I’ve always dreamed of living in a loft—someplace with soaring ceilings, massive windows, and exposed brick. Stepping into The Lincoln, a new hotel in an old mill building in Biddeford, Maine, felt like entering a portal to an imaginary alternative life. One where I am an urban dweller with impeccable taste and all the time in the world to sip cocktails in a chic lounge while leafing through books on design.
The transformation started at the reception desk, where a friendly employee offered me a glass of prosecco with my room key. My alter ego had no deadlines to meet, or kids to assist with homework, so why not indulge? While the plush seating in the lobby, dotted with art books splayed open on coffee tables, was inviting, I decided to save that for later. I was anxious to see my room.
It did not disappoint. Three vast windows, softened with plush gray drapes, framed the industrial landscape of Biddeford. Exposed brick walls towered 17 feet to a wood-plank ceiling, studded with exposed beams sandblasted to a warm honey brown. A gas fireplace—standard in each of the 33 rooms—glowed next to a velvety gray couch where I sat down to sip my prosecco and plan my weekend.
The Lincoln opened last September in the former Lincoln Mill and has quickly become a centerpiece of Biddeford’s impressive revitalization. The city was a hub for textile production at the turn of the 20th century. At its peak more than 10,000 people a day worked in the mills. But as production diminished and moved overseas, Biddeford was left with 26 massive, deteriorating buildings, covering some 35 acres clinging to the banks of the Saco River.
The high concentration of empty factories—unique even among New England’s former industrial hubs—was a blight for decades. But dogged rehabbing over the last ten years has led to a wealth of businesses in the rabbit warren of factories, housing everything from restaurants helmed by James Beard–nominated chefs to people sewing sustainable clothing. And the Lincoln sits in the center, with charms all its own.
With dinner on my mind, I consulted the Lincoln’s handy, complimentary downtown map and plotted a course to Fish & Whistle, one of the newest additions to the Biddeford dining scene. Portland food power couple Jason Eckerson and Kate Hamm opened this classic fish-and-chips shop to showcase local seafood, with a focus on sustainability.
I took a seat at the bar and started with a glass of rosé wine and the Smoked Fish Dip with fried Saltines. Why, you might wonder, deep fry something as perfect as a Saltine? One bite and you’ll have your answer. The cracker becomes sturdier after a hot oil bath, and richer. Worth every calorie. I followed that with the Mixed Bite Basket, a generous combination of dayboat scallops and pollack, misshapen and bulging with a shatteringly crisp crust surrounding the moist tender fish. I was glad I added a side of the vinegary cole slaw to balance the richness of the fish. The dessert menu is tiny but mighty—Hamm was a semifinalist in the James Beard Outstanding Pastry Chef category in 2022. While a soft-serve machine cranks out flavors like malted milk and sea salt vanilla, the chill early spring weather seemed more suited to the luscious mango and honey tart, which was a little slice of sunshine.
Walking back to the hotel, I stopped into Elements, a cozy shop offering micro-roasted coffee, local beer, and a carefully curated selection of new and gently used books, not to mention live music on the weekends. A cup of tea and a live performance was a perfect continuation of my evening away.
The music ended at 9, and my loft bedroom called. But maybe one last drink. The Lincoln’s expansive lobby lounge was still a hive of activity: The 21+ space has quickly become a gathering spot for locals and visitors alike to meet up and sip craft cocktails. The lounge is somehow vast and intimate all at once, with dozens (literally) of couches set up in convivial configurations, complete with sleek end tables, floor lamps, and plants that bring the former factory floor down to size. On busy nights, the party can spill over downstairs to the Lincoln Collective, a multipurpose space with walls decorated by local graffiti artists, that also serves as a waiting area for the latest location of Batson River Brewing & Distilling. But I’m saving that for tomorrow. I want to enjoy my loft bedroom fireplace with a good book.
Saturday morning started at Spinning Jenny’s, the Lincoln’s ground floor coffee shop. The lobby is so vast that the shop, housed in a shipping container, was barely noticeable last night. Spinning Jenny’s serves coffee from Time & Tide, roasted just down the street, and crunchy, slightly charred bagels baked nearby at Rover Bagel, named by Food & Wine magazine as one of the top bagel shops in the country.
Rover’s recognition is another of the many national accolades scattered like pebbles all over Biddeford. The Palace Diner, a ramshackle, 14-seat former train car off Main Street, is credited for starting the Biddeford revolution and has garnered two James Beard nominations for its ethereal takes on tuna melts and French toast. As desperate as I’ve been for ages to visit the Palace, I was too hungry to wait. Fortunately, another James Beard-nominated chef, Bowman Brown, has a much larger brunch spot nearby. Jackrabbit Café, downstairs from the chef’s fine-dining prix fixe restaurant Elda, serves Scandinavian light bites.
Jackrabbit is in the Pepperell Mill Campus—another sprawling former factory complex still undergoing renovation. After brunch, I wandered its hallways to find the Biddeford Mills Museum. Often staffed by former mill workers, the small room offers stories of mill workers, salvaged equipment, and examples of some of the textiles once woven on that spot.
From there, I wended my way through the warren of corridors to find Rabelais, a specialty bookstore, whose collection of books about food and drink spans 600 years. I easily passed an hour exploring one of the largest collections of rare and out-of-print cookbooks in the U.S. and ogling menus, prints, photographs, and other ephemera, like pamphlets about homemade wine and the benefits of drinking water.
If the Lincoln had room service, I would have indulged for dinner, just to continue my loft-life fantasy. Instead, I headed down to the basement level, to explore the latest vast, wildly popular, outlet of Batson River Brewing. Despite the restaurant’s size, the wait for a table can quickly build to an hour or more. But don’t worry, guests of the Lincoln get bumped to the top of the wait list. Alongside a creative pub menu and cocktails made with Batson’s own spirits, the Biddeford location offers a fun game room, with pinball and table shuffleboard.
Alas, the next morning, I had to abandon loft living for my suburban home. As a sweet farewell, the reception desk held a bowl of Needhams, the Maine-made candy crafted of coconut and mashed potatoes enrobed in dark chocolate. Sounds weird, I know, but it’s delicious.
I’m already plotting a return, and not just for the candy.
17 Lincoln St., Biddeford, Maine, 207-815-3977, lincolnhotelmaine.com