The restaurant spot at 865 Forest Ave. in Portland has undergone a number of revisions in recent years. Most recently, Venue was reopened as The New Venue, with new management and a new menu. Now, the space that looks relatively the same inside is called The Loft: Portland’s Burger House.
The Loft officially opened in July, touting a menu that features 30 different burgers plus the “Three Pound Burger Challenge.” (If you finish the burger in 45 minutes, the meal is free, and you earn the right to boast with a free challenge shirt.)
I ended up visiting The Loft on a quiet, understaffed weeknight, so my first impression of the place probably wasn’t the best it could have been.
The bar area is to the right as you walk in and the space features an open concept between bar and dining room. Behind the granite bar top, six beers were on tap plus a Woodchuck Hard Cider. They don’t have a specialty drink menu yet, but do have all the liquors needed to mix up a variety of cocktails. I was intrigued to find so many different flavors of Pinnacle Vodka, including Gummy, displayed on their bar shelf.
I wondered if the candy-flavored vodka actually tasted like the Swedish Fish pictured on the bottle, but since it’s still fall, my roommate and I decided to stick with Pumpkinhead.
The pint served up was crisp and cold, bringing out all the yummy fall flavors the beer has to offer. A gentleman down the bar was still taking advantage of the happy hour special of a $2 PBR tall boy offered from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Other happy hour delights include $3.50 well drinks. If you don’t make it in for regular happy hour, stop by late night for a $5 Long Island from 10 p.m. to close.
Many things go well with beer, but a burger is a match made in paradise. With a menu boasting “the best tasting burger just for you,” we had to see if this was true. With 30 specialty burgers offered, it was hard to decide which burger to pick, but we had ample time to make up our minds since the bartender didn’t return for our order very quickly.
I opted for the pesto burger and my roommate ordered the Caprese burger. It took quite some time for our orders to come out and when the meals were finally delivered, the burgers fell short of our expectations.
Maybe it’s just me, but when I’m at a place called “Portland’s Burger House,” I’d expect some sort of cosmic shift when I bite into a burger from the menu. The burgers we ordered were just average, nothing amazing. I don’t doubt that the ingredients used were fresh, but the charred taste from the fire grill overpowered the toppings added to make the burger special.
I do have to reiterate that the bar and restaurant were understaffed that night. I overheard the bartender saying that a server had not shown up for a shift, and noticed she was not only covering the bar but the patrons seated in the dining room as well. So it was likely an off night, and a place open for two months is likely still trying to work some kinks out.
With the open concept and space for a band or DJ, it does seem like The Loft has great potential to be party central without the hassle of hunting for parking that the Old Port presents.
The large booths and pub-style tables also make a great venue for large groups. And with a giant screen for sports viewing, it’s a great spot for Sunday football action.
Emma Bouthillette is a freelance writer who lives in Biddeford.