PORTLAND, Maine - Visitors to this vibrant coastal city tend to cluster in its Old Port neighborhood, where charming cobblestone streets teem with boutique stores, art galleries, and dozens of bars, restaurants, and coffee shops. Many of Portland's hotels are concentrated in this historic harborside part of town, too.
But when we spent a weekend in Portland, we booked a room in the city's quieter West End. It's a sleepier neighborhood that's still distinctly urban, with lots of architecturally interesting homes, some beautifully restored and some run-down.
One of the loveliest restorations is Morrill Mansion, a stately, circa-1850, three-story brick building that was renovated and turned into a bed-and-breakfast two years ago. Its owner, David Parker, runs this classy, contemporary operation by himself; the only other full-time resident is his dog, Moby, a low-key pug.
Morrill Mansion's location is ideal, just a few blocks from the Western Promenade, a pretty hillside roadway overlooking the Fore River. It's also just a few blocks from the Portland Museum of Art and Children's Museum of Maine. The West End has its share of great restaurants, including Aurora Provisions, Bonobo, and Caiola's. And as long as you don't consider a mile-or-so trip too arduous, the inn is convenient to Old Port - minus the noise and crowds of that busier part of town.
"I would say 50 percent of my guests never get in their cars unless they're going to the lighthouse, the beaches, or Freeport," Parker said. "They just generally walk everywhere."
That's exactly what we did. After parking our car at the inn when we arrived Friday afternoon, we didn't drive again until we left on Sunday. We used the B&B as home base to roam all over the city, walking to and from the Old Port several times and even as far as Munjoy Hill on Portland's east side.
The inn's seven guest rooms are on the second and third floors (Parker lives in private quarters on the first floor) and each has a private bathroom, queen bed, hardwood floors, cable TV, DVD player, mini-refrigerator, air conditioner, and wireless Internet access. The rooms are tastefully decorated, Martha Stewart-style, and well cared for, with barely a scuff to be seen.
Besides the eating area, the inn's only common space is a second-floor living room where coffee and tea are available all day. That sometimes made us feel a bit confined to our room, but our spacious junior suite helped make up for that. Called the Bramhall, it's considered a suite because it has small nook that fits a comfy pull-out couch.
I liked the Bramhall's private feel and rich colors of caramel, red, and blue. The chocolates, ice bucket, corkscrew, and wine glasses are a nice touch, too. My only quibbles are little ones, such as the light with a nonworking bulb and the lack of a desk.
Breakfast, served buffet-style, is an elaborate spread. The offerings could include grapefruit halves, fruit cups, egg custard, lobster strata, peach crisp, scones, muffins, miniature banana breads, raspberry coffee cake, bagels, hard-boiled eggs, instant oatmeal, dry cereals, and more. Parker does most of the baking. He also makes afternoon snacks - chocolate chip oatmeal cookies, peanut butter fudge, chocolate cupcakes with marshmallow frosting - that he leaves in the living room for guests.
Parker is not a gregarious innkeeper. The few times we saw him were at check-in, check-out, and quickly clearing tables. He was very helpful, though, when asked for tourist advice and restaurant recommendations.
When I asked him later about his laconic style, he described it another way. "Well," he said, "I can generally tell if people want to engage in conversation, or if people are coming to relax."
Morrill Mansion is close to Maine Medical Center, making it a nice lodging spot for families of patients. Be sure to stroll along the leafy Western Promenade. It skims the peninsula, passing by handsome homes and providing a lovely waterfront view.
Sacha Pfeiffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.