Barhopping in Portland is a mixed bag, from the throngs of 20-somethings who descend on Old Port bars for a night of drinking to the hybrid bar habitués who are more focused on well made food and drink served in stylish surroundings.
While there’s a bevy of highly regarded restaurants in town with popular bars, the stand alone lounge per se is a newcomer.
It’s also a jazz and blues venue with live music nightly, and the actual bar room is a luxuriously outfitted space where the scheme—no surprise— is various shades of blue.
Blue is also carried over to what the waitresses and female bartenders wear—mostly body-hugging bodices of bluish sequined dresses, which definitely make a statement.
I went there on opening night and the place was packed. There’s a doorman at the front door in hip downtown attire wearing an electric blue tie. At first glance I thought he was a street straggler.
The opulently outfitted bar is a long stone counter that leads to a rear dining room with clubby upholstered chairs around tables near the musician’s staging setup.
I went there primarily—besides wanting to see the new space—to sample the bar food. Given the chef’s high profile in the city my expectations were more than a few nibbles of pigs in a blanket.
In the spirit of full disclosure I’ve been battling a cold all week that has rendered my sensory glands nearly useless. So take my tasting notes lightly.
Gingko Blue’s food menu runs the gamut from panini, wraps, and grilled dishes like shrimp to highly seasoned and artfully arranged fare.
I had the smoked chicken panini and an expertly made vodka gimlet. I was hoping that Buerhaus’s assertive flavors might penetrate my dead zone, but they hit a brick wall. I can say that the dish was beautifully made. But I discerned that the grilled bread, however, seemed a bit dry as did the filling.
Next stop was Havana South on Wharf Street. The restaurant is very popular, though I have had some issues with the food there, which I’ll expound on at another time. The bar, which is in its own space with a separate entrance, has an extensive bar menu served in a very attractive setting.
I ordered a mojito, hoping its sweetness and tang might stir my senses.
It didn’t and I might as well have had a club soda.
I chose the mushroom spring rolls, which I’ve had before and they are delicious and one of the best items on the menu. Four pastry wrapped towers are arranged beautifully on a plate with dollops of sauce patterns rounding out the dish. With great frustration I couldn’t taste a thing but enjoyed the dish anyway munching on the crunchy texture and provocative fillings. I highly recommend this dish.
Last stop on my night of grazing was to have a light meal at Fore Street. I hadn’t reserved but figured that after eight I wouldn’t face a wait to sit at the bar.
Wrong. It would be 30 minutes before a spot would open up.
Earlier in the day I had called Sebago Brewing Company to see if their new space at the Hampton Inn on Franklin St. was open yet. I was misinformed that it wouldn’t be until the next day. Well, a few hundred denizens of the night got it right and when I saw it from the road I could see it was wall to wall people.
It’s a huge room with 125 seats for dining and drinking. I must say that Portlanders embrace new places very quickly and enthusiastically. Here were two brand new establishments already packed to the rafters on Day One.
I never had a good meal at the old Sebago Brewing on Fore Street, so I hoped that their new digs would inspire better food. I didn’t wait around to find out but will try it another time.
I made it back to Fore Street, got a seat at the bar and ordered pan roasted blue fish. The naturally strong flavors of the fish managed to spark one lone taste gland into submission and I took it as a sign that things were looking up.
John Golden makes no bones about sharing his opinion. If you'd like to share yours, email him at email@example.com.