Where to Grab a Drink in Portland, Maine Right Now, According to an Industry Expert
From fisherman-friendly dives to inventive cocktail spots, these are the bars that drink experts love in Portland.
A lot of my life is dedicated to good drinks. As the co-owner of the Scandinavian-inspired cocktail bar, the Portland Hunt + Alpine Club, I am lucky enough to call bar hopping “research.” Residents and visitors to Maine are lucky too, because Portland continues to expand what it offers in the way of cocktails, beer, even wine made right in the city—there really is something for everyone right now.
Winters here can be long and chilly, so it is no wonder Portland bars and restaurants want to help you make the most of it by putting a great drink in your hand. So as we all navigate early sunsets and frigid days, I rounded up some of my favorite spots around the city to grab a drink right now. Of course, I’d love for you to come visit my crew for what has been called “the greatest espresso martini in the world” by Eastern Standard (RIP) head bar man Jackson Cannon, but these bars and restaurants are also turning out some seriously great cocktails, beers, and wine pours and definitely deserve a visit. You are very likely to run into me at one of these spots sipping on a crisp glass of wine and grabbing a bite. Come say hello!
As the city navigates this newest iteration of the pandemic, keep in mind you’ll need to bring your mask and/or vaccination card to enter most places per a citywide order. And if you would like to keep all your drinking outdoors, yes, even during some of winter's harshest months, many of the places below are here to keep you imbibing outside all year round.
Helmed by three of industry’s brightest new stars, Regards bar program features more than 40 mezcals and tequilas. Every copita is lovingly hand-made by co-owner Kimberly Zabriskie, who started making her own pottery in May 2020 and now has been creating these custom pieces for Regards. Their goal is to heavily spotlight sustainable agave producers and highlight natural wine producers. The seven seat marble bar is the perfect spot to start, or end, your night and learn a little more about mezcal at the same time.
Woodford Food & Beverage
A neighborhood spot through and through, Woodford Food & Beverage is worth the five-minute drive off the peninsula and into the emerging Woodford’s neighborhood. Enjoy classic and new cocktails, like the Emergency Margarita which is a blend of the classic everyone loves, livened up grapefruit and Aperol. Don’t skip their wine list, which is one of the best curated roundups, with some of the best deals in town. Sitting at the bar you will feel like a regular, even if it is your first time. Looking around the room, you’ll find first dates, groups of friends, and families all making the most of this neighborhood gem. Visitors can see a true cross-section of the city at this restaurant that is perched on one of the busiest corners in the state.
Novare Res Bier Cafe
If you love beer, this is your place. Novare Res is a beer drinker's heaven with an endless selection of brews from around the world, and many from local breweries. With about 30 beers on tap and more than 400 bottles lined up for sipping, you could literally spend years here trying everything they offer. That being said, the cozy bar area is a great spot to waste away an afternoon and the large patio feels like a tucked away hidden courtyard that sits just off one of the busiest cobblestone streets in town.
What started as a pandemic pop-up is now one of the city’s most popular brick-and-mortar spaces. Known for amazing fried chicken and beyond, Crispy Gai’s bar program is worth a stop in its own right. With drinks that have a tropical flare thanks to ingredients like coconut milk, passionfruit, and a bird's eye chili tincture, each cocktail goes well with Crispy Gai’s food, but are also excellent stand-alones. And for anyone who doesn’t drink or wants to take it easy, do not miss their non-alcoholic selections, which are some of my favorites in the city. I am currently living for the Nada Colada which is just as rich and satisfying as its spirited counterpart.
There are very few places that absolute joy just washes over you as you walk inside, but Cocktail Mary is one of those bars. Bartender and owner Isaac MacDougal is your master of ceremonies each night welcoming every guest who wanders into his space. On Sundays, until they sell out, you can swing in and enjoy a rotating selection of bubbly wines curated by local wine expert and three-time arm wrestling champion, Lucy Hernderson. Or, just pop in for any of the fabulous cocktails like wildly crushable Marty Washington or the spirit-forward Scurvy Snack on their small but tight menu. Don’t forget to take a bathroom selfie, it wouldn’t be a trip to Cocktail Mary without one!
CBG Bar & Grill
One of the city’s most popular industry hangouts offers a relaxed atmosphere with some of the friendliest bartenders in town. Their list of $10 classic cocktails, from Sazeracs to Naked and Famous, are a steal and, more importantly, on-point thanks to the craftsmanship of bartender and co-owner Mike Barbuto. After a dinner out, you are sure to run into your server sitting at CBG’s bar after their shift, most likely with industry from all around town. The $4.50 vermouth and soda is the nightcap we all should be ordering.
Located on the booming Washington Avenue, this West Texas BBQ joint does a near-perfect margarita. With a variety of base spirits and flavors available, you get to decide if you’re sticking with the classic or trying something new. Terlingua also has one of the most enviable outdoor spaces in the city, and it’s open year-round to diners and drinkers alike. Before you head out, pop in next door to the restaurant’s market and grab a few local beers to-go with some of their house-made chips. You’ll thank me later.
Just next door to Terlingua is Izakaya Minato. A small Japanese pub serving some of the most interesting sakes and highballs in town. When you first sit down, order the Wasabi Island, a tequila, wasabi and pineapple cocktail that is both savory and sweet, the perfect balance. The bartenders here are real pros, so chat them up and let them pair drinks to go along with your meal. When you order sake, your server brings over a tray covered with a variety of beautiful sake cups you can choose as your drinking vessel. However you choose your ideal cup, it makes for a fun moment for the whole table.
A quintessential dive bar, Ruski’s has been a West End staple for decades. Inside you’ll be treated to cheap Budweiser and pints of vodka soda, all primed to be washed down with an order of chicken tenders. In the morning, you will find fishermen and night shift workers eating breakfast, some of those coffee cups definitely have Allen’s Coffee Brandy in them. And late at night, you’ll be elbow-to-elbow with neighborhood regulars of all ages who make Ruski’s their final stop of the night.
Just inside the Francis Hotel, Wayside Tavern has an excellent selection of great Old World wines to choose from. My last time there, I sat at the bar next to a chef from another restaurant and regulars who continually keep the pulse of the city’s food scene. Spend some time talking through the wine list with Wayside’s knowledgeable and friendly staff—you’re bound to discover a new glass that will become a long-standing favorite.
Just a few steps from my own bar, Maps has become a staple for my staff to stop by after their shifts. This tiny basement space is one of the coziest in town. The small menu features just beer and wine. But beverages are accompanied by grilled cheese sandwiches and epic slices of cake, making it a perfect place to end a date that is going well when you wanna squeeze in one more glass before saying goodnight.
Just beyond the hustle and bustle of Washington Avenue, Baharat is a small Middle Eastern street food-inspired spot. The bar program, run by Josh Lemay, is filled with treats that are unexpected, like Tea & Sympathy which includes aquavit and ginger, but show off his skill at creating a balanced and approachable cocktail. You’ll find every drink is food-friendly, but you can also just pop into the bar for a cocktail. It’s a serious mini-vacation, which is what everyone needs these days.