November 14, 2013

Bar Guide: Pretend you’re away from it all at Holiday Inn

The Port of Call Lounge is a comfortable place to enjoy drink specials and free popcorn.

By Claire Jeffers

For the past 40 years, Holiday Inn by the Bay has been perched high on Spring Street between Portland’s Old Port and West End neighborhoods. From downtown, it’s easy to spot the bright green logo shining through dark clouds or fog – an eyesore for some but a convenient beacon for travelers and tourists winding through Maine’s largest city.

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The Port of Call Lounge at the Holiday Inn by the Bay can fit about 30 people comfortably.

Claire Jeffers photos

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The beers on draught are all local craft brews, such as Geary’s HSA.

PORT OF CALL LOUNGE

WHERE: 88 Spring St., Portland

PHONE: 775-2311

WEBSITE: innbythebay.com/dining

SPECIALS: Monthly cocktail specials; new happy hour specials in the works

AMENITIES: Lounge seating, free popcorn, hotel rooms

PARKING: Street parking for non-hotel guests; non-guests can also park in the garage next door for $1 an hour

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes

BOTTOM LINE: The Port of Call Lounge at Holiday Inn by the Bay might not be the coolest place to hang out for a drink, but that’s just it – why does every bar need to be the next best thing? Sometimes the irony of a kitschy bar is all the cool you need. Brace yourself for somewhat of a dull atmosphere but with fine service and solid drink options.

Despite the rather homely architecture and decor of, really, any Holiday Inn, the Portland location boasts Port of Call Lounge – a cocktail bar and restaurant.

In recent years, larger cities like New York and Boston have seen a resurgence in hotel bars, such as the lobby bar at the Ace Hotel in Manhattan or the cocktail lounge at Boston’s legendary Lenox Hotel. Sure, these are much more glamorous establishments, many notches above a Holiday Inn, but still, the concept of the hotel bar – a place that was once frequented by the wealthy elite – can still give any hotel somewhat of an edge.

After all, isn’t there something nostalgic about having a drink in a hotel, whether it’s fancy or not?

Port of Call Lounge is off of the intensely lit lobby (where you don’t necessarily have to state your destination to the host and hotel staff).

There’s a menu board outside of Port of Call’s double doors boasting nightly specials and hours.

Open from 11 a.m. to 12:45 a.m. daily, the lounge offers monthly cocktail specials, like the appletini, chocolate Russian or blueberry fizz, and a separate food menu from the Port of Call restaurant (situated in the next room) that’s offered from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.

As you pass through the double doors into Port of Call, the lighting is pleasingly dim and the backlighting behind the liquor shelves casts a shadow on patrons at the bar.

The furniture (there are enough armchairs, love seats and sofas to accommodate 30 people comfortably) is dated and doesn’t necessarily match. There are five flat-screen TVs throughout the room, including one over the bar. On a recent night, the History Channel was airing “American Pickers” to a captivated audience of six at the bar.

Lively? No. Hip? Not in the least. But there’s something comfortable and reliable about Port of Call – the bartender is an affable guy who knows his menu and brings salt and pepper shakers with your napkin set if you order a meal.

If you swing around to the right, you’ll see there’s a popcorn machine. And the popcorn’s on the house.

All of the beers on draft are local microbrews and the wine list is surprisingly heavy, with 21 bottles available, ranging from $22 to $60 and glasses from $6 to $9.50.

The restaurant and lounge manager, Ron McClay, said he is working on a new happy hour menu, which will likely begin this month. He hopes to offer a more consistent discount on draft beers, glasses of wine and special cocktails.

Claire Jeffers is a Portland freelance writer.

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