THE PRESS HOTEL
119 EXCHANGE ST.
PORTLAND, ME 04101
Review by Ron Bernthal
Like its name implies, this hotel is about the newspaper business — the writers, the headlines, the tools of the trade and the industry vocabulary of daily newspapers all over the world. Specifically, the hotel is about the Portland Press Herald, formed in 1921 with the merger of Portland’s Daily Press and Herald newspapers. The Press Herald occupied this building, on the corner of Exchange and Congress Streets, from 1923 to 2010, and after a meticulous and expensive conversion, it opened to the public as The Press Hotel in May, 2015.
Even if you have never worked as a newspaper journalist, or no longer read hard-copy newspapers, the interior details of this 110-room hotel will still be a joy to experience, as the architects and interior designers used creativity and a bit of playfulness to cleverly convert a vacant, 92 year-old newspaper office building into a modern hotel environment.
The lobby is spacious, like a large living room with comfortable chairs and couches, and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the street. At one end of the lobby is Union, the hotel’s signature restaurant, and a bar and lounge, named The Inkwell, occupies space at the other end. And, in this hotel, when guests come down in the morning for breakfast at Union they pass a wood table in the lobby overladen with complimentary newspapers – stacks of Wall Street Journal’s, the New York Times, USA Today and, of course, the Portland Press Herald.
Below the lobby, accessed by a modern staircase, are four meeting rooms, appropriately named the Composing, Editorial, News and Press Room, and an Art Gallery displays works by Maine artists. The hotel is filled with art, and while many of the pieces reflect the newspaper industry, like the “letterpress art wall” sculpture behind the front desk, or the two-story installation of antique typewriters conceived of by students at nearby Maine College of Art (see lobby photo above), most of the art covers a broad spectrum.
Although Stonehill & Taylor, the interior design firm, says the décor of the guestrooms was inspired by a 1920’s-era writer’s office, the details are subtle. Bathrooms feature a reeded glass door similar to those in traditional newspaper offices, and a wood writing desk has plenty of outlets, good lighting, and complimentary WiFi available throughout the hotel. On the back of every leather desk chair is the phrase, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog,” in Times New Roman typeface. Wood floors are covered with herringbone area rugs, and local Main-based companies supply the bed coverings and bedding. Prints by Portland artists are in all the guestrooms.
The not so subtle but very imaginative touches can be found in the hotel’s corridors, where the wallpaper is comprised of enlarged Press Herald newspaper headlines, in black type over the white walls, and the corridor carpet is whimsically scattered with typewriter letter keys imprinted into the carpeting, as if the letters are dropping off the wall and onto the floor. In guestrooms the privacy tags have esoteric quotes on them from famous literary figures and songwriters, as in “My goal as a writer is more to comfort than to disturb,” by Joni Mitchell. The thick Press Hotel-branded “beat reporter” note pad, found in each room, is so beautiful they will need to be replaced frequently.
Union, the hotel’s restaurant serving three meals daily, has already become a popular dining venue for local residents as well, a big accomplishment for a new restaurant in a city known for some of the best dining venues in America. The farm and sea-to-table menu will change at least as often as Maine’s seasons, and when I visited in June there was locally sourced oysters, scallops, salmon, mountain trout, Casco Bay cod and lobster, with farm fresh chicken and Maine-grown fruit and vegetables. Desserts and excellent oat bran bread are made in-house and the wine list is affordable, with a nice selection of California and European bottles. With its open kitchen, friendly staff, communal table, and a few more subtle details of the building’s former occupant (note the real newspaper clipping under the salt cup at breakfast), I imagine that Union will be as cozy and comfortable on a cold winter night as it was during a sultry summer evening.
Portland is a walkable city, and the downtown Press Hotel is close to the historic port area, the city’s business district, and the Merrill Auditorium entertainment venue. The property is part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection™ of hotels.