Tag Archives: hip

21c Museum Hotel

Stepping into the foyer of the 21C Hotel in Durham, North Carolina, the first thing that caught my eye was the green marble and silver leaf ceiling — one of the brilliant Art Deco details preserved in this ornate and beautiful building.

Hill Building Durham, North Carolina

Right in the heart of downtown Durham, 21C is an adaptive reuse project in the old Hill Building, an Art Deco dream built from 1935-1937 and designed by Shreve, Lamb and Harmon– legendary designers of the Empire State Building.

Repurposed Bank | Durham, NC

The 2400 square-foot Main Gallery is located in the old banking hall where busy tellers once lined the room and the sound of businessmen’s clicking heels echoed off the checkered terrazzo floor. You can almost hear John Sprunt Hill, the building’s namesake, negotiating a Trust from behind the original pecan wood paneling.

Vintage Pictures of the Hill Building, Durham, NC
(left) 1937 | (right) 1965 | Courtesy The Herald-Sun via OpenDurham + Preservation Durham

John Sprunt Hill, a local lawyer, banker, and philanthropist who lead the civic and social development of the city in the early decades of the 20th century, also served as president of Durham Loan & Trust Company, later Durham Bank & Trust Company — for which “The Hill” was first built. The Hill building has since housed other bank offices on its 17 floors.

Luxury Hotel | 21C | Durham, NC

Its last bank tenant was SunTrust Banks before Greenfire Development stepped in in 2006 to begin the Hill’s transformation into a 125-room luxury hotel.

Counting House Restaurant | 21c Hotel

From 2013-2015, Greenfire teamed up with 21C Museum Hotels. With a sweep of their adaptive reuse wand, they added a contemporary art museum, an upscale hotel, bar and ballroom as part of the 21C brand, founded by contemporary art collectors and preservationists Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson.

Luxury Museum Hotel | Durham

Originating in Louisville, the 21C Museum Hotels celebrated 10 years in 2016! The concept was born from Laura Lee’s passion for contemporary art and desire to share it with the public. Laura and Steve saw the shift to commercialism in Louisville and thought that would be a good place for their preservation project to begin. Every 21C Museum Hotel is in an old, repurposed building.

Contemporary Art Museum Durham, NC
courtesy of 21c Museum Hotels

I love when hipstorical places combine historic charm and architecture with modern and contemporary touches– and that’s exactly what the 21C Hotel in Durham, North Carolina does. Every 21C hotel hosts a free contemporary museum that’s open to the public. The 10,500 square-foot 21C Durham museum is open 24 hours except when it’s closed for private events. Curated exhibits are presented on a rotating basis, and guided docent tours are offered twice a week!

Repurposed Bank | 21c Museum Hotel

My favorite part of the building, and my favorite part of just any adapted bank, is the vault. 21C’s “The Vault” is located on the lower level and serves as a lounge for private events like bourbon tastings and cocktail parties. Here, again, is a place where vintage meets contemporary: leather button-back seats line the walls that are home to original safety deposit boxes from floor to ceiling, while original money art sweeps the floor.

Ellis Stone Department Store | Durham | Hipstorical

The Counting House restaurant on the ground floor was once Ellis Stone department store. This gourmet dining room swallows guests with its 23-foot ceiling, and some more contemporary art on display is the perfect side-dish for your seared monkfish or lamb chop. Or book out the Main Gallery for your event, and you’ll get catering cooked right off the line!

The Counting House Restaurant | Durham

Care to accompany me up to my room? The Penthouse Suite takes up the entire 15th floor and is home to 1,000 square feet of glam. Kitchen, 1 ½ baths, bedroom, living room, private balcony with panoramic view of the city– what more could you ask for? Even the standard rooms still have the original floors, big bathrooms and a seating area instead of a desk.

Guest Room | 21c Hotel Durham

21C Museum Hotel in Durham screams glam. It both harkens back to a the Hollywood feel that its Art Deco design emits and envelops you in the opulent indulgence of a luxury hotel filled with a vast collection of contemporary art. If or when you’re in Durham or Raleigh, a stay at the 21C will not disappoint. Go ahead, treat yourself.

A special thank you to Meredith and Kelsey at the 21c Museum Hotel, Durham CVB, OpenDurham, and Preservation Durham!

Suggestions for more hipstorical places in Durham? Email me and help me build my archives!

American Tobacco Campus

Stepping through the neon-sign archway of the American Tobacco Campus, the Lucky Strike smokestack and water tower are silhouetted against the bright North Carolina sun. The staggered warehouse chimneys that once fed hot summer air to drying tobacco now cast a jagged shadow across the concrete walkways. A retired train is perched upon a reclaimed rail system suspended above the square, a stream cascades loudly down concrete slabs, and string lights weave across a bustling piazza. Locals and tourists alike chatter and nibble at cafe tables and enjoy a lovely day in Durham.

American Tobacco Campus

Cigarette and tobacco history may be controversial, but what is cut and dry is the mark that American Tobacco made on the city of Durham, North Carolina and the entire country. It’s a story of economic and entrepreneurial success of bright business moguls — a history preserved in these 19th century factory buildings, reimagined as a million square feet of apartments, offices, restaurants, and more.

American Tobacco Restoration | Durham

The Hipstory

It began during the Civil War. When North Carolina soldiers brought their unique brightleaf cured tobacco to war, it went viral. Tobacco peddlers John Ruffin Green and William Thomas Blackwell, riding the success of the tobacco trend, teamed up in 1868 to found Genuine Bull Durham Smoking Tobacco, which would provide a moniker for the city for years to come.

Historical Photo W.T. Blackwell and Co.
1870s | Ben and Snow Roberts | via OpenDurham + Preservation Durham

Meanwhile, Washington Duke returned home from the Civil War to become a tobacco farmer. From 1870 to 1890, his company expanded from a shed on his farm to a factory in downtown Durham. His sons took over the business at its peak, and Washington went on to found Trinity College (which would become Duke University).

1920s Photo Old Bull Building Durham
“Before” | 1920s | Duke Manuscript Collection, Digital Durham | via OpenDurham + Preservation Durham
American Tobacco Campus | Durham, NC
“After” | 2016

As the century approached its turn, loose leaf tobacco and cigarettes grew in popularity, with Duke & Sons shredding the competition. In 1890, they acquired Blackwell’s Bull Durham brand along with Lucky Strike and over 200 other tobacco firms — and The American Tobacco Company was ignited, controlling 90% of the world’s tobacco production and distribution.

Historical Photo American Tobacco Company
1950s | Herald-Sun | via OpenDurham + Preservation Durham

American Tobacco prevailed for over 80 years until the health risks of cigarettes became widely known in the latter part of the 20th century. The company attempted to bring on products and brands outside the tobacco realm, but the changing attitudes toward tobacco and competition in the marketplace forced American Tobacco to close in 1987.

Bull Durham Tobacco - Old Bull Building

The Buildings

The W.T. Blackwell and Company building (also known as the “Old Bull” building) was constructed in 1874 and manufactured Bull Durham Tobacco — the first nationally marketed brand of tobacco products — until 1957. It’s adjacent to the main American Tobacco campus and remains part of the American Tobacco Historic District. Its distinct Italianate-style architecture and colorful, graphic Old Bull advert on the front of the building make it an iconic piece of Durham history. Once the world’s largest tobacco factory, it was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1977 and is now occupied by apartments.

Repurposed American Tobacco Durham

The 14 buildings and three structures that make up the main American Tobacco Campus were built between 1874 and the 1950s and were all working factory and office buildings for the company (renamed Fortune Brands) until it was snuffed out in 1987. The buildings sat abandoned for over 10 years, aside from being used for tactical training by the local police. After being added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2000, the property, including its crumbling smokestack, was purchased by Capitol Broadcasting Company (owners of the Durham Bulls) in 2001.

Lucky Strike Smokestack Durham

American Tobacco Campus Today

After four years of renovations, Capitol Broadcasting reopened the campus in 2005 with commercial residents. American Tobacco Campus is now home to apartments, a theater, an event venue, a YMCA, the former Burt’s Bees HQ, and a radio station. You can get an old-fashioned cut and shave at the barber shop or see the original coal-fired boilers from the tobacco factory at Power Plant gallery. Locals can apply to be a part of the American Underground– 26,000 square feet of subterranean startup incubator offices.

American Underground Durham

Choose from the variety of restaurants that offer Japanese, Cuban, Southern, or Southwestern cuisine, pizza, steak, burgers, and sandwiches. Or sample creations at the dining lab for students of the International Culinary School. Sip on coffee from the cafe, sample beer at the taproom, or stretch out on the big lawn for a concert or festival. There’s a little something for everyone– whether you live in Durham or come from out of town!

Full Frame Theater Durham, NC

Durham is a transformation city. More than half of its residents were born out of state, and the city’s downtown has seen mass redevelopment and adaptive reuse sparked by the creative reimagining and historic preservation of the American Tobacco Historic District! For those who are planning a trip to Durham– the Tobacco Campus is a do-not-miss. And if you’ll be in the Raleigh area, a day trip to Durham will be worth your time! It’s filled with history and creative examples of #hipstorical! Roll on over.

Burt's Bees Durham Tobacco Campus

A special thank you to Durham CVB, OpenDurham, and Preservation Durham!

Suggestions for more hipstorical places in Durham? Email me and help me build my archives!

Hale Ulu Lulu Guest House

The warm summer-like breeze tangled my hair and weaved itself through the knitted holes of my bright pink sweater. Our topless Jeep hugged the final hairpins along the Road to Hana and finally turned down the lawn to our little home for the weekend: the Hale Ulu Lulu cottage.

Hale Ulu Lulu Maui Guesthouse

“Hale Ulu Lulu,” in the lovely Hawaiian language, means “house sheltered by the breadfruit trees. The exotic fronds of the namesake trees surround the little blue cottage.

The Guest Houses at Malanai

It was a lovely site after a long, sunny day filled with rock-hopping to hidden waterfalls, slurping fresh pineapple, and hugging rainbow eucalyptus trees. Coconut sunscreen on our shoulders and black beach sand between our toes, we unlocked the door to our island getaway: the loveliest little Hawaiian cottage we could have imagined.

The little blue cottage bore a striking resemblance to the summer cottage in northern Wisconsin where my family spent the June, July and August weekends of my childhood. It was the perfect setting for a Hawaiian vacation with my sister.

Soft Hawaiian music drifted through the windows, and I collapsed on the chaise to sip my pineapple Maui Wine to relax and wonder about the history of this pretty little place.

Bed and Breakfast Road to Hana

The first sugarcane plantation in Hawaii was established in 1835, and by the 1840s, the sugarcane export business was booming. Hale Ulu Lulu was built around 1900. By then, the town of Hana was abuzz with movie theaters, shops and restaurants, despite its remote location. The town had a population of 3,500 and could be reached by the gravel Hana Highway (completed in 1926).

Maui Hana Sugarcane Plantation
1885 | Hana Sugar Plantation, Maui | From Hawaii State Archives Digital Collection via Hawaii Picture of the Day

The land surrounding Hale Ulu Lulu was once covered in sugarcane — part of the Hana Sugar Plantation. The cottage was built to house the plantation manager and is one of the few surviving authentic plantation houses in Hana. It was also once home to the legendary Eddie Pu, subject of the book “Voices of Wisdom-Hawaiian Elders Speak.”

Inn on Road to Hana, Maui

By the turn of the 21st century, the population of Hana would dwindle to around 700 and the little blue plantation house fell into ruin. The current owners purchased the cottage, along with a few others nearby, and began a year-long restoration.

Island Getaway Maui

They paid great attention to detail when preserving the historical integrity of the house while adding all of the modern amenities you might need. The bead board, crown molding and claw-foot tub add charm and authenticity to the beautiful plantation home.

Hawaiian vacation homes - Hana, Maui

They restored as many original windows as they could while adding new and beautiful Brazilian Mahogany floors, a Koa wood bar counter and granite kitchen countertops. The 900-square-foot, one-bedroom, one-bathroom cottage is the perfect, charming getaway for a couple or pair to rest after the long journey along the winding Road to Hana. Local artwork, Hawaiian antiques, and views of the ocean are the sugarcane on top.

Vacation Rental - Road to Hana, Maui

We spent each morning enjoying stunning sunrises from the front porch, and just a short drive away, Hamoa Beach provided the ideal setting to watch surfers at sunset. Our stay at Hale Ulu Lulu in Hana was a dream come true, from sunrise to sunset. I can’t wait to go back.

Sunset from Hale Ulu Lulu - Vacation rental Hana, Maui

Suggestions for more hipstorical places on Maui? Email me and help me build my archives!

Brewhouse Inn & Suites

Brewhouse Inn Entrance

Cotton-bunch clouds find their reflection in the 300 windows that scale the cream-colored brick facade of the Victorian Gothic factory as it towers over North 10th Street. The street is so quiet on a Friday morning, I swear I can almost hear the hum of a turn-of-the-century working brewery behind those brick walls– the bubbling of the copper kettles and the chatter of brewers at work. Sadly, beer hasn’t been brewed on these grounds in over 20 years. But from 1905 to 1996, that bustling hum could be heard across the dozen brewing buildings on the Pabst property.

Boutique Hotel Milwaukee | Brewhouse Inn & Suites

Pabst Brewing Company has its earliest roots in Best and Company brewery, established in 1844 by Jacob Best, Sr. and his four sons, Jacob, Jr., Charles, Phillip and Lorenz. In 1850, Charles and Lorenz left to open their own brewery, which would later become Miller Brewing Company. (Talented family, huh?) Phillip Best’s son-in-law, Frederick Pabst, bought into the business in 1864 and became the sole owner in 1888, and the brewery was renamed “Pabst Brewing Company” a year later.

Pabst Brewery around 1900
Pabst Brewery around 1900 (AP Photo/Pabst Mansion)

Somewhere in between Frederick taking ownership of Best’s brewery and the advent of Pabst, the shiny new brewery at 1215 North 10th Street was completed (1882, to be exact). Fun fact: the same year the building was erected, Best brewing began tying a blue silk ribbon around each bottle of their “Best Select” beer to represent all of the US and international awards they’d earned. The nickname “blue ribbon” became official in 1898, though the practice of tying the ribbons on the bottles ended in 1950.

Pabst Brewery Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Pabst became the nation’s largest in 1899 through the first half of the 20th century. The brewery was one of the first to welcome visitors for tours in 1907.

Abandoned Pabst Brewery by Paul Bialas
Photo by author Paul Bialas | brewerybooks.com

Except for a stint aging cheese in its cellars during prohibition, Best and then Pabst brewed the bubbly stuff at 1215 North 10th Street until the brewery suddenly shut down in 1996 under a new owner. The Cream City-brick building sat empty and abandoned for ten years.

Photo by author Paul Bialas | Pabst Brewery
Photo by author Paul Bialas | brewerybooks.com

In 2006, its savior– local real estate developer and philanthropist named Joseph A. Zilber– purchased 1215 and all of the surrounding Pabst buildings with the grand vision of creating a charming and sustainable new neighborhood known as “The Brewery.” He purchased the entire neighborhood, made it a historical landmark, and sold off the buildings to trusted developers.

Old Pabst Brewery Milwaukee

Gary Gorman and Gorman and Company, a developer specializing in adaptive reuse and historic properties, took on the project of creating a funky, luxurious boutique hotel at 1215, and Brewhouse Inn & Suites was completed in spring of 2013.

Hotel Lobby | Boutique Hotel Milwaukee

Gorman & Co. did an outstanding job with the renovation, expertly preserving some of the unique historic details of the brewery. The first brewhouse element that stands out as you enter the hotel lobby are the exposed copper kettles in the lobby. The bottom has been sliced off to reveal the inside of the still to hotel-goers as they enter.

Restored Pabst Brewery | Brewhouse Inn Milwaukee

What was originally the Pabst employee break room is now the breakfast nook for hotel guests. Gorman & Co. used reclaimed wood from the brewery to create sturdy, history-rich breakfast tables. In the building’s brewery days, the room was filled with free-flowing taps 24 hours a day. The room was called “the Blue Room” for the police officers who often stopped by for a beer after their shifts, and it’s still called “the Blue Room” today.

Pabst Brewery Restored Brewhouse Inn

Beams from the building’s original atrium were used to make a stunning sign handpainted by a local artist. The sign provides a focal point for the lobby along with the front desk, decorated with 1500 beer bottles. Original wooden archways beckon visitors into the heart of the hotel.

Copper Kettles at the Old Pabst Brewery

The sun-drenched atrium is lined with original wrought iron beams that surround the sparkling copper kettles. The developers knew they wanted to keep the kettles, so they used them as inspiration for the subtle but effective steampunk theme of the inn’s decor. Furniture was custom made by a local artisan, but the lovely spiral staircase in the atrium is an original.

Custom Furniture at Brewhouse Inn & Suites

Fun Fact: Phillip Best worked with a local coppersmith to design the first copper brew kettle. The coppersmith, AJ Langworthy, received a lifetime of free beer in return.

Stained Glass and Copper Kettles at Brewhouse Inn and Suites

A two-story stained glass window also sparkles in the atrium. It dipicts King Gambrinus, the “patron saint” of beer and was commissioned by Frederick Pabst himself.

Guest Room at Brewhouse Inn Milwaukee

The extended-stay hotel offers kitchenettes in each of its 90 rooms, and the rooms vary in size and amenities, from standard rooms to lofts and suites. The suites feature oyster shucking tables as an added luxury, and many rooms feature original wooden beams.

Suite at Brewhouse Inn Milwaukee

The nearby First German Methodist Church can be seen from the rooftop deck of the hotel. Rumor has it that Pabst beer was once pumped right into the church for the famous Wisconsin Friday Fish Fries. A Pabst microbrewery serving old Pabst recipes and gastropub cuisine is scheduled to open in 2017.

Best Place, Pabst Brewery, Milwaukee

A building across the street awaits redevelopment and will soon become apartments. Another building in the neighborhood is used as an education and student housing complex. The original 1880 Best Brewery headquarters adjacent to the inn serves as a beer tasting room and event space and offers historical tours that feature a visit to Captain Pabst’s fully restored office and the old infirmary-turned-speakeasy.

Jackson's Blue Ribbon Pub

Be sure to stop by Jackson’s Blue Ribbon Pub for a PBR during your visit, a bar and restaurant housed in the brewery’s old carriage house!


When you hear the word “Wisconsin,” or “Milwaukee,” your mouth likely begins to water for an ice-cold brew– maybe even a Pabst Brew Ribbon. The city and state have become synonymous with the bubbly beverage, and Wisconsinites have German-American immigrants Jacob Best and Frederick Pabst. Brewhouse Inn & Suites has done a magnificent job of breathing new life into this piece of Milwaukee history, and Jacob and Frederick would be proud of this beautiful inn where their legacy lives on.

Watch a video about hotel’s renovations here.

Brewhouse Inn Milwaukee | Renovated Pabst Brewery

Suggestions for more hipstorical places in Milwaukee? Email me and help me build my archives!

Engine Co. No. 3, Milwaukee

Historic Photos of Engine Co. No. 3 Milwaukee

The Hipstory

The Engine Company Number Three firehouse was built in 1904 in a Milwaukee fur trading quarter called Walker’s Point. It was built in a time when mustachioed firemen perched in the lookout tower to spot blazes for miles around. They slid down a copper pole to harnessed horses ready to pull both men and steam pumper swiftly to the site of the flames.

Engine Co. No. 3 Milwaukee History

Milwaukee firemen served the Walker’s Point neighborhood from the brown brick building at 217 W National Ave for 25 years until its tower was dismantled in 1930 and its doors were shackled shut. Over the next 84 years, the brown brick building sat vacant, floor rotting, ivy vines crawling across crumbling brick, fireman’s pole sold for its copper. It sat lonely and deserted, like a broken toy soldier.

Abandoned Firehouse Milwaukee

Until in 2013, when Peter and Sonia Sandroni blew the dust off the old firehouse and breathed new life back into it.

The Rebirth

Peter and Sonia opened their international tapas restaurant, La Merenda, in 2007. They drove by the firehouse every day, and finally, following six successful years at their first restaurant, they rescued the firehouse that had rescued so many before.

Engine Co. No. 3 Historic Restaurant Milwaukee

The structure of the building was in good shape– the Sandronis just had to patch a brick here and there– but they were starting with a skeleton. “There were no stairs,” remembers Sonia. “You had to jump to get to the second floor.”

Historic Firehouse Memorabilia Milwaukee Engine Co. No. 3

The Sandronis went to work restoring the original wood floors, brick interior and charming facade of the building. Reclaimed wood from throughout the building was used for the rebuild and will be used on the restaurant’s new outdoor deck, opening in 2017.

Inside Engine Co. No. 3 Hipstorical Restaurant Milwaukee

The original pulley door was replaced by a shiney new black glass door that now opens to the front patio on warm, sunny days. Though the lookout tower was gone when they arrived, the base of the original shaft can be seen from inside the front door.

The Tower Shaft at the Hipstorical Engine Co. No. 3

The Sandronis’ hard work paid off, and the new-old restaurant– Engine Co. No. 3— opened on September 9, 2014.

The Details

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: when it comes to Hipstoricals, it’s all in the details.

Engine Co. No. 3 teamed up with the Milwaukee Fire Historical Society to give the place its finishing touches. Framed badges are hung above the bar, and behind it on shelves are rusty lanterns, axes, hoses, bells, boots, and helmets. A focal point of the room is a 12-foot life net, hung on the wall that evokes images of a cartoon fire brigade rescue.

Life Net at Engine Co. No. 3 Milwaukee Hipstorical

At the back of the restaurant is half of a 400-pound, 30-foot fireman’s ladder; the other half is upstairs in the private party area. All of the items have either been donated or are on loan from the museum. Photos from the museum’s archives hang in frames on every wall, including one of the original crew from Engine Co. No. 3.

Hipstorical Firehouse Restaurant Milwaukee

The Menu

Sonia Sandroni is a native of Colombia, her husband has Italian and Irish heritage, and their butcher is South African. Combine those diverse backgrounds with the success of La Merenda’s international menu, and it only made sense for the team to create a new menu for Engine Co. No. 3 inspired by flavors and dishes from around the world.

Sonia Sandroni International Restaurant Milwaukee

My visit was during brunch, and so I had the difficult job of choosing between the South African Queen Brekki, the Quiche Lorraine from France, the Kolbasz and Paprika Krumpli from Hungary, and the Wisconsin Omelet, just to name a few.

Brunch Cocktails Milwaukee Restaurant
A Company Beermosa, made with New Glarus Spotted Cow and fresh-sqeezed OJ

Sonia and her team use farm-to-table ingredients from Wisconsin farmers. Engine Co.’s locally sourced meats are prepared by Engine Co. No. 3’s in-house butcher, Matthew, and the menu changes each season based on what’s fresh.

Best Restaurant in Milwaukee Engine Co. No. 3

“We tried to create a very unique menu, and it took a little time for people to get used to it,” says Sonia. “But La Merenda welcomes curious visitors from all over the world, and that’s what we wanted to do here too.”

Best Brunch in Milwaukee Engine Co. No. 3

My friend and I decided on the Hungarian dish– smoked Hungarian sausage, Bryntag Farms sweet potato puree, and three Brothers Farm sunny eggs– and the Colombian Patacon con Huevo– smashed and fried plantains with cilantro rice, Flyte Family Farm beans, hogao (a spiced tomato sauce), and fried sunny side up eggs. The latter was also enjoyed by President Obama who stopped by for a bite to eat when he was in town, and both were inexplicably delicious and unlike anything I’d tasted before– exactly what I’m looking for on my hipstorical travels!

International Cuisine Milwaukee Engine Co. No. 3


The old-school neighborhood of Walker’s Point may have been shy at first– unsure of the international flavors on the menu at Engine Co. No. 3. But I think it’s places like these are exactly what we need right now. Engine Co. No. 3 didn’t go running. They stayed put and were true to their uniqueness. They didn’t try to change who they were to fit the neighborhood. They waited for their neighbors to come around and become comfortable with the different.

Embrace the different. Be open to newcomers and new flavors from around the world. Be your unique, delicious self.

Engine Co. No. 3 Milwaukee

Suggestions for more hipstorical places in Milwaukee? Email me and help me build my archives!

Woodford Food + Beverage, Portland

Woodford Food & Beverage

Tucked into the Back Cove of Portland, Maine on Woodford’s Corner is a crown-shaped diner. A soft glow emanates from its picture windows. Inside, a young family snuggles into a corner booth, munching on burgers and fries. A grey-haired couple slices into their steaming plates of swordfish steak and baked stuffed lobster. A troupe of hip 20-somethings gathers at the bar as the mustachioed bartender prepares their hand-crafted cocktails. Vinyl records accompany the sound of the cocktail shaker and warm conversation. 

Craft Cocktails Portland

Woodford Food & Beverage (or Woodford F&B) is at the nexus of Woodford Street, Deering, and Forest Avenue. It’s the focal point where the neighbors of Portland come together.

Birch Shambaugh and Fayth Preyer came to the neighborhood in 2007 from Brooklyn to start their family. When they spotted the unusual building that housed a mortgage company at 660 Forest Avenue, they immediately thought “that should be a…”

Woodford F&B Portland

The couple did some digging and discovered that 660 Forest Avenue was the site of the very first Valle Steakhouse, built in the early 1940s. In the post-prohibition era when the steakhouse was built, Woodford’s Corner was a vibrant and bustling neighborhood epicenter, and Valle’s was the place to go for family celebrations, graduation, prom.

Valle's Steakhouse Portland | Woodford F&B

Donald Valle would go on to open 12 more restaurants along the eastern seaboard. His menu featured surf and turf favorites like prime rib and lobster, and at one point, Valle’s sold more lobster per week than anyone else in the country.

A fire damaged the first Valle’s Steakhouse at this location in the 1950s, and the current building was erected shortly thereafter in the shape of a crown to match the Valle’s iconic logo. The building eventually became Valle’s Main headquarters until the turn of the 21st century when it was taken over by a mortgage company.

Woodford F&B Front Window
Logo by Portland design firm Might & Main

Flash forward to to 2007. Birch and Fayth, seeing the building’s potential, write regular letters to the owner for years until, in 2014, the mortgage company goes belly up. “I got a phone call almost two years ago now, out of the blue, and he said, ‘well, you are persistent. Are you still interested?’” With his 6-week-old son in one arm and his phone in the other hand, Birch looked at Fayth, and Fayth looked at Birch and they just knew they had to take the leap.

Diner and Brasserie Portland

On a truly dismal February day, the couple entered the building for the first time. They sat on some folding chairs, surrounded by eerily empty offices, wires hanging like jungle vines, gnarly carpet and a busted fax machine and watched the bustling traffic through the giant picture windows.

Portland Diner and Brasserie

“There was a cognitive dissonance between the flurry of activity out there at this notoriously crazy intersection and how deceivingly calm it was in here,” says Birch. “It really took nothing more than that for us to know we’d made the right decision.” The two pulled their friend and chef Courtney Loreg into the fray and began their transformation.

Birch Shambaugh, Co-Owner of Woodford F&B
Birch Shambaugh, Co-Owner of Woodford F&B

Their goal was to create a cross-section where American roadside dining meets traditional brasserie with a touch of old-school lunch counter– and that’s exactly what the place evokes, centered around the long wraparound counter that welcomes diners by day and transforms to a chic bar by night.

Craft Cocktails in Portland

The space and all its angles presented some challenges for Birch and Fayth, but they decided to embrace the unique design quirks, starting with the ceilings lined with the original fir planks– the same color now as they were 50 years ago. “We loved them up a little bit and all of a sudden realized what a warm glow they provided,” says Birch.

Hipstorical Restaurant Portland Maine

Then, during the building’s demolition, they pulled up four inches of adhesive, flooring, and carpet to find the floor of their dreams in the terrazzo tiles that they lovingly restored. The ceiling and floor were the first pieces of the puzzle that helped inform many of the other design decisions that followed.

Woodford F&B's Welcoming Staff
Woodford F&B’s Welcoming Staff

It’s clear upon visiting Woodford F&B that great thought went into every detail of reimagining this unique and welcoming place, and Birch confirms that assumption. “I can’t tell you how long we labored over what the finish of the tile was going to be,” he says, “but ultimately it was clear as a bell to us that it should be a matte finish on big, square tiles.” It took the team two months to arrive at that decision.

Best food in Portland Maine
Some serious Deviled Eggs

The zinc counter top reflects the glowing sconces behind the bar, another detail designed by Birch and inspired by the linestra light fixtures developed in the 1950s as lighting for movie stars’ makeup mirrors.

Hip Diner Portland, Maine

An old IBM clock above the counter takes you back to the last day of elementary school, when you watched the second hand with anticipation as it ticked its way around to summer. Birch bought several clocks before he found the perfect one.

Best Burger in Portland Maine

The same thought and themes that went into the restaurant’s design also, unsurprisingly, went into creating the menu. Chef Courtney’s menu breathes new life into old comfort food favorites and regional dishes like deviled eggs and baked stuffed lobster, with a few odd balls in the mix to keep you on your toes. “The process of resuscitating some of these things and putting a little bit of our own spin on them reflects what we’re trying to accomplish in the physical space, says Birch. “We try to bring out the best in a dish that belongs in this environment.”

Steak Tartar Portland Maine
Steak Tartar

The result of all this thought and detail is an unpretentious neighborhood place with a very special energy. A place where you can have a burger and a beer at the bar after work and the same place where you go with your family and friends to celebrate with champagne and oysters.

Foie Gras Portland, Maine
Woodford F&B’s Foie Gras


Could this be a sign of a speeding up of change in this neighborhood? “Sure,” says Birch. “But what I see when I look around is vitality and life in a space that didn’t have it before.”

That rebirth and vitality is only possible because of the vision of Birch and Fayth. It all started that fortuitous day in 2007 when they spotted an old, stuffy mortgage building that most locals drove by each day without a passing thought.

Patrons at Woodford F&B in Portland

“Sometimes there’s a kind of epiphanous, eureka moment, with old buildings in particular,” says Birch. “There’s a smidgen of foresight, but often it’s as much luck and timing. And if and when it comes to fruition, sometimes it can be truly magical.”

Suggestions for more hipstorical places in Portland? Email me and help me build my archives!