Happy hour in Portland’s Old Port neighborhood is practically a spectator sport. There are so many options; sometimes it’s just easier to stick with your go-to place. But part of the fun, of course, is to discover how each bar baits its patrons – half-priced drinks? Complimentary snacks? There are seemingly endless ways to spend your drink money during the early evening hours in Portland.
The Grill Room and Bar, one of Harding Lee Smith’s four restaurants on the peninsula, is more often than not, packed every night after five o’clock. While they take reservations, there will still likely be at least a short wait.
Luckily, there’s a bar – and a spacious one at that. From 4 to 6 p.m. during happy hour, all 12 beers on draught are $3, as well as wines by the glass. There’s also a bar snack menu that features items like roasted Brussels sprouts, BBQ wings, and oven-roasted olives, each for $3 (normally appetizers range from $9 to $18). The portions for the snacks aren’t tiny, so it’s a foolproof deal. Other drinks include a list of 12 specialty cocktails, none of which are discounted during happy hour.
A self-proclaimed “urban steakhouse,” the Grill Room is something out of an old timey saloon, maybe save for the big flat screen TV that reigns over the bar. A mock street lamp is posted at the host station, matching lamps with red shades adorn the bar, giving off a warm glow, and the bartender and servers are dressed for the part – a black vest and crisp white shirt for the bartender and neatly pressed black collared shirts for the servers.
The crowd at the Grill Room varies. There are the after-work professionals who want to take advantage of the happy hour deals, but this group seems to be a bit older than, say, the crowd across the street at Sonny’s. Then there are couples that come in for Grill Room’s highly regarded steaks, seafood dishes and wood-fired pizzas (dinner entrees range from $17 to $46). Depending on the timing, there could be a number of people dining with a Living Social deal.
Either way, the bar is nearly, if not completely full and a number of people will most likely be seated in the waiting lounge up front. One smart design feature in the bar area is a long counter that allows people to stand comfortably with their drinks.
The ambiance is warm and somewhat cavernous – exposed brick walls throughout the restaurant and dim lighting – and the service is upbeat, prompt, and knowledgeable. There might be a wait for a table, but the food is delivered exceptionally fast. It’d be easy to spend a decent amount of money at the Grill Room, but thankfully for happy hour, it’s also possible to spend under $10 for a drink and a snack – and there’s usually not a wait for a seat at the bar.
Claire Jeffers is a Portland freelance writer.