I love Bintliff’s Cafe at 98 Portland Street. It’s located in a Greek Revival building painted to highlight its architectural features and bring out its charm. You aren’t likely to happen upon Bintliff’s when wandering around Portland on foot because it’s a bit off the beaten foot path on a street with lots of traffic and too many gas stations and parking lots in view to make it attractive for a stroll. Yet the mix of brick and wood storefronts on this one block of Portland Street has a funky sort of appeal.
Bintliff’s is the perfect “morning after” spot, where I’ve often lingered over house-smoked salmon and local coffee while recapping a concert from the night before. Frank and I were doing just that (I think it was the morning after seeing the Pixies at the State Theater) when I had a chance to ask our waiter about the history of the building. He said it had been built in the 1920s, and been home to a grocery store and a shoe store. Evidence could still be seen that building had suffered three or four fires through the years, but some features, like the exposed brick wall, were original, he said.
Since chatting with him that day I’ve done a little more research and pieced together a bit more of the history of Portland Street. I discovered that until some time in the mid-1800s, if you had stood on the spot in front of what is now Bintliff’s, you would have been gazing at Back Cove. Several acres worth of fill have been added since, but at one time this stretch of Portland Street was waterfront property!
Just west of Bintliff’s block Portland Street turns into Park Street, but in the 19th century, the entire stretch was called Portland Street. By 1891 several businesses made their home along this thoroughfare including a tailor, a carriage trimmer, a shoe merchant and a sign painter. In the block where Bintliff’s is now was Mrs. Hodson’s fancy goods store. I’m not sure exactly what these fancy goods were, but a business guide from the time proclaims that they “comprise the latest fashionable novelties.” In the spot where Bintliff’s building stands now was a fish market run by Frank Lombard, and here we are assured that he sold “fish of all kinds” and that “orders are accurately filled and promptly delivered.”
Our waiter also said that he thinks the building is haunted, that the staff will set the tables at night and come back the next morning to find the settings inexplicably disrupted. I wonder if that’s old Frank Lombard’s ghost floating through the restaurant checking up on the fish entrees.
Luann Yetter writes local histories, including the book Portland’s Past.