Portland’s new food and drink hub takes shape

Luke Davidson of Maine Craft Distilling in his new tasting room lounge.

The last flowers have been sold at Creighton & Sons; errant petals long swept away. And this spring, a trio of food and drink establishments are gearing up behind the scenes at 123 Washington Avenue.

Construction crews are hard at work transforming the former wholesale florist emporium into Portland’s next gustatory nerve center. Under one roof, Maine Craft Distilling is quadrupling its space and adding a lounge; Boston’s beloved bivalve joint Island Creek Oysters is building a bar with garage doors opening onto a deck and a local restaurateur has leased a sprawling 4,000-square-foot space with wrap-around windows for the next 10 years. Welcome to Washington Ave. 3.0.

The exterior of Island Creek Oysters, deck coming soon.

Developer Jed Harris, who purchased the building in January, gave Urban Eye a tour of this triple threat on the rapidly gentrifying avenue. The light-filled space in the front has been eyed for a restaurant and specialty market. The tenant is being kept confidential until plans are finalized said Harris, who rejiggered the space to make the ceilings pop.

Jed Harris in space rented by a local restaurateur.

On the other side of the cinderblock walls, Luke Davidson, owner of Maine Craft Distilling, is telling anyone who asks about his plans to go big — and bigger.

“The potential that’s here is huge for us,” said Davidson, who opened his distillery five and a half years ago down the street in East Bayside. (He also has a tasting room in Freeport).

By moving his Portland operation up the road, Davidson has gained a patio, a grain silo, ample room for floor malting, Scottish mashing, and a large barrel room for aging spirits. But the most exciting change is his tasting room/lounge that will highlight his farm-to-flask offerings and open late.

Maine Craft Distilling’s tasting room/lounge will be open “as late as people come,” said Davidson.

He plans to curate a craft whiskey collection from around the world and showcase his small-batch booze the way its meant to be imbibed: as classic cocktails. Because you can’t concoct a sidecar without cognac, or create a killer cocktail without access to absinthe, he had to apply for a lounge license. The distillery will also serve food and feel more like Liquid Riot on Commercial Street.

“Inviting other people to the party makes it a more fun party,” said Davidson, who describes the pending ambiance as “farm-y, factor-y and steampunk-y.” Vintage skylights and factory window are already in place, timber-paneled walls come next.

He looks to beer and sprits makers like Oxbow and Liquid Riot as inspiration. Capturing the magic and buzz of beer tasting rooms, now as popular as pubs, is his goal.

“Distilleries are still emerging here. There are not many in the state. It’s hard to break out, expensive to open and hard to get into the market. It takes time. Just staying alive is the first part and building out from that is the next,” said Davidson. “Liquid Riot is paving the way.”

Maine Craft Distilling plans to open this summer and Island Creek Oysters’ space is scheduled to be compete by June1.


Kathleen Pierce

About Kathleen Pierce

A lifelong journalist with a deep curiosity for what's next. Interested in food, culture, trends and the thrill of a good scoop. BDN features reporter based in Portland since 2013.