Alluring red sanctuary doors on Portland’s Chestnut Street have been beckoning hungry patrons since 2009 when the historic, circa 1850s United Methodist Church was transformed into a stylish dining establishment. The former chapel — now the 5,000-square-foot restaurant called Grace — is one of the city’s few remaining examples of early Gothic Revival architecture.
It might also be one of the more unique (and ironic) places in town to have a cocktail.
Inspired by the ecclesiastical ambiance, the cocktails (Holier Than Thou, Redemption, The Saint — just to name a few) are sent around the 35-seat circular bar positioned dead center of the restaurant with wide views of stained glass windows, an exposed kitchen (where the altar used to be) and the second floor that hosts larger tables and even an additional, smaller bar. Downeast Magazine’s Readers’ Choice voted Holier Than Thou for Best Cocktail this year (St. Germaine, grapefruit juice, sparkling wine).
Bolted to the downstairs bar-in-the-round and extended to nearly the height of the second floor are the three triquetra petals (a three-cornered shape resembling a flower), which have been used throughout history in various religions (in Christianity it represents the Blessed Trinity). The restaurant has taken the symbol to be used as their official logo.
On any given night, Grace is packed with a variety of guests. Since opening, the restaurant has been a coveted location for weddings, banquets and corporate events but retains a loyal customer base with the young professional crowd. One reason for this is the straightforward and affordable drink and bar menus, which offer bites and brews of local flavor. The giant downstairs bar is equipped with two sets of draft beer taps, which boast Allagash, Lagunitas, Pretty Things and the new Funky Bow Brewery out of Lyman, Maine.
While the bar doesn’t participate in happy hour, it might have a featured drink on occasion, so ask your server. But the bar menu does offer some interesting pairings, such as the bar snack trio (BBQ chicken nuggets, tamarind spiced nuts and soft pretzel sticks) paired with a flight of bourbon (Buffalo Trace, Woodford Reserve, and Bulleit) for $15. The bourbon pours for this are generous and worth the extra $8 — without the bourbon flight the snack trio is $7.
But if you’re not in the mood for fancy chicken nuggets and bourbon, the Grace dinner menu is both sophisticated and down to earth, with offerings that include black angus hanger steak with marrow fried potatoes, grilled local rabbit, and pan-seared halibut with bacon hushpuppies (entrees range from $18-36).
Grace’s impressive ambiance could easily be seen as a distraction. After all, it’s not every day that you get to drink beer and eat a swanky burger in a church. However, the food, the drinks and the service live up to the restaurant’s charm.
First timers will likely become devout patrons, returning again and again.
Claire Jeffers is a freelance writer.