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Bangor may be well known for being the hometown of author Stephen King and home of the Maine Savings Amphitheater, host of the Waterfront Concert Series.
But the downtown is trying to morph into a foodie hotspot. It still needs some staples, including a breakfast venue and a seafood restaurant. Could Bangor become Maine’s next up-and-coming foodie location?
Mainebiz is taking you around the city to some recently opened restaurants.
Amid a busy summer concert season, the Maine Savings Amphitheater announced the completion of renovations at the Bangor facility in July.
The concert space hosts 20 events a year, with a capacity of 16,000 visitors, which has helped local businesses and restaurants since the tourist season is different from the rest of Maine.
“A significant number of concertgoers arrive early either a day before, stay a day later or come a few hours before the concert and they love that waterfront concerts are right downtown,” says Betsy Lundy, executive director of Downtown Bangor Partnership.
Downtown Bangor may have a small footprint, she says, but it is restaurant dense.
“People love the opportunity to arrive in the area and wander around and pick whatever suits them at the moment,” Lundy says.
Like other areas around the country, Bangor is facing workforce shortages and inflation struggles. Lundy says that restaurant owners in Bangor are very hands-on and invested and take on whatever position is necessary to keep things running until things stabilize with staffing issues.
While Bangor may be welcoming new restaurants, there is still a need for more restaurants. The downtown has space available, and Lundy says the top needs include a seafood restaurant and a breakfast spot.
“There are some clear holes in our offerings that would be a slam dunk in downtown,” says Lundy. “We could use another breakfast place. Whenever you go to Bagel Central, for example, they have a line out the door. They don’t have the capacity to handle any more people, and that is because there aren’t a lot of places downtown that serve breakfast in that way or even have a sit-down breakfast. People are also always looking for a seafood restaurant. We aren’t incredibly tourist driven, but we do have tourists who want that lobster roll or lobster dinner. We need someone to step up and fill that gap.”
A longtime restaurant is getting new life, thanks to an energetic Bangor couple.
Benjamin’s Pub, at 123 Franklin St., has a long and colorful background that goes back to the 1970s and has been a revolving door of restaurants. It was originally Benjamin’s Tavern. The building is distinctive for the plaque featuring Benjamin Franklin.
Richard Clark and his wife Mandy spent the better part of 2022 returning the first floor of the building to the state it was in when Benjamin’s on Franklin opened in the location 50 years ago.
Their involvement in the property, which features multiple restaurant locations, started four years ago, when they opened a downstairs, taking over the space that had been the Asian Garden.
When the former Benjamin’s space became available, the Clarks jumped at the chance to expand upstairs and become a full-fledged restaurant.
“It was a lot of work and I was already stretched too thin, but I could not resist an opportunity to bring Benjamin’s back to its original format with our new twist,” says Richard.
The new Benjamin’s reopened in May with an expanded menu and bar and seating upstairs, with the bar and live music and events venue downstairs.
“It has a chill vibe in Bangor’s premium basement bar,” says Richard. “A pub ‘much about nothing’ is a place where you can catch up with friends, shoot some pool and enjoy a premium cocktail.”
The Clarks have been busy with another project as well. Across the river in Brewer, the Clarks purchased 46 Acme Road, a 4,200-square-foot building on 1.5 acres atop a hill that overlooks the Penobscot River and the Bangor skyline.
Their plan is to open Benjamin’s Brewer Brewery and Pizzeria at the site. The building is undergoing renovations and the restaurant is expected to open in the fall of 2024.
Here’s an overview of newer places in Bangor. All street addresses are within the city, unless otherwise noted.
SugarRay Baking Co., at 20 State St., opened May 1. Rian Hulbert always loved downtown Bangor. She had always wanted to own her place, and when she heard the space was available, she decided it was time to make that dream come true.
“I have a large bakery case and do custom orders. Special occasions, weddings, etc.,” says Hulbert. “The bakery case changes a bit each day. I try to keep some staples every day.”
The Stage Door, at 115 Main St. If there’s a show on, the Stage Door is open two hours before the curtain and up to an hour after the curtain comes down. If there’s not a show on, the Stage Door is open Thursday through Saturday, 5 p.m. to close. The Stage Door features craft beers, desserts, cocktails and wine. It opened on June 14 and is attached to Penobscot Theatre Co.
“You do not need a ticket to the show to enjoy the Stage Door,” says Jen Shepard, executive director of the Penobscot Theatre Co.
Chimera Coffee, at 24 Broad St., opened on June 12. Owners Wayne Johnson and Aaron Parker were managers at the West Market Square Artisan Coffeehouse, but when this spot went on the market, the business partners decided to buy it, saying they’d both dreamed of owning a coffee shop.
“We both have extensive experience in the coffee/beer/food industry and love this location, so we went for it,” says Johnson. “We officially purchased the business in February, then in May, we shut down for about a month for renovations and a rebranding. We roast our own coffee in collaboration with a local roaster in Brewer, but we also bring in some other great local coffees from the area. We have two in-house bakers who make the majority of our baked goods.”
Smoke and Steel, at 471 Stillwater Ave., is not your traditional barbecue restaurant. This is where axe throwing meets barbecue. It features 10 axe-throwing lanes, country music and smoked meats. The barbecue joint has been open for two years and claims to be the only restaurant in Maine that offers axe-throwing lanes.
Utopia, at 96 Hammond St., is a pan-Mediterranean restaurant with Moroccan, French, Italian and Egyptian dishes.
The Nest Cafe, at 25 State St., opened in October 2022. Nest first opened in Orono before expanding operations to downtown Bangor. It offers a variety of coffee, breakfast food, smoothies and more.
Jersey Mike’s Subs, at 479 Stillwater Ave. The sandwich chain has more than 2,500 locations nationwide, serving fresh cold and grilled subs on in-store freshly baked bread — the same recipe since it started in 1956.
Tavolo Specialty Oils & Vinegars, at 86 Hammond St., has locally owned specialty oils and vinegars sourced from Tunisia and Modena, Italy, as well as region-specific oils. It also has locally sourced cheeses, wines, beer and more.
Lazy Hound, at 10 Broad St., the former as Ipanema, still features a bar as well as a food menu with Philly cheesesteaks, nachos, wraps, burgers and a line of “Friends” baguette sandwiches named for the six primary characters — the Rachel Green, Phoebe Buffay, Monica Geller, Joey Tribbinani, Chandler Bing and Ross Geller.