If someone says “Portland,” and “bar” together in the same sentence, there’s a good chance you immediately think of the largest city in Oregon. And that’s a shame, because 1) Portland, Maine, took the name first by a factor of 219 years, and 2) it hosts a vibrant, eclectic cocktail scene that can compete with towns 10 times its size.
From Old Port new-classics like Blyth & Burrows and the Portland Hunt & Alpine Club to eclectic haunts like Bramhall, this city of just over 66,000 punches way above its weight. Throw in a handful of excellent restaurant bar programs and within-city-limits distilleries with bars of their own, and you’ve got an embarrassment of drinking riches within easy walking distance.
Note: this isn’t an ordered ranking of Portland’s best cocktail bars, but an alphabetical list of our favorite cocktail joints in the city.
26 Exchange St
Named for two opposing ship captains who were killed in a naval battle off the coast of Maine during the War of 1812 and then interned together in Portland’s Eastern Cemetery, this Old Port bar leans into its theme with wall-mounted ship maidens and a mural of dueling brigs. The drinks tend to be on the strong side, both in alcohol content and flavor, and the menu divides itself into “clarified,” “carbonated,” and “stirred” sections.
769 Congress St
Bramhall brands itself as a “modern speakeasy,” and it nails the entrance experience. Take the set of stairs below a sign for the Roma Café, (feel free to pop in for dinner or a drink there, too) and you’ll find a brick-walled, catacomb-like chamber marked by the occasional stained-glass window and a mass of melted candles. It boasts a near-encyclopedic whiskey list and a cocktail menu that makes use of adventurous combinations (like the What’s Up Doc with gin, carrot, and pepita orgeat) that you hadn’t thought of, but wish you had.
58 Pine St
Chaval is first and foremost a French/Spanish small plates restaurant, but its small bar offers a cocktail menu that’s worth a visit on its own. It’s unsurprisingly heavy on sherry, gin, and aperitifs and offers a strong selection of French, Italian, and Spanish vermouths.
229 Congress St
There are moody, dimly lit cocktail bars full of wood and leather, and then there’s Cocktail Mary. The Congress Street watering hole dispenses with the stuffy trappings and down-and-brown drams that typify many bars in favor of bright, punny creations like its Single Jenni made with Absolut Citron, Cappelletti, and lemon (also available frozen), and a Scurvy Snack featuring local rum and pineapple gum syrup.
53 Washington Ave
Hardshore Distilling makes one thing—gin—and it’s damn good at it. The little Washington Avenue tasting room provides a small counter and a handful of leather chairs (plus a patio in warmer weather) just yards from the 1,200-liter still that makes it all possible. And while the menu is limited to their flagship gin and its aged expressions, the underpriced Gin Rickey, Gimlet, and Tom Collins more than make up for the extra-focused selection.
52 Wharf St
Located at the end of a street packed with raucous sports pubs and rollicking party bars, The Independent Ice Co. is a refuge for serious drinking. Whiskey is the order of the day, whether it’s a neat pour from one of the hundreds of bottles stored behind the bar on library-like shelves or a smoked rye Manhattan.
250 Commercial St
Distillery, brewery, restaurant-bar: Liquid Riot is everything short of a winery, too. Its cocktail menu unsurprisingly makes use of their extensive range of house spirits, including rums, whiskeys, a fernet and an “agave spirit,” aka American tequila. If you’re looking for something out of the ordinary to sip on, ask for a glass of their Bierschnaps (distilled beer aged in whiskey barrels) or oat whiskey made from Maine oats. While there’s plenty of seating (and a shuffleboard table) inside, the best seats in the house are on the back-patio picnic tables with harbor views.
123 Washington Ave
Maine Craft Distilling creates spirits that feel uniquely of The Pine Tree State, from a blueberry moonshine to a distilled-carrot juice “botanical spirit,” to a vodka made from Maine barley. There’s also a single malt whiskey, two gins, three rums. All are available for tasting or mixing into cocktails, which range from house creations to their take on the Negroni and Jungle Bird.
75 Market St
Hunt & Alpine Club put Maine on the cocktail map with a high-low sensibility that’s best expressed in its killer Espresso Martini and a penchant for using Allen’s Coffee Brandy, a bottom-shelf wonder with a local cult following. The menu’s chock-full of tempting originals, but don’t miss out on signatures like Green Eyes with gin, lime, egg white and Green Chartreuse, or its Norseman made with brown butter-infused aquavit. Scandinavian influence is present in both its minimalist-rustic interior design and a food program touting Swedish meatballs and an impressive smorgasbord.
150 Park St
Sagamore Hill is named for Teddy Roosevelt’s Long Island estate and decorated in a similar style—look for the imposing elk, moose, and other big-game animal heads on the walls. The political theme runs throughout the cocktail menu, too, which features drams like the Pennsylvania Avenue, Red State, and Capitol Hill. The bar also boasts an impressive bourbon list and offers whiskey flights organized around rye, bourbon, or single malt scotches.
4 Thompsons Point
Stroudwater is in a historic brick building at Thompson’s Point, and produces a vodka, a gin, a rum, a rye, and a double-barreled bourbon. All are mixed into cocktails at their tasting room, showing up in drinks like the Nationale with Stroudwater Rum, pineapple, apricot, and lime juices and charred pineapple bitters, or the Milk & Honey featuring Stroudwater Bourbon with tequila crema, honey and orange.
35B Diamond St
Three of Strong is concerned with rum, rum, and some more rum. Within their tasting room you can take a hack at any of the eight rums they produce, which includes sourced and own-make spirit, or imbibe them in cocktail form as an on-tap Mojito or a rum with housemade tonic.
10 Dana St
Via Vecchia comes to us from the same powers behind Blyth & Burrows, and the production values are similarly high. Its front bar recalls and old-world Italian cafe, while the back dining room—which features a second bar of its own—seems straight out of a Contessa’s palazzo. Front or back, you can enjoy a cocktail menu that centers Italian spirits and amari in drinks like the Sardinian Frappe or the Averna Mai Tai. And between 4 and 6 p.m. weekdays, Via Vecchia serves an aperitivo menu with $8 spritzes and a variety of low-priced cicchetti.