Even in the best of times, the holidays can be stressful. But as we limp our way through the (hopefully final) throes of a global pandemic, and try to repair personal relationships damaged by politics, this year’s season just might be the most challenging yet.

So what to do when family comes to town and you want to get them out of the house to a spot where everyone can let off steam, have a little fun and eat something good? In addition to pandemic-friendly outdoor options, many Portland-area restaurants have private indoor dining spaces where you and your relatives can tuck yourselves away, a good option for families still skittish about mingling with a roomful of strangers. They range from casual options, where you order off the menu, to more formal arrangements that come with a room fee and a planner to help you design your own menu.

Here are a few options:

Noah Tranten and Amanda Monty play scrabble on the giant wall board at Batson River Brewing & Distilling at a private event on a recent November evening. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Batson River Brewing and Distilling
82 Hanover St., Portland
batsonriver.com

Work out your family issues in Batson River’s upstairs game room, where you can clobber Uncle Fred in foosball or drub your snooty sister in an oversized game of Scrabble. (The letters are magnetized.)

If you’re able to walk in and snag seating, it’s a good place to hang out, play games (other choices include shuffleboard, darts and cribbage), and order drinks and food. If you’re serious about having the space to yourselves, it can be booked for $500 an hour, the food-and-beverage minimum, “but that goes quickly when you have 15 people,” notes Amy Caramante, director of food and beverage. That’s about the price of two cocktails per person, or a cocktail and a snack, in Portland. An event planner is available to assist if you’d like a set menu.

Batson River also has an upstairs back room with comfy couches, no reservations required, Caramante said, which would provide a tucked-away space with more privacy if you manage to grab it at the right time. And large tables that can be reserved for up to 12 people are available. The upstairs also has its own bathroom.

Batson River’s Kennebunk location rents out “fish shacks” for private dining. Photo by Heidi Kirn

This year, Batson River has launched a series of events called Holiday Camp, so if you’re after privacy it would be wise to check the calendar. Tuesday nights, for example, will be “Reindeer Games” night in the game room, so you won’t be able to reserve the space then. All through the holidays, bartenders will serve seasonal drinks such as mulled wine and cider, and themed cocktails such as the Bad Santa or the Yule-Tai.

Batson River is relatively new – it opened about a year ago – so it has an up-to-date ventilation system. Its size, at 9,000-square-feet, allows for easier social distancing, but the brewery/distillery does not require masks for either staff or customers.

For smaller gatherings of up to six people, Batson River’s Kennebunk location is once again offering its heated fish shacks, which rent for $25 for 90 minutes.

CHAVAL
58 Pine St., Portland
chavalmaine.com

This popular little restaurant on Portland’s West End has what is probably one of the more interesting and fun spaces for private dining in the city. Underneath the bustle of the busy dining room is a wine cellar that can be set up for private parties of up to 12 people.

The fee for the room depends on the number of customers and what they would like to eat and drink, co-owner Ilma Lopez said. The restaurant’s regular menu is available, or the staff can help create a customized menu, from cocktails and snacks to a full dinner. Any way you slice it, it’s a chance to dine in a space with lighting that gives it a candlit-feel, surrounded by bottles of good wine.

Chaval also has a back room that can seat up to 20 people, and private greenhouses outside. The heated greenhouses can be reserved for $25, which gives four people the space for 90 minutes. The time period increases for parties of five or more.

While you’re there, order house-made eggnog, Christmas cakes or a buche de noel to take home.

Masks are required for staff, and for diners except when they are seated at the table.

DIMILLO’S ON THE WATER
25 Long Wharf, Portland
dimillos.com

Recently this floating restaurant, a Portland landmark since 1982, served lunch for 84, but you don’t have to have a huge party to take advantage of its many private spaces and water views. The larger private rooms on the former car ferry’s upper deck can be carved into smaller spaces, using dividers, for as few as six to eight people, according to Steve DiMillo, whose family owns the restaurant.

All the windows overlook the Fore River and Portland Harbor.

“In summertime, of course, you’re enjoying the hustle and bustle of the bay and boating,” DiMillo said, “but this time of year, too, there’s still boat traffic – more commercial boat traffic, but you throw in a little light snowstorm and there’s nothing more beautiful than sitting up there watching the ferries go in and out.”

Small groups of 12 or fewer can order off the menu, which is mostly fresh seafood, simply prepared. Larger groups work with an events coordinator to plan a menu ahead of time. “We are limited by kitchen staffing now, so we just can’t do large groups off the menu,” DiMillo said.

The restaurant has a minimum room charge of $300 because it brings in extra staff to serve groups. The charge could be higher, if the group is large and requires many servers.

DiMillo’s does not require masks for diners or staff.

LUKE’S LOBSTER
60 Portland Pier, Portland
lukeslobster.com

Luke’s, which also offers great water views, does not have completely private spaces, but the upstairs bar and dining room is available for rent, depending on the size of your group. The upstairs bar works well for smaller groups, and the sports fans in your family will be happy to know it has a television with all the sports channels so they can keep an eye on the scores.

For the holidays, Luke’s is offering a package that gives your party access to an open bar for two hours, for $70 per person, plus a limited menu of mini seafood rolls (lobster, crab or shrimp), haddock bites, mussels, crudités and chicken wings. There is no rental fee for the room, but a 20 percent deposit is required to book a date.

If you’d prefer a full dinner, the restaurant can also seat small parties in more intimate settings, well removed from other diners.

Servers at Luke’s are required to wear masks.

Guests at a private event have drinks and play games upstairs at Batson River Brewing & Distilling. It is one of a number of restaurants, pubs and other eateries that have private rooms available for rent. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Rí Rá
72 Commercial St., Portland
rira.com/portland

This waterfront Irish pub accepts large group reservations for parties of no more than 20, but if you want a more secluded spot you’ll need to reserve one of its four private spaces. All four private rooms require a room fee, a food-and-beverage minimum, and ordering from a separate event menu.

The Harbor Room has harbor views, a working fireplace and Wi-Fi, and can accommodate 38 people for dinner.

The Parlor has a banquette, a couch, bar seating for 26, and a TV.

One of Ri Ra’s private rooms decked out for the holidays. Photo courtesy of Ri Ra

The upstairs bar, which seats 36 and has three TVs, may be the best option for casual cocktails.

The Bay View Room, like the Harbor room, has harbor views and a working fireplace. It’s for larger groups. If you’re planning a holiday family reunion, it can accommodate up to 70 people.

SALT YARD at The Canopy by Hilton Portland Waterfront
285 Commercial St., Portland
saltyardrestaurantandbar.com

This cafe and bar, which recently started serving dinner, has a private dining room separated from the main dining room by a floor-to-ceiling glass wall. The room, which must be booked in advance, can accommodate groups of up to 14 people and has been “very popular” with groups of six to 1o, according to Karl McElligott, food-and-beverage director for Fathom Companies, which owns The Press Hotel and The Canopy by Hilton Portland Waterfront hotel. The room charge varies, but is generally $300 to 500, plus the cost of the meal. The restaurant’s catering menu runs about $60 to $70 per person, McElligott said.

The staff is required to wear masks, but they are optional for diners.

SOLO ITALIANO
100 Commercial St., Portland
soloitalianorestaurant.com

Solo Italiano has a chef’s table, situated under an elegant chandelier, that seats eight to 12 people for more casual get-togethers. Although it could be booked for the evening, for a fee, manager Jesse Bania said it is usually reserved for shorter periods of time. It’s not a private room, but it is nestled into a nook that’s separate from the main dining room.

Above the chef’s table is the mezzanine, with windows overlooking the wharf. The area seats 12 to 16 and comes with a $2,500-$3,000 food-and-beverage minimum for the night, depending on when you want it (weekends are more expensive). Add on $100 per person, and your family can spend an hour learning how to make pasta with chef Paolo Laboa. A wine pairing for the pasta course is included.

While you’re there, ask for some of the restaurant’s housemade panettone for your table.

Masks are not required for customers. Staff are expected to wear one if they are well enough to work but feel a cold coming on, Bania said.

“We have UV lights and ionizers in all our systems,” he said. “It’s a state-of-the-art system that our landlord helped us install.”

On a recent November evening, the Guerrilla Queer Bar met in the back bar at Batson River Brewing & Distilling, one of two rooms the brewery/distillery rents out for private events. Each month, the Guerrilla Queer Bar, an LGTBQ gathering, meets in a different bar. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

UNION in The Press Hotel
390 Congress St., Portland
thepresshotel.com/dine/union-restaurant

Karl McElligott, food-and-beverage director for Fathom Companies, which owns The Press Hotel, said he started seeing signs over the summer that diners were getting more comfortable with a return to indoor dining, and that has continued into fall, although numbers of COVID cases around the state have risen through the fall.

“But I think on a holiday, we’re sensitive to the fact that some folks are probably putting their foot in the water,” he said. “They may not make that decision if it was up to themselves on a Friday night. They might feel a little bit more pressure to go out (during the holidays) just because it’s the family.”

Union has a custom-built walnut table tucked into a cozy corner of the restaurant that overlooks Congress and Market streets. This semi-private table seats up to 12 people. Reservations are required for parties of eight or more.

Try the spiced apple cider, featured on the menu during the holidays.

Masks are required for staff.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.