Maine's Infamous 'Archless' McDonald's — Located Inside a Victorian-era Mansion — Is Weird but Worth a Visit
Built in 1850 by a well-to-do merchant named William Gore, this Victorian-era fast-food mansion has transformed from a once-shunned mark of capitalism to a beloved-ish tourist destination almost two centuries in the making.
The town of Freeport is a tourist hot zone. There are outlet stores, seafood stands, ample space for ocean viewing, and, of course, the first L.L. Bean store. (It's the one with the huge Bean boot outside.) Another destination is Freeport's "archless" McDonald's, which adapted to appease an extremely angry town that wanted to preserve its local character.
Freeport is one of those towns where almost every house looks like it was ripped out of Gilmore Girls. It's beautiful and quiet and somehow still quaint despite the many outlet stores and parking lots. Back before McDonald's moved in—when things were still up in the air—the town of Freeport labored to preserve the timeless look of the town via strict zoning laws, dutifully enforced by the Freeport Zoning Board of Appeals.
When the time came for McDonald's to move in, the town overwhelmingly opposed the corporation ruining the curated look of Freeport, specifically taking issue with the brand's trademark Golden Arches. At the time, McDonald's corporate media spokesperson Stephen Leroy said the company was treating the situation in an "extremely special way," assuring the public McDonald's was willing to work with the town to come to a reasonable solution.
''What we are doing there is something we probably have never done before in terms of design and the amount of time and effort involved,'' said Leroy in a 1984 New York Times article 'Archless McDonald's Is Set for Maine Town.' ''We are willing to spend the money to make it compatible with the area, the history, the community and the people who live there.''
Their solution? Buy a home in a residential area (once described as "a mix of Greek Revival and Italianate architecture," ooh la la!), strip down most of the gauche branding, and set up shop.
It's actually pretty easy to miss it if you don't know what you're looking for. Lack of arches aside, there is so little McDonald's in this McDonald's: no PlayPlace, no "billions served" sign, no Hamburglar. Just a small red and yellow sign and two measly photos of their current promotion: Sodas for 99 cents.
Once you get inside, it all comes rushing back: the noise, the hungry tourists, that patented McDonald's smell. Noticeably nicer than some of the McDonald's I've visited before (and I've visited a lot), the inside still looks like it could be any of the 14,000 McDonald's in America.
Inside you're greeted by a pair of comically un-colonial standalone touchscreen order robots ready to take your order, while old photos of Freeport plaster the walls. There's even a fireplace!
How I would have loved to indulge in the type of meal that mid-nineteenth century men like William Gore would have eaten, but alas, they were out of broiled calf liver. Instead, I opted for two four-piece McNuggets, one small fries, and a Diet Coke. As I sat within the lush garden out front, I took notice of a line of carts at a structure that resembled a wedding chapel. Even the drive-thru looked the part.
While this McDonald's may not be uniquely McDonald's, I will say it's uniquely Maine. That is, it's a take on a normal, everyday thing with one weird twist. That's why our national treasures include Moxie, the giant L.L. Bean boots, and our beloved off-off-off-brand outdoors department store, Reny's. If you ever find yourself in Freeport, do yourself a favor and take a walk around. Breathe in that fresh Maine air, shop at L.L. Bean—heck, maybe even take a picture by the boot—and eat at a McDonald's in a house that's been around since before the Civil War.
This story originally appeared on foodandwine.com