Wednesday, December 11, 2013
By EMMA BOUTHILLETTE
As my friend and I walked up Market Street, the sound of an upbeat jazz jam session flowed out the doors of The Big Easy.
Erin Compton, bartender at The Big Easy in Portland, makes up a SoCo Hurricane, one of the bar’s more popular drinks.
John Ewing/Staff Photographer
THE BIG EASY
WHERE: 55 Market St., Portland
HOURS: Varied depending on the entertainment, but as a general rule, they're open 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 7 or 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, closing every night around 1 a.m.
PARKING: On-street metered parking, which is free after 6 p.m. on Sundays and holidays, or a nearby parking garage.
SCENE: An intimate music venue in Portland's Old Port where you can sip drinks and listen to all kinds of musical talent.
The doorman checked our identification and then asked for the cover. On this particular Saturday night that the Tone Kings and HD R&B were performing, it was $8. I was ill-prepared with only $7 in cash and he wasn't impressed with my haggling skills. Thankfully, Ashley had plenty of cash on her to cover both of us to get through the door.
Inside, the space was dark with stage lights highlighting the musicians playing. Small candles sat on high-top tables providing ambient light for patrons. Most people in the nightclub sat or leaned against tables or the wall, listening intently. A small group took advantage of the dance floor right in front of the stage.
Specials for the night included $5 vodka soda or $3 Rolling Rock. Ashley took advantage of the vodka soda special and we were able to grab two seats right at the bar.
Aside from the stage lights, the bar is the only other well-lit area. I was thoroughly amused to see how all the top shelf liquor had lights behind it, giving each bottle an impressive glow.
If you're not interested in The Big Easy's drink specials of the night, there's plenty more to chose from. There was a good selection of beers on tap and by the bottle, plus a full bar with a range of liquor from well to top shelf.
The soulful music coming from the stage made trying to chat nearly impossible, but that's kind of the point. People go to The Big Easy for the music and entertainment. That was obvious to me by watching how intently everyone listened and swayed to the music.
The band performing was also super friendly. In such an intimate setting, it's nice to have a band willing to chat with their audience and be comfortable on stage.
They even called one of the bartenders, Kenya Hall, onto the stage to join them for a song. Her strong voice was an amazing addition to their performance.
If jazz and blues isn't really your style, don't worry. The Big Easy schedules acts for just about every musical interest.
I've been there before when pop-funk band Miss Fairchild performed. They also have regularly scheduled cover-to-cover classic album nights on Tuesdays and rap nights on Wednesdays. They even have time for people not only to be spectators, but to perform as well during The Players Ball, a weekly funk jam on Monday nights.
The Big Easy keeps a regularly updated website and Facebook page to keep people informed of what's happening every night it's open.
It's always good to check beforehand, especially since cover charges vary based on the event. You wouldn't want to miss out on a great show if you don't have enough cash on hand and are lacking a good friend to pay your way.
Emma Bouthillette is a freelance writer who lives in Biddeford.