Given Portland, Maine’s proximity to water (it’s almost entirely surrounded), it’s easy to cast off the largest city in “Vacationland” as a place solely occupied by lobsters and lighthouses. Admittedly, there are plenty of both, but Portland has become home to a world-class food and drinks scene. It’s almost impossible to have a bad meal in Portland, just as it’s unlikely to stumble into any type of drinking establishment, from dive to concert venue, and not find something great in your glass.
The city is wealthy in drink diversity. The Pine Tree State has the most breweries per capita in the United States, many of them regionally, if not nationally, renowned. Represented in its highly regarded and multiculturally inspired food scene, though, is a drinks industry resplendent with diverse options. From lagers and ale to sake, natural wines, and creative cocktails, Portland is the can’t-miss New England city for a night of great drinking.
Here Are Nine of the Best Places to Drink In Portland, Maine.
Best Place to Start a Big Night: Crispy Gai
It may sound silly to begin a night of imbibing at one of the most trendy restaurant recommendations in the city, but here we are. Come for the Thai-inspired Hat Yai fried chicken and Som Tum (a green papaya salad with corn, peanuts, and shrimp), but stay for the incredible cocktail list. Aside from the typical “it’s Portland; every beer on tap is great” beer list, there are Crispy Gai takes on the Negroni and Martini, but it’s the cocktails that shine in their creativity and uniqueness. Try Same Same But Different, with coconut milk, rum, ginger, makrut lime leaf, galangal, lime, and tom kha tincture for a bold, festive-looking (and delicious) cocktail, or get down with the Bermuda Love Triangle, which features coconut gin, guava, lemongrass lime cordial, and lime. Bolstered by the belly-filling grub to keep things even-keeled, Crispy Gai is the best place to kick off your evening.
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Address: 90 Exchange St., Portland, Maine
Best Place to Try a World-Class Beer: Novare Res Bier Cafe
Portland has not so quietly become one of the great beer destinations in the United States. Tying it all together is one of the great beer bars in the world, Novare Res Bier Cafe. Beer lovers access some of the best-made craft beers not only from across Maine, but across the world. The exceptionally well-curated tap list is overflowing with beers from Belgium (like the always amazing Taras Bulba from Brasserie de la Senne) and Germany (like the Früh Kölsch). “Novare is off the beaten path in Portland and is an oasis in the middle of the Old Port’s more frat bro bars,” says Shahin Khojastehzad, co-owner of Novare Res. “Our goal is to offer a world-class experience but not be pretentious.” Khojastehzad notes that Novare works closely with the best local brewers as well as hand-selected producers from around the world. While it’s not a hidden gem, Novare can be hard to find. But keep looking — it’s worth it.
Tip Jar: Make sure to inquire about Novare Res’s selection of cheese, washed with some of the world’s finest lambics, from local cheese producers and farmers. These offerings are served exclusively at the bar. Don’t forget to ask your servers about the best way to pair these cheeses with a famed lambic or two.
Address: 4 Canal Plaza, Suite 1, Portland, Maine
Best ‘Industry’ Bar: Portland Zoo
Our Super Secret Industry Insider (SSII) swore us to secrecy about the Portland Zoo. Even including the location in this guide might ruffle some feathers from those in the know. Hidden in what looks to be a shed on Fox Street right near a bunch of breweries, the Portland Zoo is “mostly an industry-only” place, says our SSII. Pitchers of Miller High Life and Coors Banquet spill on the floor of this outdoor bar. It’s not uncommon to run into brewers and hospitality folks from well-known spots around the city and, at the Portland Zoo, where the shirts warn, “Don’t feed the animals,” it’s the kind of place with “theme parties, vinyl, and play off the boogie vibes,” according to our insider. Because of its past life as a brewery, The Zoo also possesses a brewing license, which allows it to contract brew the occasional lager or IPA around the beer-rich city.
Address: 41 Fox St., Portland Maine
Best Place to Try Something Adventurous: Izakaya Minato
For the adventurous and curious, Izakaya Minato on Portland’s Washington Avenue is the spot to be. Aside from serving up some of the best sushi in the city, this Japanese staple in the city’s Restaurant Row has a cocktail list that is as great as its omakase. The drinks list is often a nod to its Japanese influences, like the Dark Crystal (gin, yuzu sake, Cocchi Americano, Pernod, butterfly pea flower, lemon) and the Little Green (miso vodka, cucumber, St- Germain, lime). Drinkers can also choose from the most extensive menu of sake — served warm or chilled — in Portland. The sake is available by the carafe and by the bottle, but perhaps the best way to take advantage of this delicious sake list is to order the “Wild Card” sake flight. Like most places in Portland, there is also a great variety of local beers on tap, including Japanese-inspired brews like Oxbow’s Momoko and Liquid Riot’s Nama.
Address: 54 Washington Ave., Portland, Maine
Best Way to Embrace the Craft Beer Vibe: Oxbow Blending & Bottling
Oxbow Brewing Company has made a name for itself as one of the best producers of American-made farmhouse ales. The second of three locations in Maine, Oxbow Blending and Bottling is a funky venue with outdoor and indoor seating. Bring a four-legged friend and sit outside in any season by the fire and enjoy the conviviality of an outdoor drink. Hang among the oak barrels inside the brewery and peruse the artwork hanging on the walls as part of the brewery’s Gallery 49 showcase. Enjoy the music, or, if you’re fortunate, take in a live show (hip-hop acts KRS-One and Wu Tang Clan’s Gza have performed at Oxbow Blending & Bottling). The beers themselves — mostly mixed-fermentation farmhouse ales, but Oxbow has begun to dabble in low-ABV lagers — are killer, but the great vibes at the location make them taste even better.
Tip Jar: In the same courtyard as Oxbow, the acclaimed Portland restaurant Duckfat hosts a pop-up shop. The Belgian-style frites (fried in duck fat, hence the name) are worth the price of admission, but for our money, the best move is the poutine topped with duck confit and paired with a super-light, slightly tart saison.
Address: 49 Washington Ave., Portland, Maine
Best Place for Dinner and Fancy Cocktails: Twelve
Newcomer Twelve was named by Vogue magazine as one of America’s “most anticipated restaurant openings of 2022” — and for good reason. The executive chef Colin Wyatt returns to Maine after leaving New York’s famed Eleven Madison Park, which was voted the World’s Best Restaurant in 2017. Wyatt is looking for Twelve to pick up where his old spot left off regarding beer, wine, and cocktails. Sylvi Roy, who heads the drinks program at Twelve, aims to “mirror what Chef Colin and his talented team are doing in the kitchen” and “showcase local Maine/New England ingredients as much as possible.” Roy adds that she’s excited to take advantage of the farm seasons in Maine, which will allow Twelve to “take local fruits, vegetables, and herbs from garden to glass.”
Address: 115 Thames St., Portland, Maine
Best Place for Pre-concert: Bissell Brothers Brewing Company
In the warmer months — think late April through early October — the best place to see a concert in Maine is Thompson Point. The venue hosts a killer sunset backdrop, and in 2022 will welcome acts like Leon Bridges, Sheryl Crow, and The National. Not more than a few hundred feet away sits one of the more acclaimed and popular Portland breweries: Bissell Brothers. Famed for its world-class, hop-forward IPAs and Double IPAs, Bissell Brothers is a no-brainer for pre-concert drinks. While its hop-forward offerings are delicious, many can pack a strong ABV punch. To balance this out, Bissell Brothers has begun crafting some of the city’s most quaffable lagers, like the 5 percent ABV Dangol, an adjunct lager with lime, and imports beautiful and delicate farmhouse ales from its sister facility in Milo, Maine.
Address: 38 Resurgam Pl., Portland, Maine
Best Place to Try Some Natural Wine: Maine & Loire
Here we are on Washington Avenue again! On Fridays and Saturdays, Maine & Loire, owned by Orenda and Peter Hale, offers wine bar service of its beautiful natural wine selection (during the rest of the week, Maine & Loire is simply a natural wine shop). Defined as “living wines,” according to the owners, every wine is farmed organically with native yeast and no additives. The Hales are passionate about showcasing natural wines from around the world and are more than happy to greet drinkers with informed recommendations. The Hales call Maine & Loire “a true mom-and-pop neighborhood wine shop.” The tidy little spot on Washington Avenue opened in 2015 and was the first in the area to offer exclusively natural wine. “Our shop is ever-changing, ever-broadening, and we aim to make visitors feel like Maine & Loire is a wine wonderland,” they wrote in an email.
Address: 59 Washington Ave., Portland, Maine
Best Place to End a Big Night: Blyth & Burrows
In the summertime, the Old Port is humming. Music and people pour out of restaurants, hotels, and dives in search of their final drink, and the best spot to hit is Blyth & Burrows on Exchange Street. There is a raw bar and snacks for a perfect late-night bite, but the star of an end-of-the-night spot is a can’t-miss cocktail made by some of the best bartenders in the city. Get festive with a Daily Ration, a shot of Jamaican rum, Earl Grey, pineapple, and lime. The Ship Captain Crew is a personal favorite. Made with dandelion bourbon, rhum, Amaro Montenegro, amontillado sherry, lemongrass, spruce tip, and finished with pecan wood smoke, this is the best way to finish an evening in Portland.
Address: 26 Exchange St., Portland, Maine