– A mug club can be a lot of fun — and good value.
Ed Stebbins, co-owner and master brewer of Gritty McDuff’s, says he and Richard Pfeffer created the idea of mug clubs when they opened the first Gritty McDuff’s in Portland 20 years ago.
“The idea first came because when we first opened we needed to raise money really quickly,” Stebbins said. “Necessity is the mother of invention.”
The idea behind mug clubs is that members pay a fee upfront, and for the rest of the year get a number of benefits, which vary from club to club. Members get a mug — larger than the typical pint glass — to hang on the wall, and they use that when they come to the pub. Often members get T-shirts and food discounts on certain nights, as well.
“The bottom line,” Stebbins believes, “is that you get 22 ounces of beer for the price of a 16-ounce pint.”
Jim Bunting, operations manager of the Sea Dog pubs and of Federal Jack’s in Kennebunk, believes that while mug clubs do provide some financial benefits, it is the club itself that is most important. Shipyard runs mug clubs at all its pubs, which include the Sea Dog locations and the Inn on Peaks Island.
“The clubs are primarily about the love of beer and like-minded souls spending time together,” Bunting said.
“Newer members enjoy things like specials and discounted beer prices, T-shirts and a free birthday meal,” he said. “But as time progresses over the years, members get really ingrained in the business. Employees really appreciate the fidelity of the members.”
The price to join the Sea Dog/Shipyard mug clubs is $50 for the first year — when members get the mug and T-shirt — and $40 for renewals.
Bunting and Stebbins said that the limit on memberships is really based on the number of mugs any particular restaurant can fit on the wall behind the bar — from 200 to 350 at some places. When they can fit no more mugs on the wall, people go onto a waiting list. And for some places, like the Portland Gritty’s, the wait can be long.
Novare Res Bier Cafe in Portland has a twist on the idea of a mug club, and not just because members get a 20-ounce chalice instead of a mug. You have to earn — or if you prefer, drink — your way into Uprisings, the name of the club.
Russ Hoskins, who was behind the bar when I asked about the club, said people pay $20 and get a list of 230 beers that they have to drink at Novare Res to become a member of the club. There is no time limit, but if a person drinks his 230 beers in one year, the $20 deposit is refunded.
Once a person becomes a member, he or she gets 20-ounce drinks, a key to the chalice room and invitation to events for club members only.
At Dock Fore in Portland, they skip the mugs. Everyone can get a 20-ounce draft for $1.95 from 3 p.m. until close every day. It is Stella Artois on Monday, 12 beers to choose from on Tuesday, Bass Ale on Wednesday, Casco Bay Red on Thursday and Pabst Blue Ribbon all weekend.
There are plenty of other mug clubs, as well. Here is the list of ones sent to me that I have yet to mention: Portland Pie, Jimmy the Greek’s, Union House in Biddeford, Duffy’s in Kennebunk, Rooster’s Roadhouse in Bethel, Slainte in Portland, Ricetta’s in Falmouth, The Frog and Turtle in Westbrook, Run of the Mill in Saco and its sibling, The Liberal Cup in Hallowell.
And I’m sure I have missed some.
As far as I am concerned, a mug club is a great idea — as long as the club is at your favorite bar, near your home or work, where you will go many times each year.
The most important thing is to have a favorite local pub, where you get to know the employees and other patrons, where you feel welcome and have someone to talk with even if you show up alone. When you find that pub, if they have a mug club, join it. If they don’t, you have most of the benefits, anyway.
Tom Atwell can be contacted at 791-6362 or at