Every good foodie and beer city needs to have a couple of beer gardens. Although the still-new East Ender might be more of a beer garden patch right now, it is already attracting a clientele looking for delicious drinks they can’t find anywhere else.

The East Ender is located in the space where Norm’s East End Bar was through September of last year. Locals were devastated to lose such a convenient and laid-back watering hole, but that atmosphere was precisely what new owners Megan Schroeter and Mitch Gerow (both formerly of Evangeline Restaurant) hoped to carry forward into the new space.

The first thing to know when meeting up with friends at the East Ender is that there are two bars.

The downstairs bar is smaller and more intimate, using the lunch counter that used to be there. It is the perfect place to meet up with a friend for some quiet conversation and enjoy the scents of delicious cooking from the adjoining kitchen.

Upstairs is a bigger space, rich with a polished wood bar, exposed brick, beautiful hanging light fixtures and mounted hunting trophies. There are also tables in both locations if you don’t want to spend your time on a stool.

The drink menu at the East Ender is designed so there is something for everyone. With rich restaurant backgrounds, Schroeter and Gerow are committed to creating cocktails that use fresh ingredients daily.

For that reason, the drink specials will change seasonally, depending on what is available, but will always be consistently priced at around $8. The most popular winter drink, the Blood Orange Mule ($8), is a vodka and blood-orange juice cocktail featuring Maine Root Beer.

I was also strangely fascinated as Schroeter explained how they make their Manhattans, taking the time to soak and ferment cherries in a Manhattan reduction in the kitchen to infuse the drink with more flavor. “We don’t mess around with the classics; we just add our own twist,” she said.

An extensive wine selection features a blend of Old World and New World flavors that the owners have personally selected. You can choose from 10 wines by the glass ($6 to $8) and about 40 wines by the bottle ($22 to $44). One of the more popular bottles, a sparkling rose from the Burgandy region ($36), offers a special treat to celebrate with during a night out on the town.

As mentioned, the East Ender is quickly gaining popularity with the beer aficionado crowd because of its eclectic and delicious variety of beers. In bottles ($3 to $4.50) are “Bold New England Flavors” such as Geary’s, Belfast, Allagash and Long Trail. On draft choose from Stella Artois, Hoegaarden, Red Hook ESB, Bud Light, Gritty’s, Brooklyn IPA, Long Trail and Murphy’s Stout.

But they’re not total beer snobs — they also serve Bud Light.

The bottled beer selection is where the place shines and where the little beer garden is obviously growing.

I experienced my first-ever Black IPA based on the East Ender’s recommendation — an Otter Creek Alpine Black ($3.50). Normally not a dark beer drinker, I was thoroughly impressed with the suggestion. For a dark, it was nothing compared to the biting but not hoppy Unearthly IPA ($10), a favorite of the owners and their regular clientele.

For those desperate for the yummy richness of a microbrew flavor without the gluten, there is St. Peter’s ($9, my personal favorite sorghum-based beer). In total, there are anywhere from 30 to 40 different bottled beers.

Although they offer an amazing meal menu, the East Ender has also created some delicious appetizers and bar snacks that match well with a quick drink or two after work.

In addition to the almost mandatory chicken wings ($10), they also offer horseradish deviled eggs ($4) and their most popular small dish, clams casino ($10). The gourmet burger plate is aggressively priced at $10 and served on a freshly baked bun.

If you are looking for a great laid-back and reasonably priced, yet still upscale place to find good beer, good food and good friends, make sure to check out the East Ender. 

Elisa Doucette is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.