Middle Street in Portland’s Old Port is closed to traffic – one way – to make room for outdoor dining this year. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

In yet another odd pandemic twist, barriers have become a symbol of opportunity – that is, when it comes to outdoor dining.

Once again this year, Portland and other nearby cities will keep some streets and parking areas closed to cars through the summer so that restaurants without decks or patios can create outdoor dining areas. Though Mainers are getting vaccinated and indoor gathering limits are looser than this time last year, many restaurants still want to create as much outdoor dining space as possible, so more customers feel comfortable. Some of the Portland street closures will be using barricades displaying the work of local artists.

The city of Portland closed portions of five Old Port streets to vehicle traffic on April 5 and plans to keep them closed until Nov. 1, according to the city’s website. Retail businesses can also take advantage of the street closures by setting up tables or other displays of their wares for sale. By the time the city closed the streets, more than 70 businesses had applied to participate in the program, which also includes the use of on-street parking spaces and sidewalks for outdoor dining.

Westbrook officials also have closed a street to traffic for the foreseeable future so it can be used by restaurants along Main Street. In South Portland and Biddeford, outdoor dining areas will be set up in parking spots or private parking lots.

Here is a closer look at some of the al fresco dining that is opening up in paved areas around southern Maine this year.

Middle Street, between Franklin Avenue and India Street, is a popular spot with several restaurants with outdoor seating behind concrete traffic barriers. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

OLD PORT, NEW WAYS

The street closures in the Old Port include all of Wharf and Dana streets, which are near the water. A little further up the hill going toward Congress Street, the closures include Milk Street between Exchange and Market, Fore Street between Pearl and Silver, and Middle Street between India and Franklin. The Middle Street closure allows for one-way vehicle traffic to weave around the seating areas, which are behind stone barricades. Some of the restaurants are using closed streets adjacent to their business, not necessarily right in front of their entrances.

Restaurants that applied to set up dining areas in the streets by early April include Central Provisions and Via Vecchia on Dana Street, Mash Tun on Wharf Street, Duckfat and East Ender on Middle Street, N to Tail on Milk Street and Dock Fore, and Sweetgrass Winery and Distillery and Portland Beer Hub on Fore Street. Each restaurant will have its own seating setups, some covered with umbrellas.

East Ender is planning to have seating for about 40 and have it covered eventually, said Arryan Decatur, the general manager. Decatur said the outdoor seating in the closed street is a big hit with regular customers as well as tourists.

Dock Fore owner Shaun McCarthy says his restaurant has seating for about 44 at picnic tables right now, but that will increase. He said lots of diners have told staff they’d like the outdoor areas to be in place long term.

Outdoor dining spots for Westbrook restaurants have opened up on Valley Square, a closed roadway off Main Street. Photo by Barry Dodd

SQUARED OFF

In Westbrook, the city has closed Valley Square for the foreseeable future to make space for outdoor dining, said Daniel Stevenson, economic development director for the city. It’s a short stretch off Main Street, near the Presumpcot River. Some adjacent restaurants will also have seating on the city’s Riverwalk. Restaurants with seating on or nearby the street this year include Portland Pie, The Frog and Turtle, Fajita Grill and Legends Rest Taproom.

The Frog and Turtle owner James Tranchemontagne said the street closure and other nearby outdoor dining space for restaurants was “a really nice thing” last year, bringing lots of people to the eateries, including from neighboring towns. He thinks the street closure and outdoor seating will have the same effect this year. Plus, musical acts will perform for the al fresco diners on Thursday evenings beginning in July and lasting into September, he said. The list of bands and dates will be posted on the Discover Downtown Westbrook website.

Midtown Court in Biddeford will open to outdoor dining by Memorial Day. Photo courtesy of Heart of Biddeford

PARK YOURSELF

South Portland is not closing off any streets near eateries, city officials say. But restaurants can apply to the city to set up barricaded seating areas in parking spots on the street, as they did last year in the city’s Knightville and Mill Creek neighborhoods near the Casco Bay Bridge. Two restaurants in those areas have petitioned for parking-spot dining: Verbena on Ocean Street near Legion Square and Judy Gibson, closer to Mill Creek Park.

Further south, the downtown improvement group Heart of Biddeford is setting up an area known as Midtown Court, in a parking lot in front of the Pepperell Mill campus, off Main Street. It’s a staffed area, where people can bring food and drink from area restaurants and have place to sit and enjoy. There is seating for about two dozen people, and it will open by Memorial Day.


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