BRUNSWICK, Maine — His new hotel may be located in coastal Maine, but Gerard Kiladjian is no fan of those homespun signs that read “Life’s a Beach.” As for the ubiquitous “Live Laugh Love”? Fuhgeddaboudit. “If you need a sign to remind you to live, you’re already in trouble,” he quips. Thus, the only signs you’ll see in the newly imagined Captain Daniel Stone Inn — now The Federal — are useful ones that say things like “Exit.” Nor will you notice a palette of blazing blue, crimson, and other lobster pot-inspired hues, so common in these parts. “We want to give you a sense of Maine, but not clobber you with it,” says interior designer Annie K of Annie K Design, who opted for fabrics in shades of sand, smoky teal, and cream to create a warm, modern vibe in this 30-room property. The hotel opened in March and its buzzy restaurant, 555 north, helmed by one of Maine’s top chefs, fed its first guests in mid-May (more about that shortly).
If things had gone according to plan, we’d be discussing grab bars, not raw bars. Initially, Kiladjian and his business partner bought the old inn at auction, with an eye toward converting it into senior housing. When that didn’t pan out, they opted to turn the once-stately c.1810 property into an elegant contemporary inn, befitting its location near Bowdoin College. Located halfway between Portland and Boothbay Harbor, the hotel isn’t on the beachfront, so those “Sandy Toes” signs wouldn’t have made sense anyway. But Popham Beach and Reid State Park, known for their beaches and sand dunes, are within a 20-minute drive, and both Freeport and Portland are a quick jaunt away (about 15 and 25 miles respectively). The takeaway: Brunswick is a great base for exploring midcoast Maine.
And, as trendy Portland becomes pricier — an overnight stay can set you back $500 these days — burgs like Brunswick are getting a closer look. (Room rates here start at $169 per night, in high season.) “Brunswick has been undervalued for a long time,” says Annie K, who is also Gerard’s wife. Activities like paddling and flyfishing, the Androscoggin River Bicycle Path, and those nearby beaches add to the appeal of the city of approximately 22,000. “We want to let people know that this is a nice hub with an authentic Maine feel,” she adds. And it’s easily accessible off nearby Route 1.
Cool touches, a hot restaurant
The inn was “quite rundown” in Kiladjian’s words, when Principal Hospitality acquired it. (Kiladjian is the operating partner.) The place was shuttered for a year and a half for renovation, longer than expected because of pandemic-prompted delays. “We spent over $3.5 million — that’s a lot for 30 rooms,” Kiladjian notes. Guest rooms are spread between two buildings, the Federal House and the East Wing, connected by a passageway. Room categories include kings, queens, and suites, and incorporate a mix of older pieces and new ones. All have cushy bedding made by Cuddledown of Maine. Annie K brightened up the “dark wood, dark curtains, dark brown everything” look of the inn with crisp whites and iron-gray accent walls, adding statement pieces like a petrified wood table and a soaring custom-made bookcase by Eugene Sherstyukov of TPK Cabinetry in Yarmouth. A hallway sports a wall of moss, and the inn’s restaurant, 555 north, displays a hand-painted mural (featuring Maine plants) by artist Tessa O’Brien of South Portland. The restaurant has a horseshoe-shaped bar, greenery galore, and a central fireplace (an original fixture), with a fanciful barn door designed by Annie K. The painting of a pomegranate reflects the Kiladjian’s Armenian heritage.
Open for just a couple of nights when we visited in mid-May, 555 north is already drawing crowds, thanks to its pedigree: It is a reboot of Five Fifty-Five, one of Portland’s best-known restaurants. (Five Fifty-Five operated for 17 years and closed in April 2020.) Award-winning chef/owner Steve Corry and his wife, Michelle, have brought back beloved dishes from the former Five Fifty-Five, including pepper-seared scallops, Bangs Island mussels, and grilled Caesar salad — Chef Corry’s favorite item — and truffled lobster mac and cheese. An array of new dishes will reflect the restaurant’s focus on seasonal, local ingredients. Expect more cold plates, fresh oysters, and charcuterie, as the chef “has some fun” expanding the menu. Currently, the 140-seat restaurant is open for dinner only, but the plan is to add breakfast service. 555 north also has a chef’s table for wine tastings and chef’s dinners, and it will open an oyster bar in the coming months. The local diners we spoke with are excited by the arrival of 555 north (and Chef Corry, a Food & Wine Magazine-named “best chef” in 2007) in the area. “There’s really nothing like this [in Brunswick],” Corry says of his “new New England”-style menu. “The potential here is amazing.”
Will this destination restaurant be enough to entice visitors to Brunswick come wintertime, when vacationers are few? Will the vitality supplied by the Bowdoin College crowd (and visiting parents) keep the vibe going? Everyone involved with The Federal is counting on it. “Brunswick is at the brink of having a moment,” Kiladjian says. “My hope is that this property will be the catalyst.”
The Federal, 10 Water St., Brunswick, Maine; 207-481-4066; www.thefederalmaine.com. Summer season rates from $169; two-night minimum stays may apply. The inn is pet-friendly. 555 north is currently open Thu.-Mon. for dinner. Large plates from $24; four-course tasting menu, $68; 207-481-4533; www.555-north.com.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at email@example.com