48 Hours in...Lewiston-Auburn
By Jennifer Hazard | Illustration by Josh Brill
48 hours of our favorite places to explore, browse, stay, listen, and eat
During the holidays, my husband and his childhood friends from Lewiston-Auburn gather at the Blue Goose Bar and Grill for drinks and merriment. They sit side by side on well-worn benches and order pitchers of beer (a brave few get vodka tonics in pint glasses). AC/DC and Heart blare on the jukebox while everyone shouts at similar decibels, catching up on the past year. They laugh when a friend arrives in a GET LOOSE AT THE GOOSE T-shirt.
As the evening hours fly by, the group orders pizza from Luiggi’s Pizzeria next door (hold the ham, please). Sometimes they reminisce about their high school years under the glow of the bar’s white Christmas lights. Much has changed since they’ve seen each other last, but their friendships and memories are as strong as ever.
The same could be said for Maine’s Twin Cities. The historic mill towns are transforming into a destination for art and music. A number of restaurants are attracting buzz, and a new brewery opened at the Bates Mill. Still, old favorites remain: hand-cut fries from Roy’s All Steak Hamburgers, the Rollodrome, red hot dogs from Simones’ Hot Dog Stand, and skiing Lost Valley at night.
To mark L-A’s past and present, here’s an overview of the offerings of these two cities:
There is no shortage of great places to eat in L-A, and visitors will find something for every palate. For breakfast, Rolly’s Diner is a local favorite. The family-friendly restaurant is always decorated for the season—a project that owner Kenneth Blais says can take up to 40 hours. Crepes are especially popular here. A friend of mine likes them plain with butter and maple syrup. The Bread Shack is my choice for breakfast. One regular told me, “You can’t go wrong with anything here.” And he’s right. On Tuesdays and Saturdays, award-winning baker Dara Reimers makes bagels that rival anything you would find in New York. (Who says you need special water?) Breakfast sandwiches and homemade pastries, including almond croissants, are also on the menu.
The Library Cafe, located at the Auburn Public Library, is one of my favorite lunch destinations. All of the sandwiches are named after New England poets and writers. I ordered the Plath—a generous panini with Black Forest ham, smoked Gouda, tomatoes, cucumber, and Dijon mustard on Borealis sourdough bread.
For dinner, everyone adores Fuel. The Lisbon Street restaurant has a sophisticated vibe and a bartender known for his specialty cocktails (the featured beverage was a blood-orange martini on the night I visited). Carnivores will enjoy Fuel’s seasonal menu, which includes Chef Justin Oliver’s signature meal: a tender, braised pork shank with brussels sprouts and sweet-potato hash in a red wine and balsamic reduction. Sister restaurant Marché, which is across the street, is open weekdays for lunch and Mondays for dinner (by reservation s’il vous plaît).
Fish Bones American Grill, located in the historic Bates Mill, is another popular dinner destination, where Maine lobster and farm-raised Maine salmon are on the menu. Around the corner, families and hungry college students flock to DaVinci’s for brick-oven pizza and hearty Italian fare. A Bates student I spoke with goes for the all-you-can-eat garlic knots.
If it is world cuisine you’re after, locals rave about Mother India, which arrived in Lewiston after a spirited Facebook rally put a call out for an Indian restaurant. A friend also swears by the Somalian food at Taste of Three One Cafe. For a fusion of traditional Thai and other Southeast Asian dishes, try the Jasmine Cafe in Auburn.
Lewiston is dotted with independent bakeries, which make it easy to find homemade baked goods, sweet and savory pies, and treats for holiday gatherings. My father-in-law celebrated his sixtieth birthday with a cake from Grant’s Bakery that featured a photo of him as a boy dressed as a cowboy and riding a pony (but that’s another story). Grant’s is also known for its weekly specials, which include five varieties of baked beans on Saturdays. The Italian Bakery is another local spot for doughnuts, decadent pastries, cookies, and breads. I was transfixed by the bakery’s football-size napoleon: a combination of whipped and Bavarian creams sandwiched between two flaky pastries and topped with chocolate frosting.
Labadie’s Bakery is known for whoopie pies. On the day I arrived with my four-year-old boy, the bakery had four varieties available: traditional, peanut butter, vanilla, and raspberry with vanilla cream. My son selected a vanilla whoopie pie the size of a Big Mac, and I felt compelled to warn him about the potential for a tummy ache. To this, he declared, “I’ll never get full,” and polished off the sugary treat with aplomb.
While it’s hard to resist getting loose at the Goose, L-A has several great places to join friends for a drink. My husband and I enjoyed She Doesn’t Like Guthries, whose curious name came to be when co-owner Heather Letourneau didn’t want her partner Randy to name the place after Woodie Guthrie. The cozy spot offers live music acts Thursday and Friday nights and features wine and beer, including seasonal beers from Baxter, Shipyard, and Sebago brewing companies.
In Auburn, you’ll find Gritty McDuff’s Brewery and Pub. Gritty’s Christmas Ale is available this time of year, which I like to enjoy with the pub’s hearty fish sandwich and sweet-potato fries.
If you’re a beer lover, don’t forget to stop by Baxter Brewing Co. The brewery, located in the Bates Mill, is open for tours and tastings. Baxter makes Pamola Xtra Pale Ale, a light, easy drinking beer, and Stowaway I.P.A., a crisp, hoppy ale. Baxter is the only brewery in New England that cans their beer, and not just for hipster street cred. Our tour guide said the cans are recyclable, portable, and the beer stays fresher. What’s not to love?
L-A boasts a healthy art, music, and theater scene. One of my top choices is the impressive Museum L-A in the Bates Mill. Museum L-A was designed to teach visitors about local history with memorable exhibits and community events. The current exhibit, Portraits and Voices: Shoemaking Skills of Generations, tells the stories of L-A residents who were a part of Maine’s once thriving shoe industry. Documentary photographer Mark Silber’s portraits of local craftspeople in their homes made me feel like a voyeur—the photos are that personal. Oral historian Andrea L’Hommedieu does an equally skillful job highlighting each subject’s story.
To enjoy the work of area artists, visit Gallery 5 next door to Fuel. The modest gallery is hosting an exhibition called Precious Things through January. The University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn College Atrium Art Gallery also features exhibitions throughout the year that highlight Maine artists. The Olin Arts Center at Bates College is celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary this year. The venue is the place to go for live music and dance. The center is also home to the Bates College Museum of Art, which displays the work of visual artists from all over the world.
Located in a century-old former Catholic church, the Franco-American Heritage Center is fast becoming a destination for world music, dance, and seasonal events. The center is home to the Midcoast Symphony Orchestra and Maine Music Society. Nearby you’ll also find the Colisee, a popular venue for concerts and hockey games.
The Public Theatre in Lewiston has delighted audiences for 21 years. This season, the professional theater company will perform A Christmas Carol. The Community Little Theatre is another local venue for plays and musicals. I’m looking forward to taking my five-year-old daughter to Roger and Hammerstein’s Cinderella.
My husband purchased my 1930s platinum wedding band from Orphan Annie’s. The antiques and curios shop is filled floor-to-ceiling with jadeite glassware, vintage clothing, lighting, household decor, and funky Bakelite jewelry. If you’re searching for books and furniture, shop Orphan Annie’s three-story warehouse at the Auburn Novelty Building on Mondays.
Serious bargain hunters love the Lewiston Marden’s. The enormous discount store carries anything and everything. We have friends who outfitted their entire camp with furnishings from Marden’s. For deals on music or films, visit Bull Moose, which carries an impressive collection of used CDs and DVDs.
Lamey-Wellehan is not your average neighborhood shoe store. For starters, Lamey’s has been in the community since 1914. The store is where you go for comfortable, high-quality shoes (Dansko clogs come to mind, ladies). The staff are patient, helpful, and clearly enjoy the job. One employee joked that he’s been working at Lamey-Wellehan so long they named the pension plan after him.
For foodies, Axis Natural Foods is a well-stocked organic market with local fare. You can find grass-fed beef from Caldwell Farm and various sundries from Nezinscot Farm in Turner. Similarly, the Lewiston Winter Farmers Market is a great place for local seafood and meats, fresh-cut flowers, produce, breads, and desserts. If you want great wine without spending a small fortune, the Vault is a good resource. Owner Susan Hall keeps some of her favorite selections in the building’s old bank vault. We left with an incredible 2009 Spanish red: Campos De Viento Old Vine Tempranillo.
Families, beginning skiers, and snowboarders will enjoy Lost Valley, where guests can purchase an affordable, two-hour ski pass. Well-groomed cross-country ski trails are also open when the snow flies. Visitors to the mountain especially like skiing Lost Valley on a clear night.
For cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing, locals head to Mount Apatite. The lovely 372-acre Thorncrag Nature Sanctuary is another great option for quiet winter sports. L/A Trails, a program of the Androscoggin Land Trust, is an excellent source for late fall and winter walks. Michael Auger, director of land protection and stewardship at the trust, recommends David Rancourt River Preserve and Sherwood Forest Conservation Area for hiking and snowshoeing. For outdoor skating, families flock to rinks at Chestnut Street Park and the Walton School.
On days when the weather isn’t cooperating, take a shop tour at Thos. Moser. The esteemed furniture company regards their handmade pieces as functional art. During the tour, you’ll see how each piece is created, from start to finish.
I’m looking forward to reliving my early teens and taking the kids to the Rollodrome this winter. The roller-skating rink opened its doors in 1954 and has been a foundation of the community social scene ever since. For more indoor fun, visit the Ingersoll Ice Arena, where public skating and lessons are available for all ages.
Mother-daughter team Christine and Teresa Smith renovated the 122-year-old Penley House in Auburn for seven years before opening the bed-and-breakfast in December 2010. The decor is decidedly Victorian, and the Smiths offer decadent, buffet-style breakfasts.
If you’re searching for simpler accommodations in Auburn with close proximity to the interstate, try the Fireside Inn and Suites. For views of the Androscoggin River and the Great Falls, the Hilton Garden Inn is an excellent choice. The hotel is also within walking distance to Auburn’s downtown.
Bates College students and their parents love the Ware Street Inn in Lewiston, a 1940s colonial tucked away on a quiet, residential street. The cozy inn is an ideal place to rest after a holiday visit to Maine’s Twin Cities.