The fireplace at Batson River in Portland extends to the ceiling. Photo by Erin Little

There’s no lack of theories as to why humans are so mesmerized by fire. Some anthropologists postulate that we find it mysterious because we haven’t yet learned to entirely control it. Other folks – mostly psychologists – have argued that, because it’s been crucial to human survival for the last million or so years, we find it subconsciously comforting to be around. Which means the desire to enjoy food and drinks in the warm glow of a fire is practically a primal instinct.

“People so often want to eat by the fire,” said Stacy O’Reilly, director of sales and marketing at Harraseeket Inn’s Broad Arrow Tavern. Over the years, the Freeport pub has converted its fireplace to gas, but it still warms the sprawling room, surrounded by mounted snowshoes, moose and elk horns, and hunter green walls.

And is there any scenario more quintessentially relaxing than curling by the fire with a favorite pet? That’s entirely possible at Sea Glass at Cape Elizabeth’s Inn by the Sea. The property is pet-friendly, so the small bar and its fireplace adjacent to the restaurant welcome animals and their humans.

Winter decor adds to the ambience by the fireplace at Earth at Hidden Pond. Photo courtesy of Earth at Hidden Pond

Wood-burning fireplaces, meanwhile, with their dramatic crackling and heady aroma, evoke a desire to sit next to its blaze, order adult beverages and figure out the meaning of life. Such is the temptation at Earth at Hidden Pond in Kennebunkport. The tables situated between the dining room and the bar abut a hulking mixed-rock fireplace that leads up to an (almost) equally wide chimney. Lean back in your seat and gaze up to the mantel, which gets adorned with a rotation of tiny tea lights, holiday decor and elk horns throughout the winter.

And not surprisingly, the bigger the fireplace, the bigger the show. At the Portland outpost of Batson River Brewing & Distilling, tables sit between the bar and the gargantuan fireplace leading all the way up to the high ceiling. Even without the fireplace, the room feels like a grand-yet-snuggly ski lodge somewhere out West. “We wanted Batson River to feel like a hidden hunting lodge in the middle of the woods,” said designer Krysta Stokes. And while you’re digging into plates of lobster mac and cheese, the staff just keeps feeding logs into the cavernous fireplace, drawing out the magic of the meal.

The fireplace at 555 North in Brunswick is ready for its first winter season. Photo courtesy of 555 North

Then there’s the enormous two-sided fireplace at 555 North, a newcomer from Steve and Michelle Corry, the duo behind Portland’s Petite Jacqueline and erstwhile Five Fifty-Five. Opened this summer in Brunswick, the boîte is anchored by a brick-and-wood-paneled fireplace on one side, and an intimate lounge area and bar on the other. “We wanted it to be soothing and very natural,” said Gerard Kiladjian, who owns The Federal Hotel where 555 North is housed, pointing to the local botanicals – both real and painted by a local artist – that deck the eatery’s walls.

Meanwhile, one of Portland’s more famous fireplaces is known as much for cooking as for comforting. At Fore Street, the open kitchen’s brick and soapstone hearth provides the huge room with a pervasive scent and glow. It’s an unusual hybrid that includes a wood-burning oven, a grill and a turnspit, and its hardwood- and applewood-fueled flames flavor dishes like wood-grilled marinated squid and turnspit-roasted, dry-rubbed pork loin. And since the hearth is visible from most seats, you can witness your dinner’s journey as it emerges from the fire, into the kitchen and, finally, on your table. It’s a production that affects all five of our senses and is, without a doubt, truly mesmerizing.

Alexandra Hall is a longtime New England lifestyle writer who lives in Maine.

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