“I feel like I should be on a first-name basis with all of you,” said Paul Doiron, editor in chief of Down East magazine, welcoming 200 guests to the publication’s first-ever party celebrating the recipients of its Best of Maine awards at The Portland Club on State Street.

“Down East is an institution in the state of Maine. People know it all over the world, and it’s hugely respected,” he said, mentioning some of the far-off places the magazine is read, including exotic locales like Australia, Turkey, China, South Africa, Israel and yes, even the International Space Station.

“You are here because you are the best. Whenever we choose something, we genuinely approve of it. You are here because somebody, editors on our staff or our readers, chose you as the best. I want to congratulate you on your award and thank you for coming to our party.”

With that, the tone of the evening was set, and the celebrations began. Tiered trays of decadent cupcakes, alluring confections, savory hors d’oeuvres passed with care and a signature drink called the Down East Iced Tea created an enticing backdrop to an eclectic and enthusiastic group of partygoers.

“I can’t even stand how excited I am!” exclaimed Georgiana Kendall, owner of the retail store Red Sleigh in Perry, which sits on Passamaquoddy Bay. This year’s recipient of Best Gift Store, Kendall is proud of her commitment to selling items made or produced primarily in Washington county. “We represent over 80 artists, artisans, farmers, food producers and bakers. We call it a gallery of local arts and edibles.”

“We’re very surprised and very happy,” said Robert Morrell, co-ower of Wells surf shop Wheels N Waves, recipient of Best Surf Shop. “We’ve owned the shop for 13 years, but it’s been around since 1974. We’re Maine’s oldest surf shop, and now it’s best.”

Across the room, Frank Isganitis, proprietor of Limerock Inn in Rockland, was beaming, thrilled not only to be recognized as the Readers’ Choice for Best Bed & Breakfast, but to be in such amazing company. “We are so excited!”

The crowd of award winners was made up of innkeepers, bloggers, fishmongers, chocolatiers, retailers, journalists, media personalities and purveyors of the best the state has to offer, whether coffee, food, home and garden or culture.

“This is recognition in Maine and beyond,” said Leslie Gibbons, director of development for Portland Ballet Company, winner of the Readers’ Choice for Best Dance Group. “It’s a fantastic honor. Professional dance is just becoming recognized as being an art form on the same level as the Portland Symphony Orchestra. We’re thrilled the readers of Down East recognize that.”

“I agree with Leslie,” said Marjorie Gallant, director of marketing for the Portland Symphony. “There’s a lot of great music here, and it’s a wonderful recognition.”

The team from WCSH-Channel 6’s “207” was also on hand to celebrate their win for Readers’ Choice Best Local TV Program.

“We so appreciate the viewers have stuck with us for 10 years,” said host Rob Caldwell, who was joined by his co-host, Kathleen Shannon, and the program’s executive producer, Becki Smith. “If it weren’t for the viewers tuning in every night, we wouldn’t be here.”

“This is a huge deal,” said Janet Mitchko, co-artistic director of The Public Theater in Lewiston Auburn, celebrating the Readers’ Choice Best Theater Venue & Theater Group with fellow co-director Christopher Shario. “We’re going to make a big sign!”

Kathleen Fleury, managing editor of Down East, seemed genuinely taken by the enthusiasm, openness and mutual respect emanating from the room.

“It’s our favorite issue of the year,” she said, smiling. “As we say in the story, these are ‘our highly subjective, rigorously vetted, and always controversial choices.’ We work all year on it and have an incredible team of contributors.”

The July issue of Down East’s Best of Maine 2013 is on the stands now. For more information, visit www.downeast.com.

Margaret Logan is a freelance writer who lives in Scarborough. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]