Excitement building in downtown Portsmouth as new year nears
By KIMBERLEY HAAS
Union Leader Correspondent | December 29. 2016 7:04PM
Fireworks go off in Portsmouth during First Night last year. (KIMBERLEY HAAS/Union Leader Correspondent)
Shopkeepers and restaurant owners are already busy, as people took advantage of school vacation week to visit the Seacoast city.
John Akar, co-owner of Cava Tapas and Wine Bar on Commercial Alley, said every night has been like a Friday or Saturday at his 40-seat restaurant, and he looks forward to seeing what chef owner Gregg Sessler comes up with for their eight-course New Year’s Eve meal.
This year, the menu includes Nantucket Bay scallops; Dungeness crab; Alaskan halibut and foie gras; a dish called “Flavors of the Woods” which includes rabbit, game hen and quail; bison loin; lamb rack; and valhrona almond torta. There are seatings at 5:30 and 9 p.m. and the cost is $125 per person without taxes and gratuity.
Chef owner Matt Louis of Moxy and The Franklin Oyster House agrees with Akar and said the city is already filled with excitement.
“It’s been a great week. A lot of people are out shopping and eating,” Louis said.
Louis says they will also have some special items on the menus Saturday to celebrate the new year. At Moxy, their modern American tapas menu features caviar, smoked gouda, duck, red wine glazed lamb chops, gin cured trout and fudge cake. That restaurant is located on Penhallow Street.
Many of the thousands of people who come out to celebrate every year attend First Night events. For 30 years, Pro Portsmouth, a local nonprofit organization, has organized the family-friendly festivities.
Executive Director Barbara Massar said the fireworks display, street dance and ice sculpture show are free, but there are lots of things to see and do indoors as well. With the purchase of a button, people get access to concerts, stage shows, face painting and $1 off their skating fee at Strawbery Banke’s Puddle Dock Pond. Buttons are $20 for adults and $2 for children before Dec. 31, and can be purchased at www.proportsmouth.org. Buttons go up to $25 for adults on First Night.
Massar said she takes on the labor of love every year because it gives her satisfaction.
“I have my moment when I see other people having theirs,” Massar said.
In order to keep everyone safe during their celebrations, the Portsmouth Police Department is upping their patrols. Sgt. Kuffer Kaltenborn explained that they have federally funded grants to go after reckless drivers and those violating the state’s alcohol laws. The New Hampshire Liquor Commission is paying for an additional patrol at the Portsmouth traffic circle.
There will be six officers on foot patrol until 1:30 a.m., but Kaltenborn said First Night is relatively quiet in downtown Portsmouth because of the watchful eye of restaurant and bar owners.
“They do a phenomenal job that night maintaining a strong awareness of the patrons coming in,” Kaltenborn said. “They have this down to a science.”
Work begins on the ice sculpture at North Church on Market Square at 1 p.m. The street dance on Pleasant Street at Market Square begins at 5 p.m. The fireworks display is at South Mill Pond starting at 7:30 p.m.