Fresh off a third-place finish at the second annual Cold River Vodka Bartenders Bash, 50 Local is drawing attention from all over southern Maine — not only for its decadent local menu, but also for its creative offering of original drinks and local beers.

When owners David Ross and Merrilee Paul were looking for a place to settle down with their family and open a restaurant, they were living and working in Boston. Kennebunk’s 50 Main St. was once a bakery with pink and grey vinyl flooring, but the couple saw potential in the space.

They transformed it into a modern bistro with a black-and-white color scheme, with accents coming from splashes of bright yellow vases, artwork and the signature canary cocktail napkins.

The two best places to have a drink if you are not planning to eat dinner as well are the bar and the lounge. In the lounge, you can have a quiet conversation while sitting on the plush wall benches reminiscent of daybeds with cushions and pillows. If benches are not your thing, pull one of the leather ottoman seats to the low tables, which are perfect for placing a few martinis or pint glasses.

The white metal bar offers about a dozen seats and a view to the kitchen through a window cut into the wall. Or you can sit mesmerized by the antique metal sign above the bar, spelling out “Local” in small white bulbs.

The bar menu at 50 Local is always changing, depending on the season and new discoveries. While there aren’t any draft beers, there is a good beer selection ($3 to $6), including St. Pauli Girl Non-Ale, Samuel Smith’s Taddy Porter and Allagash Dubbel Ale. At Paul’s suggestion, I tried the Baxter Pamola XTRA Ale ($4), brewed in Lewiston and distributed in cans.

The wine menu has an even representation of whites and reds ($6 to $13 per glass). The most popular selection tends to be chardonnay, including a 2007 Clos LaChance chardonnay from Monterrey ($8).

“Chardonnay is a great wine that pairs well with many of our dishes, but we hope to expand our patrons’ experience by sometimes suggesting something different to try,” said Paul, a former front-of-house manager in Boston.

“We are constantly educating our bartenders and waitstaff about the wines and drinks we offer so that they can have informed conversations and people can leave with an appreciation for something new if they want.”

Since the owners use many local resources, the bar drinks at 50 Local are often dictated by the seasonality of flavors and the outside climate. In the summer, people like light and fun drinks such as the Local Greyhound (Cold River vodka, roasted grapefruit and clementines with a sugared rim), which was featured at the 2011 Cold River Bartenders Bash. In the winter, people prefer heavy and heartier drinks like The Remedy ($9; bourbon, lemon juice, ginger and cayenne simple syrup). If you want something straight up, try the Oban 14-year single malt scotch ($14).

Watching all the delicious food go past you to people who are dining by the plate-glass windows, you may feel the need to put something in your belly. Although the menu changes daily, a few appetizers are featured frequently.

If you are looking for something that you know, try either the spring rolls ($9; chicken confit, sesame and orange aioli) or the mussel frites ($10; mussels with garlic, white wine and mustard). If you are looking to try something a little more daring, Paul suggests the parfait ($12; layers of veal liver, crostini and pickles), because everybody loves parfait.

Whether you’re looking to try some original cocktails or class up a night out on the town, 50 Local is certainly worth the drive.

 

Elisa Doucette is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.