February 27, 2013

John Ewing / Staff Photographer

Ken McGowan will be the owner and manager of the new Porthole restaurant and pub, which is currently undergoing renovation with hopes of opening in the spring.

Wharf owner to resurrect Porthole restaurant

By Randy Billings
Staff Writer

PORTLAND – A well-known waterfront restaurant that city officials shut down last fall because of health code violations including a rat infestation is expected to reopen this spring under new management.

Ken McGowan, whose family owns Custom House Wharf, said he will own and manage the Porthole Restaurant and Pub.

"It will be run to every inch of the health code," McGowan said Tuesday. "I'm not skimping on anything."

The Porthole and the adjacent Comedy Connection, a popular nightclub, closed in September after a city health inspector discovered the rat infestation, among other code violations. When the Porthole closed for renovations this winter, it was unclear whether it would reopen under the same ownership.

McGowan said he took over the space after Oliver Keithly, who owned the Porthole, the Comedy Connection and the adjacent Harbour's Edge banquet hall, decided the repairs would be too expensive.

Harding Lee Smith, the chef who owns the Grill Room, the Corner Room and the Front Room in Portland, plans to open a restaurant in the space where the banquet hall operated.

The Porthole needed extensive renovations, including a new floor. The old wooden floor was in such poor condition that rats could eat through it to get access to the kitchen, McGowan said, but now two layers of wood and three inches of concrete cover the floor.

"If we have rats that can fight through that, then they're not rats -- they're Superman," said McGowan.

He said the kitchen has been remodeled and Ecolab will do ongoing pest control.

McGowan said he plans to keep the old decor of the Porthole and turn the Comedy Connection space into a pub that will be open year-round. The Porthole will be open for six months a year, he said.

"That room was built for a pub," McGowan said of the former comedy club. "There will be a stage for entertainment -- DJs, bands and maybe even comedy."

City Councilor Nicholas Mavodones said he was pleased to hear about efforts to renovate and reopen the waterfront restaurant, which was featured on the Food Network's "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives" show in 2010.

When Mavodones ran for mayor in 2011, he held his election night party at the Porthole.

"I wish him good luck," Mavodones said of McGowan. "The Porthole is a spot on the waterfront that people like to visit."

Licensing and an inspection are needed before the restaurant can open.

McGowan said he is confident that he will be able to reclaim the Porthole's good name, which was tarnished by the shutdown last year.

"I think we're going to be able to clear that up real quick," he said. "There won't be any question this will be the 21st century Porthole."

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

Twitter: @randybillings

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

This Oct. 2012 file photo shows The Porthole, which was closed last fall due to health code violations.

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