So I happened to be in the Old Port helping Santa out with some shopping, and needed a break. There are so many places to choose from between shops, but I was on a mission to Mexicali Blues. Luckily, the Old Port Tavern is right next door and open all day long.
Not so luckily, I stopped in while Portland was having a bit of a water crisis for all those east of Interstate 295. Many businesses in Portland were stricken by this “boil water for five minutes” order, and had limited offerings for that reason.
Unsure how this situation affected ice at Old Port Tavern, I opted for a Woodchuck Hard Cider in a bottle for the bargain of $3.50.
It was rather quiet despite being a prime shopping afternoon the week before Christmas. A number of flat-screen televisions around the bar were tuned to various sports networks, but one was on TV Land with the volume on so the bartender could enjoy an old Western.
Old Port Tavern during the day seems to be a touristy kind of establishment. Just inside the door is an intricate mermaid on the wall and a small fish tank that passers-by can see when the doors are open during the summer. Behind the bar is a large aquarium flanked by racks of alcohol. Above the aquarium is a series of stained-glass panels depicting an underwater scene with mermaids.
The seaworthy theme doesn’t stop there. Traditional pub fare on the menu is mixed with traditional Maine treats. Another fish tank, this one the biggest and featuring saltwater marine life, is situated at the back of the restaurant, where another bar lies dormant during the day.
As someone who has ended many a night at Old Port Tavern, I can tell you — don’t let the quaint tavern charm fool you. Sunday through Thursday, the tavern features karaoke, and on Friday and Saturday nights, tables and chairs are moved aside for a dance floor, disco lights and a DJ. The tavern quickly becomes a nightclub with $2 Jell-O shots and all your favorite alcohols to mix any cocktail under the sun.
Probably one of the last times I was at Old Port Tavern was at the end of my friend’s bachelorette party two years ago. The music was loud and the lights flashy. We spent much of the time dancing, because most of our drinking had already been done for the night.
I have to say, seeing the tavern in the light of day and the addition of the aquariums brings it a nice charm that I didn’t see on those dance club nights.
Not many places can pull off both sides of bar life. Old Port Tavern is a great stop for tourists wanting a cup of chowder and a lobster roll. It’s also a good spot to go dancing with the girls on a Saturday night.
Emma Bouthillette is a freelance writer who lives in Biddeford.