I moved away from the Portland area about 20 years ago – yikes! I’ve returned annually to visit friends and family, but I had lost touch with the local food/drink scene. Growing up, it was mostly breweries and lobster shacks and now it’s a foodie destination. When friends travel to Maine they ask for my recommendations. The city has become even cooler since I moved away. Since I was returning home for a visit in October 2019, I wanted to find the best cocktail bars in Portland, Maine. And, many of these places have incredible food. (If you landed on this post looking for the other Portland, I have a guide on that as well.)
Originally posted in October 2019. Updated after a trip to Maine in April 2021.
- Address: 75 Market Street
- Hours: Wednesday-Sunday 2pm-10pm | Closed Mondays and Tuesdays
- Hospitality: 4.8, very busy bartenders
- Atmosphere: 5.0, gorgeous space with a very lively and friendly crowd
- Drinks: 4.9, very good cocktails
Opened in 2013, the Portland Hunt + Alpine Club is a not-to-miss bar in the Old Port. With an impressive cocktail menu, the food menu also holds its own. I enjoyed an incredible bowl of popcorn seasoned with green chili powder, butter, and parmesan. The couple that owns and operates the establishment even wrote a book about Northern Hospitality. This is a very popular location and most bartenders I know would say that this is one of their top bars in Portland, Maine to visit.
I enjoyed sipping on this rather perfect cocktail, while snacking on my popcorn and talking to some folks at the bar. The Bonecrusher is made with mezcal, lime, agave, and red pepper (the spicy ones, not the veggies). It was smokey with the perfect amount of spice. If you visit soon, they are limited to patio seating only and it gets busy so reservations are helpful.
- Address: 769 Congress Street
- Hours: Monday-Sunday, 4pm-midnight
- Hospitality: 5.0, so nice, very friendly bartender
- Atmosphere: 4.8, it’s a historic bar with a rich history in the community, it’s rather bare but the other guests made it a memorable, friendly visit
- Drinks: 4.8, very nice, approachable menu with delicious drinks
Bramhall was once a real 1920’s speakeasy, in the basement of Roma Café. While there’s no longer a secret password, the subterranean space is dark and cozy, illuminated mostly by candlelight. Once downstairs, you’ll find plenty of seating, a fully stocked bar, and some highly unique cocktails that celebrate Maine. When I returned I had another good experience. Some tourists I met asked me for a recommendation for a bar in Portland and this was an easy answer.
These two cocktails were the best reflection of the state of Maine. The cocktail on the left, 3 Dollar Bill, features pisco, blueberry shrub, lemon, honey, and prosecco. It was tart and tasty. The (half) cocktail on the right, Last Meow, is made with a catnip-infused local gin (Hardshore), green chartreuse, lime, and simple syrup. I ran out of time to check out Hardshore’s distillery tour in person, but their rosemary and mint gin was very good.
- Address: 91 Anderson Street
- Hours: closed for the spring and remodel, but reopening soon
- Hospitality: 5.0, despite the restaurant being packed, they fit my right in at the bar and the bartender and host took great care of me
- Atmosphere: 5.0, a beautiful, cozy spot to relax and enjoy a wonderful meal
- Drinks: 5.0, super unique and delicious drinks and menu
Baharat is technically a Middle Eastern restaurant, but their bar program is as notable as their fare, so it should be on your list. This gem started life as a food truck called CN Shwarma and the husband/wife operators found it a brick and mortar location that opened in 2017. The food is seriously good – not overly complicated but perfectly cooked.
See what I mean? Gorgeous. This whimsical cocktail, Saved by the Bell, features tequila, Strega, yellow bell pepper, turmeric, and lemon. With a kick of spice, it paired perfectly with my hummus and apple + halloumi cheese kebab. The rest of the cocktail menu was full of bold, fresh, herbal delights. Definitely stop by this place for an amazing meal and a drink or two.
- Address: 26 Exchange Street
- Hours: Monday-Thursday 4pm-10pm | Friday, 4pm-11pm | Saturday 2pm-11pm | Sunday, 2pm-9pm
- Hospitality: 4.8, very busy bar so not much time to chat with the bartenders but they were attentive
- Atmosphere: 5.0, I would literally move into this bar it is so beautiful
- Drinks: 5.0, hands down the best cocktails of my trip
Nestled on Exchange Street, you might not find parking, but you’ll find Blyth & Burrows. This cozy spot is making quite the name for itself. Named after two fallen Commanders who fought in the War of 1812, the bar’s nautical decor was second only to its drinks. If you visit, don’t miss out on the chic basement or the cool speakeasy in the back behind the bookcase. (More on the latter below.) This is easily my favorite of all the bars in Portland, Maine.
The cocktail on the left is the Everybody Loves Ramos. Made with rhum, gin, genepy, apricot, matcha, coconut, citrus, orange blossom foam, and a real, tiny ice cream cone. It was refreshing and delicious. The cocktail on the right was my favorite. The Battle of Angostura features shisito & Thai basil tequila, mezcal, galliano, Dopo Teatro, caramelized pineapple, chili, lime, and angostura. Spicy and smoky with a kick of fruits and veggies, it was smooth and made we want another.
On my most recent visit to Blyth and Burrows in April 2021, I finally had a drink behind the bookcase in the bar. The Broken Dram serves up the same menu but it’s the “dive bar” companion to the main bar. I enjoyed a bottled to go cocktail and the “Ship Captain Crew”. The cocktail features Dandelion Bourbon, Rhum Montenegro Amontillado, Lemongrass, and Spruce Tip. They then hand smoke it with pecan wood chips inside a bottle. You drink the first half of the drink lightly smoked and the other half heavily smoked. This gives you two separate drinks to enjoy. It was a real treat.
- Address: 78 Middle Street
- Hours: Thursday-Monday 11am-9pm | Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays
- Hospitality: 3.0, this was my only complaint – it’s a busy spot that prefers reservations (which is fine, but as a party of one, you can usually just stick me anywhere) and the host made me feel like I was bothering him for asking if I could sit in an open bar seat after standing for 25 minutes with my drink; the bartender was very nice to me when I sat down
- Atmosphere: 4.0, lively place with lovely decor
- Drinks: 4.9, my cocktail was definitely the best part of my visit
The Honey Paw was hopping when I got there on a Thursday night. With limited, mostly bar seating, you’ll want to either get there early or prepare to wait. Featuring a menu full of noodles, creative wontons, and Asian seafood fusion dishes, their bar is also worth not missing.
I had the Strong Paw which is made with tequila, mezcal, honey, lime, and chili. (I’ve clearly been on a spicy mezcal cocktail kick this trip!) The soft serve of the day also sounded too good to pass up. I finished off my day with the pumpkin spice ice cream with cheesecake chantilly and graham cracker crumb.
6. ViA VECCHiA
- Address: 10 Dana Street
- Hours: Tuesday-Thursday, 4pm-9:45pm | Friday, 4pm-10:45pm | Saturday, 5pm-10:45pm | Sunday, 4pm-8:45pm | Closed Mondays
- Hospitality: 5.0, the service was honestly almost better than the cocktails, which is saying a lot
- Atmosphere: 5.0, the place is GORGEOUS
- Drinks: 5.0, honestly, I was speechless after sipping my first cocktail, it was that good
From the owner of Blyth & Burrows comes ViA VECCHiA. In June 2020, this incredible Italian restaurant opened its doors in Portland, Maine’s Old Port district in the historic 10 Dana Street building. While the focus is in the delectable small plates, fresh pastas, and pizzettes, the cocktail program is outstanding. The menu is broken into Fresh/Savory, Bitter, and Almost Classic drinks. After just one visit, it might already be edging out my favorite two bars in Portland, Maine.
I had two amazing cocktails and an apéritif. The Dark Passenger (left) is savory and spicy. It was so incredible, I could barely speak after my first sip. (I realize this sounds very dramatic, but I have tasted a LOT of cocktails. This flavor combination was truly something special.) It is made with añejo tequila, Sfamato, black mole cordial, Tajin Negra, and chili threads. My second drink was equally as impressive with a totally different flavor profile. The Smoking Mirror is mezcal, Zirbenz, Pasubio, passionfruit, and vanilla foam. Both were such a treat.
- Address: 52 Wharf Street
- Hours: Sunday-Thursday, 4-10pm | Friday and Saturday, 4-11pm
- Hospitality: 4.8, friendly and knowledgeable staff
- Atmosphere: 4.8, a nice dark and cozy bar
- Drinks: 4.7, solid drinks from a curated menu, it’s more about the whiskey collection (served up or over ice)
Tucked away on a cobblestone street, Independent Ice Co. has been around for almost three years. This whiskey bar located on a pedestrian-only street which is likely why I missed it on my last trip. I walked by it right after a delicious dinner while looking for a nightcap. This was the right place for that! When I entered, it reminded me of the Multnomah Whiskey Library in Portland, OR, review in this post.
I enjoyed the Charles Morse Smoked Rye Manhattan (pictured) and their version of a bourbon smash. Since I already like Manhattans, this was a perfect choice for me. The cocktail is made with Knob Creek Rye, Angostura bitters, Cñia Mata sweet vermouth, and is served with a Luxardo cherry and smoked with Knob Creek American Oak chips. It was a slow sipper with the perfect amount of smoke.
- Address: 60 Thames Street
- Hours: Wednesday-Sunday 4:30pm-9:00pm | Closed Mondays and Tuesdays
- Hospitality: 4.9, the bartender was great to chat with
- Atmosphere: 4.8, swanky restaurant vibes
- Drinks: 4.8, small menu but solid drinks with interesting spirits and a great natural wine selection
Helm Oyster Bar & Bistro is brand new to the restaurant scene in Portland, Maine. As the name suggests, you’ll find delicious local oysters, shellfish, and crudo on the menu. I enjoyed a halibut dish, following my oysters. They are located across the street from the waterfront and the dining room benefits from a lot of natural light. I enjoyed “Needles & Pins” which is made with Bruto Americano, cranberry, pine, tawny port, and bubbles. Not only was it delicious, it also was the perfect compliment to my meal and the great state of Maine. I’ll definitely be returning on my next trip to see how this bar program evolves.
9. Vena’s Fizz House (temporarily closed)
- Address: (temporarily closed, looking for new space to move into, but hoping it will be soon as it’s a great addition to the collection of bars in Portland, Maine)
- Hours: (temporarily closed)
- Hospitality: 5.0, super friendly staff and welcoming environment
- Atmosphere: 5.0, cozy with a vintage feel
- Drinks: 5.0, great menu and delicious drinks
When I walked into Vena’s Fizz House, I was pleasantly surprised to find not only a bar but a well-equipped cocktail supply store. Originally started as a soda shop, they still use many of the house-made syrups and tonics today. Vena’s makes a mean set of locally-inspired libations, with and without alcohol, making it a great outing for any group. On the retail side, you’ll find bitters, vintage glassware, dainty cocktail picks, mixers, and more.
On the bar side, you’ll find a cozy, copper-topped bar area, complete with two working soda drafts. I had to try the Lumbersexual which is made from gin, pine, tonic, lemon, rosemary, and the trio of bitters. It was a deliciously bitter tipple. I love herbal flavors like pine, cedar, and spruce in spirits and drinks.
In all, it was a great trip back home visiting family, and discovering the best cocktail bars in Portland, Maine for myself. Let me know if you would add any others to the list. Cheers!