I moved away from the Portland area about 20 years ago – yikes! I’ve returned annually to visit friends and family, but I have lost touch with the local food/drink scene. Growing up, it was mostly breweries and lobster shacks and now it’s a foodie destination. So many friends have been traveling to Maine recently and my recommendations have become stuck in my childhood favorites. Since I was returning home to visit (after three years away), I had to find the best cocktail bars in Portland, Maine. And, unlike many of the bars I visited in Raleigh, most of these spots have food as well.
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 (below). It was a deliciously bitter tipple.
Opened in 2013, the Portland Hunt + Alpine Club is a not-to-miss spot 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 (I need to add this to my list).
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.
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.
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. Unfortunately, I ran out of time to check out Hardshore’s distillery tour in person, but highly enjoyed their rosemary and mint version of my favorite spirit.
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.
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. (If you know anything about the cocktail bar scene in Portland, I bet you were scanning my list to make sure I hadn’t forgotten them, right?) 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 comfy basement or the cool speakeasy in the back behind the bookcase.
Small disclaimer: their new menu just came out a couple days after my visit but I am sure it is excellent!
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 smokey with a kick of fruits and veggies, it was smooth and made we want another.
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.
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 go or would add any others to the list. Cheers!