The Insider’s Guide to Portland for Students and the Destitute

A Directory of Good Deals

By Chris Busby and Zachary Barowitz

illustration/Martin Shields
illustration/Martin Shields


Asylum The daylong buffet this sports bar puts out for football Sundays has pizza, wings, the kind of puréed-beef tacos you loved from the lunch line, and more, for just $5; plus all the games, beer specials, and a free raffle with prizes such as beer t-shirts that aren’t your size but can be traded to someone for beer. (121 Center St., Portland; 772-8274,



Beer, Bourbon & Burger Empire Dine and Dance one-upped The White Heart’s $4 PBR and Evan Williams special with this combo of the same, plus protein, for $5, available every night from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. The burger is slightly larger than a slider and comes with a handful of tasteless tortilla rounds. Like you care … (575 Congress St., Portland; 879-8988,


Casco Bay Lines Leisurely boat rides around Casco Bay at public-transportation prices depart daily, and you can drink on-board! Tickets for self-guided booze cruises to scenic isles like Chebeague drop to less than $7 after Oct. 12. Compare that to the cost of a boat loan. (56 Commercial St., Portland; 774-7871,


DiMillo’s Floating Restaurant DiMillo’s is one of the last stalwarts standing from Portland’s free-food Happy Hour heyday. Hot and cold appetizers at the deckside bar are offered again beginning in October. (Not available during the summer, most likely to keep locals from trampling tourists when the steamer trays come out.) (25 Long Wharf, Portland; 772-2216,


Enterprise Records The rightly obscure and more than “slightly as is” vinyl in this shop’s discount bin sells four for $1. For $5, you can take the whole section — 75 records — home. And when there’s overstock, owner Friendly Bob puts boxes of records on the sidewalk free for the taking. Sure, there’s lots of crappy classical and Boz Scaggs, but then you find a nugget like Emerson Lake & Palmer’s eponymous debut and realize the “Lucky Man” is you. (650 Congress St., Portland; 773-7672;


First Friday Art Walk Free wine, free cheese, seedless grapes … what’s not to love about Portland’s art scene? It officially takes place from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., but any studio worth its gesso is having an after-party. No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited (restaurants and bars that sell wine or beer can’t give away the same).



Greendrinks Two great words that go great together: free beer. The location of this monthly eco-conscious networking event changes regularly. For the latest, check out the Portland Greendrinks page on Facebook or e-mail


Heavy Item Pickup Portland’s bulky trash collection week was once a veritable festival of free furniture and appliances. Miserly city councilors axed the program last year even though it was a huge boon to Portland’s economically challenged citizenry and only cost about $50,000 — roughly the annual salary and benefits we pay one fireman to sit in a chair outside the station and stroke his mustache. Call your councilor today to get HIP put back in next year’s budget!


I-95 If you take Exit 44 off the Maine Turnpike to get to Portland or South Portland, please drive directly to The Bollard office and give us a dollar for no reason, too. Savvy locals know there’s no toll to get off at Exit 45, which meets up with I-295 a short distance after its predecessor does. Call it the Really E-ZPass.


J’s Oyster February is free oyster month at this beloved waterfront watering hole. Granted, you might get one that looks like snot on the half-shell, but trust us, it’s not snot — we know; we eat those, too. (5 Portland Pier, Portland; 772-4828)


Kim’s Sandwich & Café The Vietnamese banh mi, or “Paris sandwiches,” made fresh at this tiny shop are delicious, and chances are there’s enough change in your cup-holder to buy one — nearly all varieties cost less than $3, tax included. The “special combination” has marinated carrots and daikon, fresh cuke, onion, cilantro and jalapeno pepper, pâté and thin-sliced pork cold cuts all lightly toasted on a rice- and wheat-flour mini-baguette. Quiznos can kiss Kim’s ass. (261 St. John St., Portland; 774-7165)


Longfellow Books When weather permits, Longfellow rolls two carts of used books onto the sidewalk of Monument Way. Most cost a buck or two; nothing’s over an Abe. Classics by Shakespeare, Chekhov,
and Defoe sit spine-to-spine with crap by the likes of Reiser and MacLaine. Oh, the irony! (772-4045,


Municipal meals There are two good reasons to be a local government watchdog. First off, somebody’s gotta keep an eye on these weasels or they’ll keep pulling bullshit like cutting the budget for Heavy Item Pickup (see H). But more to the point of this directory, bureaucrats have to eat, and they tend to hold public meetings during dinner hours (so most of the public can’t go, naturally). Portland City Council meetings are a bust, but the council’s subcommittees usually have pizza or wraps and bags of chips to spare. The Cumberland County Civic Center Board of Trustees caters its monthly morning meetings with a nice spread of coffee and pastries. Don’t be shy about taking your share — hell, we all chipped in tax dollars to pay for it!


Norm’s East End Grill The free Happy Hour grub here can’t hold a candle to DiMillo’s — sticky wings, cheese cubes and veggies — but it’s available year round and  accompanied by draft beer specials like $2.50 pints of Bass that kick ass. Drink enough of those and you’ll float. (47 Middle St., Portland; 253-1700)



Otto The delicious, New York–style slices at this new Portland pizzeria are cheap and served until 2 a.m. on weekends, but that’s not why they’re in this directory. Let’s not kid ourselves: these kind of features are just a crass attempt to stroke advertisers and lure new ones. How’s that for cheap? At least we admit it. (576 Congress St., Portland; 773-7099,


Portland Press Herald Speaking of shameless pandering to advertisers, the Portland Press Herald is now free not only online, but in print from an apparently random selection of street boxes on the peninsula. How do readers who buy or subscribe to the daily feel about this marketing gimmick? If we could find one, we’d ask.


Quesadilla The new breakfast quesadilla at Empire Dine and Dance is brilliant: egg, cheese, sausage and bacon between grilled tortillas. In the spirit of their Beer, Bourbon & Burger special (see B), Sunday brunch entrées like this, plus a side and a Bloody or a mimosa, are $8 total.


Rapid Ray’s Both the vibe and the prices at this Saco institution recall the 1950s, when founder Renald “Ray” Camire started selling burgers from the back of a bread truck. The hot dogs here are cheaper than street meat ($1.70). Clam cakes go for $1.35. Nothing’s over $4, and everything’s as tasty as franchise fare, if not better. Other than a couple outdoor benches, there’s no seating at Ray’s, but for prices like these, you won’t mind standing. (189 Main St., Saco; 282-1847,


The Swap Shop The Swap Shop at Cape Elizabeth’s town dump has lots of books, board games, appliances, sporting goods, house wares and hardware, all free for the taking. A sign says the shop is limited to Cape Elizabethans, but it’s easy to get around that. Just make a friend from Cape E, or a fake ID, or wear nice clothes and act entitled. If all else fails, grab the goods and run for the South Portland line. (Dennison Drive, Cape Elizabeth;


The Meat House/Terra Cotta Pasta The Meat House, a regional chain with locations in South Portland and Scarborough (see, offers samples of seemingly everything in the store: meats, wraps, salsas, cookies, olive oil and bread… The staff’s friendly but as aggressive as car salesmen, so harden your
resolve to buy nothing before entering. The Terra Cotta Pasta Co. (501 Cottage Rd., South Portland; 799-9099) is similarly overgenerous with samples of its dips, desserts, cheeses and prepared meals. It’s generally a bad idea to go grocery shopping hungry. At these two shops, it’s practically a prerequisite.


Union Station Plaza Once a landmark destination for train passengers, Portland’s Union Station is now a landmark destination for savings! Three penny-pinching heavy-hitters occupy this St. John Street strip mall: the deep-discount grocer Save-A-Lot, the crap-nebula known as Dollar Tree, and a Goodwill retail store. Need a bite between buying sprees? Kim’s Sandwich & Café is right across the street (see K).


Videoport You can’t walk into Videoport without walking out with a free flick. It’s rent-one-get-one from specific genres every weekday (any genre on Thrifty Thursdays), and rent-two-get-one on weekends. You get more free rentals for hitting milestones like your 100th, or for watching every Ernest release without clawing your eyeballs out (not really, but we dare you to try). (151 Middle St., Portland; 773-1999)


Whole Foods As Zack noted earlier in “Java for Nada,” employees of this corporate mega-grocer have to feed you free samples on demand. (At least, that’s what he thinks, and they’ve obliged him so far.) Zack’s partial to the Ravenswood Reserve Merlot when he visits, and also recommends the gratis cheese in the wine section, the free fresh fruit served in astronaut helmets at the entrance, and the green “veggie Kool-Aid” by the vitamins. (2 Somerset St., Portland; 774-7711,


XXX Like a cheap prize at the bottom of a box of puffy, nutritionless cereal, the “adult” personals in the back of The Portland Phoenix serve as free porn to legions of pubescent males and frat boys too chickenshit to walk into Video Expo. Think Penthouse Letters written on Twitter. Then wash your hands and repent.


Yarmouth Know of any free or super-cheap stuff in Yarmouth, besides the Clam Festival? We’re stumped, too, but we love Bruce’s Burritos (see O)!



Zipcars The car-sharing company Zipcar, which now has vehicles parked in Portland and at several Maine colleges, makes a tempting argument to sell your ride and rent from them instead. Pro: The fees — by the day or hour — are quite reasonable compared to the cost of ownership. “[D]rivers who give up their cars and switch to Zipcar say they save an average of $600 per month,” CNN reported this summer. Con: Participants are referred to as Zipsters. Drive at your own risk, dork. (