Friday, April 18, 2014
By Claire Jeffers
The new Westin Portland Harborview hotel (the former Eastland Park Hotel) on High Street was smart to at least keep the name of its predecessor’s 15th floor lounge – the Top of the East. The “Westin Portland Harborview Lounge” would have been too clunky, while “Top of the East” has rolled off the tongues of Portlanders since the mid-1920s.
New lighting gives the Top of the East a chic feel, and comfortable sofas and cushioned chairs in the expanded seating area are another inviting addition.
Claire Jeffers photos
Every table is served a tumbler of the kitchen's house-made duck confit popcorn.
WHERE: 157 High St., Portland
HOURS: 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. daily
SPECIALS: No specials
AMENITIES: ATM on ground floor of hotel, elevators, comfortable lounge seating, valet parking, 289 rooms in the hotel.
PARKING: On street; valet parking available for $10.
BOTTOM LINE: The Top of the East has had a major makeover and it’s worth riding the elevator to the 15th floor to check it out. If you sit down and order a drink, you’ll get free popcorn made with duck confit. The staff is very attentive and for a brief moment in time, you’ll feel like a king on cloud nine.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE: Yes
The Eastland Park Hotel closed its doors a year and half before the first Westin in Maine unveiled the $50 million renovation this past December. The Top of the East, Portland’s famous top-floor bar with exceptional views of the harbor, has nearly doubled in size.
Additional space helps to accommodate a new kitchen, more seating – much of which includes comfortable sofas and cushioned chairs – and plenty of room to walk around or stand. Rows of new lighting fixtures run from one end of the ceiling to the other and help to give the lounge a much more modern, chic quality.
But there’s undeniably something more exclusive about this new sky lounge. While the Top of the East has always been a place to go for a special occasion or to show off views of Portland Harbor to out-of-town guests, no longer, it seems, can one arrive comfortably without wearing a crisp shirt. There’s no official dress code, of course, but patrons may want to think twice about rolling in wearing flannel and a pair of Bean boots.
The waitresses are in tight-fitting black satin cocktail dresses and the bar staff wear button-up black shirts and ties. The menus, also jet-black, are delivered to the table with a personal flashlight pen to let guests see the menu more clearly (the bartender admitted the color of the menu was a mistake).
Front facing is the wine list, including nearly 50 bottles, ranging in price from $24 to $120, and by-the-glass options from $7 to $13.
There are eight craft cocktail options, but Westin requires all of its bars to offer at least four of its signature cocktails that can be found at any of the 192 Westin locations around the world. The Cucumber Collins, one of the signature cocktails, is the cheapest on the list at $11. A cocktail that can be ordered in Portland or Peru better be good, and the Cucumber Collins is rather good.
Other cocktails include an espresso martini, a pear and brown sugar martini, and a green tea and honey mojito, among others. While expensive (six of the eight cocktails are priced at $13 and $14), the drinks seem worth the view – there’s no other like it in Portland.
The bar manager is hoping to add some cocktails to the list as soon as Valentine’s Day and wants to include locally sourced ingredients.
Eight beers are on tap and they are all local craft beers, including Allagash, Geary’s, Maine Beer Co. and Baxter. A list of 25 bottled beers is also available. Pabst Blue Ribbon is $5. In the coming weeks, the beer menu will be changing to reflect new beer prices and options.
Every table is served a tumbler full of the kitchen’s house-made bar snack – duck confit popcorn. The mix includes wasabi peas, paprika and hoisin sauce. There’s not a popcorn option for vegetarians, but other complementary snacks are available.
The food menu offers appetizers ($12-$17) and five panini options ($8-$10). There’s one dessert, for the time being, but it’s not listed on the menu – a chocolate pate with a blueberry reduction.
In its first month, the Top of the East has been busiest on Friday and Saturday nights, and when the lounge reaches full capacity (150 people), patrons are asked to visit the C-Squared restaurant on the hotel’s first floor.
If it’s your first visit to the newly polished Top of the East, try a weeknight to avoid a heavy crowd. The place is Westin corporate overall, but much of that can be ignored as you take in the view.
Claire Jeffers is a Portland freelance writer.