. I tell the manager that I was one of Pete and Kimberly Erskine’s first customers in the original store.
Next, we hit the Rock and Art Shop. This family- owned business is really hard to describe—from plants to preserved insects to a stuffed ostrich, its incredible variety of goods could keep you exploring and shopping all afternoon.
It’s midafternoon and we are feeling puckish, so we make our way to Paddy Murphy’s. The vibe of this neighborhood gathering place is warm, and the burgers are amazing (yes, they offer gluten-free buns).
Our Bloody Marys are so good that we ask our server about them, and she says it’s a secret hot sauce that gives them their kick.
With full bellies, we head to the University of Maine Museum of Art. Admission is free, and the works of art that surround us are contemporary and incredible. I do double takes when I see pieces by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein on the walls.
Cocktails and gluten-free Italian
We dress for dinner, then make a stop at the Fiddlehead Restaurant for cocktails and have a great time chatting with David. Laura Peppard and Melissa Chaiken have created a place that is as comfortable as it is delicious.
After finishing our cocktails, we head next door to Massimo’s Cucina Italiana. Chef Massimo Ranni’s wife recently became gluten intolerant, so he created gluten-free pasta recipes that are just as good as their wheat-based counterparts. We start with a charcuterie and cheese board before before tucking in to some of the best pasta dishes we’ve ever had.
Breakfast and goodbyes
Breakfast is calling us, so we walk across the bridge to Judy’s. Our omelets are packed with veggies and cheese, and the plates are piled with delicious home fries. Thankfully, we get a little exercise on the walk back to the inn.
We say our goodbyes, pile our things into the car, and take a meandering drive around the city, checking out neighborhoods and making a list of things to do the next time we visit—and visit we will.