Friday, June 5, 2009

Walking Tour Yealds Historic Gem

On a recent architectural walking tour of Portland's Old Port, our group came upon a huge edifice engulfed in building wrap. Our guide informed us that this would be Portland's newest restaurant and that it was being created from a pre-Civil War church. It was the Chestnut Street United Methodist Church built in 1856 and is a prime example of early Gothic Revival now rare in Portland. The building escaped the 1866 city fire which leveled a wide swath of Portland proper. It will now be named simply "Grace".

Slated to open the end of this month, our small group asked if we could take a sneak-peak at the inside construction. We played the "Portland Historical Society" card to gain entrance and the owner was pleased to show off his new creation. We were very privileged to get a glimpse inside because the building has been under tight wraps for nearly a year.

Started in September 2008, the restoration inside and out is a 2
million dollar project that will ultimately yield a stunning 175-seat
restaurant and 35-seat bar. The open kitchen is splayed across the former alter and set off by decorative organ pipes. The mid-20th-century pulpit is now a hostess stand. There are 27 stained-glass windows, including a 150-year-old rose window thought to originate from Florence. There are period fixtures, including immense chandeliers with oblong lights suspended from the ceiling and two brick-lined turrets that look as though Quasimodo could be hiding in them.

The church's original pews have been reupholstered, and will provide banquet seating downstairs. Upstairs on the mezzanine, there will be a lounge and more dining space with tables made of recycled cardboard. In the back, just below the rose window will be a service bar and the two turrets, once used as coal chutes, are being retrofitted for wine storage.

Although the owners say "It's going to be affordable food - a little higher-end experience, but really affordable", I suspect it will be a restaurant I could only afford a few times a year.

Come to Portland and we'll go in for a little "sacramental" wine!

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