Portland & Rochester Public House, located at the bottom of Preble Street in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood, has been somewhat of a mystery since its opening in July. For starters, the restaurant didn’t have a website until recently and many are still puzzled by its choice of location. P&R occupies the former G&R DiMillo’s sports bar, so it’s perhaps hard to comprehend how exceedingly different this new “bistro pub” can be from its bawdy predecessor.
Well, it’s stupendously different. Starting with the long chalkboard attached to the front of the building as you walk in, which boasts oysters, trout, burgers and soups, and the door that’s propped open inviting your patronage, you’ll feel as though you’ve been whisked away to a quaint seaside hamlet in Ireland.
While not exactly in the center of town, the fact that P&R shares a block with the hip and popular Bayside Bowl will likely help to extend Portland’s ever-growing radius for trendy, yet casual eateries.
But there’s something more radiant about this particular brasserie. Maybe it’s the faint smell of paint on the wall — a reminder that things are still fresh. Certainly it’s the stunning woodwork and design by Seth Kearns and Colin Dougher throughout, starting with the benches at the entrance that lead around the corner to the dining room. The bartender and server wear collared black shirts and there’s even a “bar manager” who dashes in and out of the swinging door to the kitchen wearing a white button-up and tie. He was caught staying busy shining wine glasses, restocking the bar with house-made infusions and even helping to seat guests.
There are 16 seats at the bar along with five more stools around the corner — which, despite the unfortunate view of Preble Street, make for a more secluded place to chat. By 7 p.m. almost all of the seats were full, and the folks at the window had turned to enjoy the candle-lit glow from behind the bar. A couple of flower vases adorn the bar and dim lights help to feature the well-stocked spirits that are neatly presented on a stadium shelf with polished glasses on either side. At the far end, the bartender sorts and writes tickets under a vintage banker’s lamp. It would seem that, in this otherwise muted part of town, P&R has struck a balance between pub, bistro and somewhat of a Prohibition-era speakeasy.
The paper-printed menus (that aren’t yet bruised and fingerprinted) are simple and straightforward. On one side there are starters and mains, and the other lists a quick but focused wine list, five cocktails, such as the bourbon and branca, and eight draft beers, as well as eight bottled (ranging in price from $3-9).
From 3 to 5 p.m., something different is usually promoted for happy hour, such as a discounted draft beer. Happy hour oysters, on the other hand, are always $2 a pop. The drink special was a house-made raspberry-infused vodka with house-made ginger lemonade ($8). It was strong and sweet, but with little to no hint of ginger.
The pub menu is available from 3 p.m. until close — particularly nice if you’re still hungry once the dinner service is over. There’s moules frites and poutine, salmon tartare, a burger that bar guests said was “excellent” and other intrigues like lamb sausage-wrapped quail eggs and lobster cakes. An order of buttery rosemary fries is a perfect match with a Peak Hop Noir ($4 for the fries, $7 for the beer) and the Manhattan-style clam chowder.
This new Bayside treat is indeed the place to be. Everyone. Everywhere. Drop what you’re doing and head to Portland & Rochester.
Claire Jeffers is a freelancer writer.