Drew Finesse, general manager at Free Street, a restaurant across from the Cross Insurance Arena, said workers have been preparing for the resumption of hockey for weeks. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Brad Nadeau doesn’t consider himself a big hockey fan, but he’s certainly a fan of hockey fans.

Nadeau’s restaurant, Stars & Stripes Brewing Co., opened in Portland last spring. The brewpub sits at the corner of Cross and Spring streets, within sight of and just a few hundred feet from the Cross Insurance Arena, where the Maine Mariners host their first game of the 2022-23 season on Saturday.

Nadeau, who also operates a brewpub in Freeport, said he initially received a boost of customers when the Mariners still had a few games in the 2021-22 season. Now he’s hoping those fans will be back at his Portland location for the new season, which runs through mid-April and longer if the team makes the ECHL playoffs.

Like other businesses located on or near Free Street, Nadeau said there’s been a dip in both foot and car traffic since construction work closed a section of the road near Congress Street last spring. However, there’s good news on that front. Jessica Grondin, the city’s spokeswoman, said on Friday that access to Free Street could be restored by the end of next week, weather permitting.

But for now, the work is still going on and the closure remains. So Nadeau said any events that bring people downtown, especially to the area around Free Street, is a boon.

“We’re expecting traffic in town” when the Mariners take on the Trois-Rivieres Lions, he said. The puck drops at 6 p.m., and the pub stays open until 11 p.m., hoping to entice hockey fans to visit before and afterward. Nadeau said the menu is tailor-made for the spectators, with beer, wings, pizza and tacos.


At Free Street, a restaurant across the same-named street from the arena, workers have been anticipating hockey’s resumption for weeks, general manager Drew Finesse said.

Finesse said the restaurant opened last December and immediately noticed crowds were bigger on game nights.

The eatery struck a cross-promotion deal with the Mariners, he said. The team got some restaurant gift cards to give out to fans, while Free Street distributed game tickets to its customers.

And for this season, he said, the restaurant also has crafted a new game-night menu, with items such as burgers and corn dogs and 28 beers on tap. The regular, non-game night menu is a little more upscale, Finesse said, but Free Street hopes that less expensive options will attract hockey fans before the puck drops Saturday.

Caroline MacMillan, left, and Becky McCulloch chat with a patron at Stars & Stripes Brewing Co. on Spring Street on Thursday, two days before the home opener of the Maine Mariners’ hockey season. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Finesse said business this summer was poor because Free Street – the roadway – was closed at the Congress Square end and people didn’t realize other streets provided access to it.

So the restaurant’s managers and staff decided to put a little extra emphasis on getting ready for hockey season, he said.


“We’re gearing up and hope to utilize the season to pull out of the summer rut,” Finesse said.

Nearby at Rivalries, a sports bar, general manager Jeff Coburn said he’s expecting a boost in business as well.

“We will usually fill up the restaurant before Mariners games,” Coburn said, and he doesn’t expect this season will be any different. “We’re expecting it to be pretty much full.”

Jeff Coburn, general manager of Rivalries on Cotton Street, said he’s expecting a boost in business with the start of hockey season. “We will usually fill up the restaurant before Mariners games,” Coburn said, and he doesn’t expect this season will be any different. “We’re expecting it to be pretty much full.” Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Rivalries is on Cotton Street about a block away from the Cross Insurance Arena. Coburn said the business hasn’t been affected by the closing of Free Street since most customers wouldn’t travel down it to get to the bar. He said a pub like Rivalries can usually draw people all year because there’s typically some sport that’s in high gear to draw game watchers.


But he said the Mariners bring fans downtown even in the dead of winter, so it’s a benefit for the season to get underway soon.


“It can be negative 5 degrees and we’ll still have people here” on game nights, Coburn said.

Just how big Saturday night might be for the Mariners and surrounding businesses is unknown. Mariners officials say they are a few hundred seats shy of selling out the home opener. The capacity for games is 5,500, team officials said, and the latest count showed sales of about 4,800 seats, including 1,200 season-ticket holders.

Sales for Sunday’s game at 3 p.m. have been slower, but officials said they still hope to draw about 2,000 fans for that contest.

Businesses on Free Street have been disrupted most of the year. In the spring, work began on a makeover of Congress Square and cars were blocked from turning onto Free Street from Congress and High streets. Cars could still get onto Free Street from Congress Street via Oak Street, but many business owners said drivers seemed to be avoiding the area altogether.

Foot traffic was lighter this summer too, the business owners said, probably due to construction equipment and disruption at the western end of the street.

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