We've all heard the term 'staycation' before. A portmanteau of "stay" and "vacation". Usually taken when you need some time off but might not have quite enough to fly away to a tropical getaway so you pamper yourself at home instead. However, with the past few months resulting in the complete shuttering of most restaurants and hotels, staycations in our own homes became not only our only option, but required by law. You don't realize how much we take going out for a drink or eating dinner on a restaurant patio for granted until it's gone. However we're slowly starting to see the tides shift back into a new 'normal' as restaurants begin to reopen with limited outdoor seating, and within the next month or two, hospitality and hotels beginning to welcome patrons back through their doors. For the time being, only Maine residents can stay at hotels in most places as we've already been quarantining this whole time in our own state. But you might be thinking 'Why would I go stay at a hotel in my own state when I already live here?' To combat the lack of traffic, hotels across Maine are offering discounted prices and even luxurious package deals to Maine residents to entice them to give their abodes a try. And to be honest, I can't think of a better time to go try a fancy hotel you've had your eye on and get outside of the house for a bit. I mean, when's the next time we'll see Ogunquit without the masses of, well, Massholes crowding our beaches and stealing every possible available parking spot known to man? This is the experience I was offered by The Francis on Congress St in downtown Portland. What is normally a full-to-bursting spot for tourists to stay became a luxury 'getaway' that was all but entirely to ourselves. We enjoyed our lovely outdoor patio without so much as a single peep but from the birds flying overheard. It was serene, relaxing, and most of all, we felt good knowing that The Francis had limited numbers that were exclusive to Maine residents and above-and-beyond efforts by the staff to make our stay as clean, comforting, and safe as could possibly be. Not convinced? Let me walk you through my evening in the Terrace King suite to show you what I mean.
Our experience first began with a text message from a man named Matt. Matt would be our concierge throughout our stay with The Francis for the evening. In this message he highlighted their new contactless check-in procedure, which had our keys and our registration form already waiting for us in our room. All we had to do was pull up to the check-in area in our car to await Matt to come our to give us our brief instructions and where to park. Once inside, we made our way to the highly anticipated Terrace King suite on the first floor and it really felt like we had the whole place to ourselves as we passed through the foyer and past the sweeping hardwood staircase by the stained glass-adorned front doors. And if we thought the interior of the hotel was already impossibly luxurious and charming, we were in for an even bigger surprise in our room. A huge stand-up glass shower in a beautifully tiled bathroom, a giant king-sized bed with photography from local photographer Nicole Wolf above the headboard and an expansive, private outdoor patio with sunset views greeted us. Again, way too fancy but us schmucks, but you don't see me complaining! And from there, the afternoon was our oyster. It was 75 degrees out, not a cloud in the sky and it was a day just begging for a drink. Luckily, with The Francis being downtown, there was no shortage of options for the evening.
First we took a brisk walk up to the Western Promenade, the Eastern Promenade's lesser known, but no less beautiful sibling about a 5 minute walk from our hotel room. It was bustling with park-goers walking dogs, sitting on blankets and even setting up their slack lines between trees for some tightroping. But with the hot weather we quickly found ourselves wanting a cold drink to complete our outdoor experience. We made a brief stop at Arcadia National Bar, a 'barcade' that while still closed for dine-in services had takeout for cocktails and nibbles at a newly-added takeout window in place of a side door. With our boozy slushies in hand, a 4-pack of local beer and some surprise pickled quail eggs (sounds weird, I know, but they were absolute fire and I recommend them to anyone) we made our way back to the Western Prom to lay down a blanket and enjoy our lovely libations in front of the sunset. As we made our way back to our room after enjoying the last of the sun, we realized just how hungry we were. And we knew just where to go to satisfy that tummy rumbling...
Lazzari has been a consistent go-to place for me ever since it opened a few years ago. Its cozy, dimly-lit interior was perfect for sharing drinks and apps with friends and its outdoor space made for the perfect brunch spot when you threw in their mimosa carafe to share with the table. On an early-summer night like this, and with a private patio waiting for us back at The Francis, their Date Night special was a no brainer. For $50 you get a salad to share, large pizza of your choice, dessert and your choice of either a bottle of wine or a 4-pack of local beer. In other words, the steal of the century. We took our booty back to the room and enjoyed our own little date night in the privacy of our patio, with nothing but the occasional song of a bird to provide ambiance. For me personally, this was the highlight of my stay. Nothing beats being able to walk to a great restaurant right down the road and enjoy your dinner with a sunset view in the heart of Portland's downtown. Even though I was a short drive away from my apartment, it really felt like I was transported miles and miles away from home while simultaneously feeling right at home. I am now a tried-and-true believer of the term 'staycation'!
The rest of the night consisted of total, luxurious laziness. Watching cable TV, something neither of have done in literal YEARS, in our king-sized, super cushy bed drinking our nice bottle of wine. And after such a laborious and busy night of doing absolutely nothing, naturally, we were starving the next morning. Something I didn't know going into the experience was that we had unknowingly signed up for The Francis' Tandem Breakfast in Bed package; this included a tray brought right to our room (again, thank you Matt!) that consisted of hot coffee, orange juice, and Tandem Coffee Roaster's own breakfast biscuit and orange sticky bun. Now, if you've never had a Tandem biscuit or sticky bun, I truly weep for you. Briana Holt, a nationally-renowned baker with decades of baking experience under her belt, brings Tandem's wonderfully buttery buttermilk biscuits to life with slabs of jam and butter, or in our case, a savory blend of thick-cut ham, American cheese, egg and smoked paprika mayo. And don't even get me started on the buns. If you thought you had a favorite sticky bun before, that will quickly be dethroned once you enjoy one of these citrusy-sweet delights with your morning coffee. We enjoyed our 'breakfast-in-bed' on the patio once again, leisurely sipping coffee and doing card tricks between bites of biscuit (don't ask me, ask him!) We also may or may not have run across the street to grab some more Tandem to go for later...I mean come on, we've been without Tandem for months, I need my loaded biscuits and rhubarb pie!
Our check-out process was just as easy and painless as our check-in. We just had to sign our registration form, leave it and our keys on the desk in our room, and be on our way. Needless to say, from beginning to end, our staycation with The Francis was exactly what we needed. After spending months in my own house, I never knew how much getting out of the house just to spend a little time in my own city would be as healing as it was. Things aren't going to be the way they used to, and there's still a ways to go before we're back to 'normal', but places like The Francis are helping facilitate that change with professionalism, grace and open arms. Right now, they are currently offering 25% off your entire stay with the code MAINESTAY when you book on their website, so if you;ve ever been curious about The Francis and want to experience it for yourself, there has never been a better time to pack an overnight bag, research the local eats and book yourself a night to enjoy all to yourself or with a partner. Even better, they are also offering to book our entire floors to groups of friends! Distancing while spending time with friends just got a whole lot easier, and tastier! Visit https://thefrancismaine.com/ to learn more, and maybe they'll be opening their doors wide open for you this summer. (Also inb4 the state opens back up and the tourists return, seriously!)