January 23

Bar Guide: The Twist at Silly’s? Unmatched drink menu, for starters

The offerings are a testament to the owner’s ambition and flair.

By Claire Jeffers

Known for its vegan and gluten-free options, Silly’s with a Twist also offers drinks with the same dietary considerations.

click image to enlarge

Silly’s with a Twist, adjacent to the original Silly’s on Washington Avenue in Portland, introduced a full bar menu for the two restaurants.

Claire Jeffers photo

SILLY’S WITH A TWIST

WHERE: 40 Washington Ave., Portland

PHONE: 347-7557

WEBSITE: sillys.com

HOURS: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday; 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday

SPECIALS: Happy hour 3 to 5:30 p.m. offers cheap drink and food options.

AMENITIES: Patio and deck in the warmer months, plenty of seating in both restaurants, Trivial Pursuit and other board games available at the bar, plenty of kitschy decorations to keep you entertained.

PARKING: On street

BOTTOM LINE: Silly’s with a Twist, connected by a walkway to the original Silly’s, is lively and welcoming with a full bar and the same menu as Silly’s next door. The kitschy decor and festive drink and food options will make you chuckle, but you’ll feel right at home almost instantly, as the friendly service is unmatched. Silly’s with a Twist is good for smaller groups.

WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE: Yes

When Colleen Kelley bought Silly’s in 2002 from the previous owners, she knew she wanted to keep the same fun, kitschy atmosphere for devoted diners (Silly’s has had a mass following since the late ’80s) but there were some aspects she wanted to change.

For instance, a lot of the food had been previously microwaved. Kelley has worked hard to transform the kitchen to have a full line cooking staff that creates an extensive one-of-a-kind menu – anything from vegan mac ’n’ cheese to char-grilled pizza, to marinated lamb topped with feta and falafel. And now? Kelley claims Silly’s doesn’t even own a microwave.

It was with this same knack for renewal that Kelley decided to buy the adjacent building a couple of years ago and open Silly’s with a Twist, a smaller, dimly lit dining room with a wrap-around bar front and center. There are about 14 seats at the bar and additional table seating that can accommodate about 25.

In the summer months, with the deck, patio and both dining rooms open (Silly’s and Silly’s with a Twist), Kelley estimates she can seat more than 100 people.

Kelley describes Silly’s with a Twist as “Silly’s, just with a little bit more of an attitude.” Lit mostly by funky lamps and string lights, Twist is a bar out of the ’50s. If someone were to walk in wearing a poodle skirt, no one would bat an eye. “You can come in wearing a prom dress or flip flops,” Kelley said.

The drink menu is also a testament to Kelley’s ambition and flair. She and her sister, Shelley Kelley, who has been with her since day one and is now the bar manager, claim they use the Flavor Bible (Page, Dornenburg, 2008) for inspiration and recipe testing.

One of Kelley’s favorite cocktails is the Pork in Your Rye, made with maple-flavored rye whiskey, served with a candy bacon rim. All cocktails are under $8.25 and many are offered as vegan or dairy-free, such as the Vegan White Russian (Kahlua, vodka, choice of soy or almond milk for $7.50).

The other house cocktails don’t skimp on panache either, like the Oh Yeaahh! made with vodka, cava and Kool-Aid. Or the Sassy Pants made with tequila, lemonade and spicy rum.

The cleverness and flat-out entertaining personality of the drink menu might be daunting at first, but you are advised to take your time and read through all of the names and descriptions – they won’t disappoint.

If you’ve never had a “shake cocktail,” try one of Twist’s. There’s the Sherry Baby Nectar Dulce (sherry and vanilla ice cream), Twist and Stout (Guinness and vanilla ice cream), Ragin’ Ruby (Ruby port and vanilla ice cream) and several more. Shakes are under $9 and truly take any milkshake to the next level.

There are seven taps that serve local craft beer, a heavy inventory of liquor and a fridge packed with other beer and locally made sodas.

Happy hour is from 3 to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to Friday and boasts $2 cans of beer, $4 glasses of wine, $5 “pints o’ cocktails” (a special list of cocktails are served), $6 martinis and $5 “pints o’ well mixed spirits.”

The happy hour bites menu is its own animal, with tastes you won’t necessarily find on the regular menu, such as chicken, lamb, tofu or pork tacos for $2.50 and flour tortillas filled with your choice of fixings for $5. Kelley intended for the happy hour drink and food menu to be a bit earlier in the day and have what she calls a “more European experience.”

Behind the bar at Twist, servers are busy running back and forth between the two dining rooms. The main kitchen is in the original Silly’s, but Twist has a sandwich station and oven behind the bar that churns out mounds of delicious-looking nachos, grilled pizza and other small plates.

It’s safe to say Twist will be busy most nights, but even Kelley admits she can’t always predict a busy night. “First Fridays can be nutty as a cream puff – it just depends what we have going on here,” she said. “Sundays can definitely be slammed.”

Kelley and her sister are excited about new outdoor heaters they’ve purchased for the patio. They said people will likely be able to sit outside again as early as mid-March once the heaters are in place.

“Our parents owned a restaurant and I haven’t done anything else ever,” Kelley said. “This is what I love to do, what I know how to do, but most of the time I just say, ‘Well, maybe we can change this or that,’ and then I just see what happens.”

Claire Jeffers is a Portland freelance writer.

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