Portland has a great dining scene, but the drinking scene is equally vibrant. Maine is one of the epicentres of the craft beer movement in the US and tap lines are overflowing with tasty beers. High quality cocktails are also available in plenty. Inventive bartenders are creating inspired and tasty cocktails in settings of all kinds. The forest city has a strong pub tradition and these are five standout bars that vary from intimate public house to party places with live entertainment to sophisticated places where people go to see and be seen.
This place has transformed from a plain old restaurant with a chalkboard menu into a posh bar. The usual bitters and tinctures line the bar and it serves both classic cocktails and some new ones. Nowadays, the glass-fronted cube is filled with 20 and 30 year olds nibbling on Kobe kimchi dogs and sipping on strong drinks infused with Thai tea syrup and five-spice. The lights are dim and studded with used Sriracha bottles.
The place hits its high point every Saturday night. Then Baby Ketten Karaoke projects song lyrics on a white sheet stretched across one of the front windows and boys in flannels belt out songs like “Head like a Hole” by Nine Inch Nails mixed up with “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen. Bunched up smokers huddle on picnic tables outside the door and watch the gyrating singers who look like the cast of an old Godzilla musical.
You must visit this bar for the Singapore Sling and the duck banh mi.
No gleaming liquor-scape distinguishes Ración. There are no towering library ladders, no speed rack and no service rail.Bartender Chauncey Roach’s orbit is more of a “station”. Immersion circulators swirl with wagyu culotte near Roach who tends a science laboratory of cocktail geekery, with granitas, salt-foams, sous-vide apples and meaty infusions. The cocktails created by him are a perfect foil to Racións way of approaching modern Spanish cuisine—delicious, unexpected, and labor-intensive. Grab a seat at the bar for a front-row view on the gastronomic creativity or head towards the leather-cushioned lounge area, where a large group could seat themselves for a night of experimenting with varied cocktails.
You must taste the old-fashioned which arrives in a rocks glass—Four Roses bourbon, orange granite, bitters and a maraschino cherry. For dessert, you can enjoy a White Russian, topped with delicious vanilla foam and crystals of Stumptown coffee salt by Jacobsen.
You must visit this bar for the Margarita made with chorizo tequila and topped with salt foam. Seat yourself at the bar to watch the modernist cuisine being created.
Judiciously place candles, classy vintage vinyl and luxurious bar stools make this the best place for a date. Expatriate casts its spell over you the moment you enter. It starts the moment you walk in and find yourself in a world that exudes warmth, filled with flickering red candles, and dark booths that seduce you with an inviting look. A well dressed bartender greets you with a knowing smile and a turntable plays jazz. The place is self-assured, yet glamorous and playful. You find yourself thinking, “This is the perfect place to be right now.”
This 30-seat bar is the brainchild of Kyle and Naomi (who also runs Beast, across the street). There is a synergy of seemingly casual, but cunningly engineered ambience, enhanced by cocktails and Asian drinking snacks. Try the Chinese sausage corn dog and the James Beard inspired onion and butter sandwich. Each of the eight nightly cocktails listed by Webster is perfectly calibrated and arrives with a footnoted back story.
You must visit this bar for No 8—a zingy blend of sweet vermouth, orange bitters, Dolin Génépy des Alpes, cognac, and rye
The Rookery Bar
You might be transported back in time when you visit this bar. It’s designed with dark marble, expensive leather upholstery, and a large pool table. It occupies the large hayloft of the Ladd Carriage House. It’s a good alternative to the more formal Raven & Rose dining room below. Bar director David Shenaut has prepared an extensive menu that includes a perfect manhattan and Caroline’s Fancy, an intoxicating blend of curaçao, cardamom bitters, and reposado tequila. The expensive (but worth it) single-barrel cocktails are prepared from a collection of “Single-Barrels” that are the fruit of tasting excursions to Jaliso, Kentucky, and other places. There is no better place to be when the Rookery is alive with live Irish folk music, a fire is roaring in the fireplace and rare alcohol is flowing.
You must visit this bar for the high-end cocktails, prepared with bourbon and tequila, and live Irish music accompanied with Irish snacks on Tuesday nights.
This bar is the perfect “Mex Tex” companion to Podnah’s Pit, the BBQ which is also run by Rodney Muirhead. It bears a distinct resemblance due to the smoky, meaty and boozy atmosphere. The barbeques famous dish is tucked within a Three Sisters Nixtamal tortilla and served accompanied by a Zanahorita (which is a sweet-and-sour version of a margarita) and a carrot-cumin salad. This small, candlelit cantina exudes pleasant vibes, it décor of tile, wood and poured concrete punctuated by framed ponchos and long rows of mescal and tequila bottles.
The air is perfumes with tortilla chips being fried and lamb barbacoa. The barman, Kevin Ludwig (formerly with Beaker & Flask) and his friendly team mix up satisfying, agave-focused cocktails, as also Pacifico and Double Mountain IRA. The prices are very reasonable, given the quality. The bars chic yet unassuming atmosphere mean it is the kind of place where you can binge on tacos and beers with an old buddy or a new lover.