Saturday I met up with some friends for a Girls' Night Out — or more accurately, a Girls' Evening Out, since it started at 5:00 and we were all home by 8:30 (some of us have children, and some had football-related plans for later). But it was a good time, and made me resolve to go out more, despite the challenges of my limited disposable income.
Two towns up the Kennebec River from Gardiner is Hallowell, Maine's smallest official city and an unexpected jewel. The half-mile of Water Street that is downtown Hallowell is packed with restaurants and bars, an excellent art gallery, antique shops and funky stores. Bumper stickers call it "The Little Easy," New Orleans on the Kennebec, and if that's a slight exaggeration, you can still have a rocking good time in Hallowell on a Saturday night. On any given night, you can hear live music in at least one of half a dozen venues. Gaslight Theater puts on four or five shows a year at City Hall, and Peacox Productions, central Maine's premiere female impersonation troupe, uses the hall for three shows of its own. There's always something going on in Hallowell, and it's a major benefit of life in central Maine.
These are my favorite hangouts; fans and residents of Hallowell may note the absence of their own favorites, so feel free to talk them up in the comments section.
1. The Liberal Cup. As far as I know, it's Central Maine's only brewpub; a sister pub, Run of the Mill, opened in Saco last year. On any given night they're pouring five of the 21 beers and ales brewed on site, plus a full bar and a good selection of bottled beers. The menu includes anything you'd want to eat at a bar, plus nightly specials. We had dinner here on Saturday; I had a turkey club with really good avocados, although I think all New England restaurants should stop serving raw tomatoes between November and May. The Cup has trivia on Tuesday nights (currently on hiatus until mid-February) and live music several nights a week.
2. Joyce's. The newest restaurant on Water Street, it's a small and lovely bistro with a big outdoor patio, a back deck that overlooks the river, and an excellent function room upstairs. If you'd rather have cocktails than beer, Joyce's is the place for you. The menu is short and light but excellent, with everything well-made and fresh. Joyce's has music on Thursdays and Fridays, and outdoors on Sundays in the summer.
3. Cafe de Bangkok. You might not think of central Maine as a place to get great Thai food, but you would be wrong. The food here is as good as anything you'll find in Los Angeles or New York, and far more reasonably priced. I don't eat sushi, but I hear the sushi is good here, too. They too have music, but only on special occasions.
4. Hallowell and Wine. A funky, original "bistro and boutique" where you can get a glass of wine, a pizza, and some designer jewelry or a cool handbag. It's a storefront that has been arranged to feel like a friend's living room, with deep couches and comfy chairs and a convincing artificial fireplace. Every time I go in, I wonder why I don't hang out there all the time. Come summertime, when I can theoretically walk home from Hallowell if necessary, I just might. They have live music most nights, as far as I can tell, and a weekly open mike night.
5. Hattie's Chowder House. I do not eat seafood, but Hattie's has plenty on the menu for people like me, including an excellent hamburger. Hattie's is a welcoming, airy space with good service and reasonable prices, and Gaslight's board uses it for meetings when our usual space isn't available.