Victoria “Queenie” Thayer outside of the Deering Oaks castle on Thursday. Thayer is opening a café, Queenie’s Castle, in the building at the end of the month. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

For years, Victoria Thayer would drive through Deering Oaks Park and marvel at the historic castle off State Street.

“I’ve always loved that building and thought it would be cool to have that place,” said Thayer, 59.

Lucky for her, the city of Portland was in search of someone new to lease and operate a café at The Castle at Deering Oaks this past winter. Thayer – whose nickname ‘Queenie’ fits the space perfectly – was the only one who applied.

She received approval of her dining and liquor license application from the City Council this week and hopes to open Queenie’s Castle, a café selling sandwiches, lobster rolls, beer, wine and snacks, on June 24. The proposed menu she submitted to the city included popcorn, pretzels, coffee, ice cream cones, frappes, sandwiches and sundaes.

The opening will be the first time in two years that food and drinks have been served at the castle, which has gone unused since the Mediterranean restaurant Tiqa closed its café there in June 2020.

The city searched for a new operator in 2021 and chose one, but the lease was never finalized, said Andy Downs, Portland’s director of public assembly facilities.


“Unfortunately, operating a food service establishment proved too difficult at that time during the pandemic,” Downs said in an email.

Thayer, who grew up in Portland and still lives in the city, has memories of visiting the castle as a child, which isn’t really surprising. Her first name and her nickname come from her father’s love of the British royal family, and Queen Victoria in particular.

The Deering Oaks castle Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

For most of her adult life, Thayer has worked as an auto broker, but she said she was looking for something different after the pandemic made it harder to find cars.

Food service, by the way, isn’t entirely new to her.

She used to operate Queenie’s Deli & Co. near the University of Southern Maine in the 1990s, and she had a coffee kiosk, Queenie’s Grounds, in the Maine Mall.

“It’s kind of funny that I have my castle now,” she said.


Originally built in the 1890s, when Queen Victoria still reigned, the castle stands next to the pond in Deering Oaks and was designed to be a warming hut for ice skaters, who for many years could go there to sit by the fire and have hot chocolate or coffee and a snack. It was converted into restrooms in the 1950s, its function for more than half a century. But in 2005, it was renovated, its stained glass and fireplace restored.

The Greater Portland Convention and Visitors Bureau used the building for a time as a visitor center, but it had been vacant for about three years when the city and the nonprofit Friends of Deering Oaks teamed up to bring food service back to the park in 2016.

At about 500 square feet, the castle is tiny and has no kitchen, but Thayer is willing to get creative.

“It’s definitely a unique venue,” she said. “It’s small and not the most functional thing, but I’ll make it work.”

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