Nice write up in Portland-based Maine magazine.
PORTSMOUTH, NH: EXPLORE THIS FUN LITTLE CITY’S BREWERIES, PARKS, SHOPS AND TRY TO MEET EMILIO
The second I turned 15-and-a-half (legal driving age in New Hampshire), my friends and I went to Portsmouth, the cool place to hang out away from our parents. It’s been a few years since then, but I’m happy to find Portsmouth hasn’t lost its cool factor.
Portsmouth is often compared to Portland — maybe Portland’s cute little sister who really likes indie rock, french toast and Rocky Horror. The two have a lot in common: They both love the ocean, beer and twisty old streets. They’re both historic, walkable and filled with art stores that have to satisfy locals and tourists. Portsmouth has so much that we’re going to have a full guide up soon*. Plus, at only 50 minutes away, Portsmouth is a lot closer to Portlanders than Rockland, Bar Harbor, Bangor and most of the rest of Maine.
You could spend an entire day window-shopping in Portsmouth, and if you go you probably will. Poke around the book stores, cafes, thrift shops (there are lots of them, some with sequined pants, just sayin’), breweries and historic neighborhoods or catch a show/movie at the beautiful Portsmouth Music Hall.
DESTINATION: Downtown Portsmouth, NH, about 50 minutes from Portland.
HOW MUCH: $9 for a flight of beer.
WHO: You, probably. Portsmouth is best if you have another reason to go, like if you are already planning to catch a concert.
WHY: It’s close by, quirky and super walkable.
WHEN: Autumn and spring are nice because everything is open, but the tourists have migrated elsewhere.
If you go, here are some places to check out:
BOOK & BAR
Every little city needs that killer coffee-beer-books-wifi combo space. In Portsmouth, it’s Book & Bar.
After some window-shopping in downtown’s Market Square, this is a nice little (air-conditioned/heated – pick your season) respite. You can order a local beer with a grilled cheese (with hot pepper jelly) or coffee and a cookie while perusing the Pollan, Atwood and Nabokov hardcovers in the sale section. A few New Hampshire beers (or ciders) are usually on tap, plus some other New England breweries, lesser-known West Coast brews get a couple taps too.
It can get pretty busy. The cafe doesn’t offer wifi on the weekends to cut down on all those aspiring novelists who might otherwise spend all Saturday morning at the counter with their MacBooks. Darn aspiring novelists.
Book & Bar is at 40 Pleasant St. It’s open every day 9 a.m.-10 p.m., open until midnight on weekends. More info at bookandbar.com.
SEE IF THE YARD SALE STORE IS OPEN
“Good stuff — not cheap” is an understatement, or overstatement, depending. It’s the sign I saw at about 93 Daniel St. I was headed to get a cappuccino at the German caffe next door (Kaffee Vonsolln — it was great, btw) when I saw Emilio come down his steps and unchain his sign. When I asked if he was open, he began to test me. He pulled out a drawing of a mouse in a white tuxedo with the caption, “Here’s looking at you, kid.”
“What’s this from? This fine drawing with watercoloring?”
“How did you know that? Do you know where the word ‘hearth’ comes from,” he asked.
“No,” I said.
He gave me an etymology lesson.
“Are you open?” I asked.
“No. I have to clean up first. Go get a coffee and then I’ll let you in. You know, in Germany you don’t order the coffee. You buy some chocolate, sit down and begin shaving it. They’ll bring you a cappuccino. You put the chocolate on and (smacked his lips).”
After a cappuccino next door (perhaps not coincidentally, with chocolate shavings), I headed back to find Emilio hadn’t cleaned up (he apologized), but was instead arguing with a customer. No, he would not sell that. No, he can’t do $10 for that.
“She won’t leave me alone,” he told me about another customer who was trying to buy … anything, it seemed. I poked around the Audrey Hepburn mugs, the $150 heavy cast iron dutch oven (one of the only priced items in the store) and the stuffed animals before finding something useful. I snagged a small hand-held panini press (shaped like two scallops) that you might bring camping and a chess grater. I pulled $5 from my pocket and handed Emilio the money.
“Oh no no no,” he said, taking the aluminum (tin?) camping panini press from me. “What do you want to do with this? What do you think this is for?”
“Paninis? Maybe for making eggs when I go camping,” I said.
“This is very old, valuable,” he said, “you put your bread here, then your filling here, then put it over heat,” he said. “I can do it for $15.”
“Sorry,” I said, putting the money back in my pocket.
“Take this for example,” he said, taking a mashed potato hand-masher from a jar near me. “You buy this at Wal-Mart it will cost you $7. But it will break and you’ll need to buy four of them in your life. You buy this one for $15 and you’ll only need one.”
“True,” I said.
He shook my hand, asked my name and said goodbye.
Emilio’s yard sale store doesn’t have a name. I suspect he lives there. I suspect he won’t sell you anything. If you go, bring cash and your Latin books — he’ll appreciate it.
Emilio’s place is near Kaffee Vonsolln (79 Daniel St.), doesn’t have hours, probably doesn’t have a phone, no website and no name.
NOW GO TO THE PARK
After all that haggling, how about some serenity? Six minutes (walking) from Emilio’s yard sale store is the ever-pretty Trial Gardens in Prescott Park. The park is green and occasionally has free music (every Wednesday night) or theater (most weekend days) or movies (Monday nights). But it also has wharfs where you can watch the Terns dive (or the teenagers make out, as the case may be).
You’re now near Strawberry Banke (an outdoor living history museum) and State Street, which has a bunch of shops. Pickwick’s Mercantile has gifts like tea, bracelets, cologne, hand-made candles, etc — everything beautifully arranged, right down to the store’s color-coordinated bookshelf, offering a rainbow of spines. There’s also a cupcake shop, a dog boutique, The Red Door Lounge (for a late-night drink and some music every Monday night).
Prescott Park is on Marcy Street. It’s free. All the program listings are available at prescottpark.org.
*Don’t worry, we will have The Friendly Toast in the guide.
MORE MAINE MINI ADVENTURES
Get out of dodge (at least for a little while) with a mini adventure. These excursions can be done in a day – sometimes an afternoon – and will hopefully lead you to places you’ve never been. This is Maine, after all, and we all need some adventuring.