December 20, 2012

Bar Guide: Cocktails are special at funky-yet-upscale Local 188

By EMMA BOUTHILLETTE

If you're an indecisive person, sometimes walking up to a bar without a drink menu is daunting.

click image to enlarge

Bartender Mariah Bergeron pours a Caricature cocktail at Local 188 in Portland.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

LOCAL 188

WHERE: 685 Congress St., Portland

PHONE: 761-7909

WEBSITE: local188.com

HOURS: 5:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. daily (the kitchen closes at 10:30 p.m.), with brunch served from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

PARKING: Parking lot tucked behind building

SCENE: An open-concept restaurant and bar that's funky, laid-back and upscale all at the same time.

AMENITIES: Lounge seats with a few outdoor spots for the warm months.

SPECIALS: Advertised daily on the bar's chalkboard by the taps.

I'm the kind of bar hopper that doesn't always drink the same thing, and am always up for trying something new. That's why I was excited to see Local 188's extensive drink menu when I popped in on a recent night.

Resting on the bar was a thick menu, almost book-like. The wine selection went on for four pages. Then the draft beer and bottled and canned beer took up another page and a half, with prices from $2 up to $11. Finally, an innovative cocktail menu covered the last half page with options from $8 to $10.

I wasn't in the mood for beer or wine, so I focused on the cocktails. They all sounded amazing. The bartender suggested the Bergeron Sidecar, which includes house-infused fig and vanilla bean bourbon, Cointreau and fresh lemon juice.

I hesitated though, because I don't even know if I like bourbon. Instead, I picked the Ruby Honey Jam. The cocktail in a highball glass mixed grapefruit rosemary-infused gin with fresh lime juice, St. Germain and honey simple syrup.

The grapefruit and lime juice met with the simple syrup in an interesting way that made the drink sweet and tart all at the same time.

After I'd had a few sips, my friend Anne met me at the bar. She was intrigued by the cocktail list too. Her pick was the "Great North Woods." The cocktail featured Canadian Club whiskey, maple syrup, lime juice and soda water topped with bitters.

Anne was a bit skeptical about that combination, but she decided to be adventurous, and it paid off. Even though I loved my drink, I dare say hers was better.

I had previously dined at Local 188 and shared bottles of wine with my table, but hadn't really ventured into the bar space. The majority of the dining is to the right when you walk in, and the bar is to the left.

The long bar overlooks Congress Street for some people-watching. If you'd rather enjoy a drink with friends in a more intimate setting, some comfortable chairs are available in a lounge area. To the back of the space, you can watch the chefs at work as they prepare dishes with locally sourced ingredients.

As an electrician's daughter, I've adopted my dad's habit of checking out the lighting wherever I go. I loved the different lights hanging over the bar at Local 188. One fixture looked like a frosted booze bottle encased in antique-looking metal. It's small touches in the decor like this lamp that give Local 188 its funk and flair.

The drinks and food may be high end and high quality for its customers, but Local 188 keeps it relaxed and friendly.

Emma Bouthillette is a freelance writer who lives in Biddeford.

 

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