It was the end of a stormy Maine day, and most people were home, safe and warm. I decided to head out for the night with Peter and go to a place neither of us had ever been — RJ’s Pub.
Tucked inconspicuously between the shops and park at Mill Creek, RJ’s is a South Portland watering hole that most would overlook. The small pub is the width of your average storefront, and only about half as deep once you walk in. There’s parking on the street, but because it was snowing, we pulled into a small lot nearby in case a parking ban was already in effect.
Even though the snow was winding down for the day, regulars at RJ’s must have opted not to venture out, because we walked in to find the bartender by herself. She was cleaning behind the bar and prepping for the next day of business.
The bar itself runs the length of the establishment, with stools of varying styles down the line. In one corner, there’s a pool table where leagues play some nights. Behind the bar was an old television with the Celtics game on. Peter and I took a seat at the far left end of the bar.
We joked with the bartender a bit, telling her to take her time, we could see she was busy. She set aside the cleaning chores and joked right back about how stressed she was in the empty bar.
There were six beers on tap and a full selection of liquor for mixed drinks, but we decided to keep it easy when she told us the special for the night was $2.50 Bud Light bottles.
The bartender cracked the beers open and asked if we’d like glasses. Peter and I declined, because swigging out of the bottle seemed more appropriate for this type of bar.
Even though the quiet evening had the bartender considering an early closing, she was welcoming. She stayed right by us, and Peter and I chatted with her about various things in life. I could tell tending bar was something she loved, and she told me she’d been at RJ’s for 18 years.
The pub sees a lot of regulars and a lot of locals. Some friends who knew the area better than I had described RJ’s as “sketchy.” I drove by once and saw a couple of guys smoking outside, giving me a similar impression. Once Peter and I entered, though, I got a different feel for the place.
The bartender was so friendly and the place itself so laid-back. It would have been great to visit when there were more customers, but it was still worth the trip.
Emma Bouthillette is a freelance writer who lives in Biddeford.