Explore the Community of Munjoy Hill - Portland Eastern Prom
Portland has been in the news quite a bit lately and has a history of well deserved national awards and recognition. Get a feel of the Munjoy Hill area through this tour of the community.
A onetime blue-collar enclave, Portland's Munjoy Hill neighborhood has become a hot spot in Maine's biggest city. Taking up the eastern portion of the peninsula, the area features shops, restaurants, galleries and a theater, but it doesn't have the bustle of the Old Port, the sumptuous mansions of the West End or the museums of downtown's Arts District. Translation: It's just you and the locals in a vibrant, eclectic neighborhood complete with plenty of shops, dinning spots and sights to provide you with a true sense of the city.
The first permanent European settlement in Portland was in the 1630s on Munjoy Hill. Almost since its founding, Portland had to fight to survive; it was burned down four times and only once by accident. On July 4, 1866, someone set off fireworks in a boathouse, sparking what was the biggest fire in U.S. history until Chicago ignited five years later. Roughly 10,000 people in the city lost their homes, though only two people died. The flames burned out before they ruined Munjoy Hill, and it was there, overlooking Casco Bay to the east and the charred city to the west, that thousands of homeless Portlanders lived in tents until they could rebuild.
Unique Seaside Location
The neighborhood, which officially starts east of the Franklin Arterial, one of the city's main north-south roads, has no Starbucks but at least four independent coffeehouses, echoing the "Shop Local: Keep Portland Independent" stickers in many of the city's shop and restaurant windows.
The primary thoroughfare, Congress Street, runs east-west across the peninsula and is home to two of Munjoy Hill's landmarks. The 86-foot-tall octagonal Portland Observatory was built in 1807 by the Capt. Lemuel Moody to let ships communicate with the harbor and organize stevedores prior to arrival. Greater Portland Landmarks runs a museum, shop and tours of the tower from Memorial Day weekend through Columbus Day. During your visit you can climb to the top to take in a spectacular view of the city and the bay.
The St. Lawrence Arts Center is a Queen Anne-style building that was erected in 1897 as a Congregationalist church. It fell into disrepair in the 1980s when its congregation dwindled. However, after a long restoration, Parish Hall opened as a performing arts venue in 2001, and its resident company, Good Theater, stages six shows a year. Other events are also regularly hosted at the hall.
Another neighborhood venue is the North Star Music Cafe (which opened in 2007) and features performances - music, poetry or comedy - seven days a week. The bar area has a coffeehouse vibe and serves breakfast and lunch, including North Star's signature rice and beans.
Portland is clearly a breakfast town, with great bagel shops and diners churning out interesting, hearty breakfasts all across town, and the Munjoy Hill area is no exception. For a quick start to the day you might consider the side-by-side Hilltop Coffee Shop and Rosemont Market & Bakery. Hilltop's rustic-modern decor, including a salvaged-wood bar and local ironwork, and sunny front window make its few tables prime real estate. Next door, the four-year-old Rosemont Market sells fresh-baked pastries and breads and, for later, cheeses and meats from local farms with names such as Smiling Hill and Maine-ly Poultry.
For brunch and dinner, the Front Room has you covered. It serves brunch daily from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and diner in the evening. Chef Harding Lee Smith opened the cozy restaurant in late 2005, giving Munjoy Hill residents a reason to stay on the Hill to eat. Its menu, although limited, is eclectic and excellent. Foodies love Portland for its top-notch restaurants, including Fore Street, Evangeline, 555 and Hugo's. But more budget-minded diners do just fine in Portland, too. Case in point: Hugo's chef, Rob Evans, opened the casual Duckfat at 43 Middle St in 2005. What's with the name? The crispy Belgian-style fries are cooked in 25 percent duck fat. They come served in a white paper cone or, for pure decadence, in a bowl, dripping with gravy and cheese curds.
Lunchtime in Portland always includes an Italian (a salami and provolone sub with peppers, pickles, onions, olives and oil) as an option. Some of the best can be found at Colucci's Hilltop Market. For afternoon tea with an attitude, Homegrown Herb & Tea offers hand ground infusions with exotic spices.
The shops in Munjoy Hill are surprisingly varied. A few blocks on Congress Street house such stores as thrift shops with high-chairs on the sidewalk and establishments offering premium housewares. Munjoy Hill has become a design mecca of sorts as well. For example textile designer Angela Adams has her studio and showroom there. Adams's Maine-inspired designs include a green-and-blue pattern called, fittingly, Munjoy.
Still locally focused but no less whimsical, the housewares, accessories, handbags and furniture at Eli Phant are made by more than 40 artists, crafters, designers and producers, many of whom hail from Maine.
On the east end of Munjoy Hill, a long, grassy slope leads down to Casco Bay. On the Eastern Promenade locals romp with dogs and kids, while bikers, joggers and amblers follow the trail that hugs the shoreline on the East End of Portland and passes the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Co. & Museum and a collection of decommissioned rail cars. The trail is part of a citywide network that connects the city to nature preserves and neighborhoods outside downtown Portland and it ends at the Maine State Pier, in Old Port.
Munjoy Hill is just one great part of our adopted area of Portland. If you are planning on moving to the area or just visiting, we hope you come to love the area as much as we do.