April 5, 2012

Bar Guide: At Empire, dine and dance just part of the attraction

Empire Dine & Dance has a laid-back vibe and live entertainment.


I grabbed a few friends for a ladies night last week and dropped in for a drink at Empire Dine & Dance on the corner of Congress Street and Forest Avenue in Portland.

click image to enlarge

Heather Piela tends bar at Empire Dine & Dance, which offers something extra to do most nights.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer


WHERE: 575 Congress St., Portland

PHONE: 879-8988

WEBSITE: portlandempire.com

HOURS: 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. daily

PARKING: Try your luck on the streets of Portland or pull into the garage on Forest Avenue.

SCENE: Empire Dine & Dance is a casual bar for grabbing drinks after work or catching some local music, with something happening almost every night of the week.

SPECIALS: "Beer, Bourbon, Burger" ($6), 5 to 8 p.m. daily

It was a quiet Wednesday night when we walked into Empire, with a few people sitting at the bar and some at the tables. We snagged a table along the wall, close to where the entertainment was setting up for the evening.

A server came over shortly after we were seated and let us know that the beers on tap were listed on a nearby wall. There were eight varieties scrawled out on the chalkboard, along with specials from the kitchen for the night.

Two of us ordered the Angry Orchard hard cider on tap, and the other two opted for an Allagash White and a Stowaway IPA. The cider was $4 for a standard pint, and the beers were $5 apiece.

There's something about Empire that I just find relaxing. The broad wooden tables, art on the walls with some connection to music, dim lighting and dark color scheme just put you in a laid-back mood.

That staff was also pretty laid-back. We started to notice that a few of the servers were sitting at tables catching up with customers who are likely friends. Our server stayed pretty attentive up until the end, when we were ready to pay and leave. Maybe she just wanted us to stay longer and enjoy the band that had been setting up in the corner.

If you're looking for something different to do, check out Empire's calendar on its website (portlandempire.com). There's something happening almost every night of the week.

In addition to space downstairs for entertainment, there may be entertainment upstairs as well. Upstairs offers more space, so you can both listen and dance a little, should that strike your fancy. There's no cover for what's happening downstairs, but there's usually a charge for upstairs. It depends on the night.

It seems the entertainment offerings are of a wide variety as well. Empire hosted a watch party for this season's premiere of "Mad Men," and an after-party for all the Snoop Dogg fans last week. There's also a sing-along piano bar downstairs during the week, and the popular "Clash of the Titans" series on Wednesdays, which features two local bands playing covers of two big-name artists. This Wednesday will feature Jesus Lizard versus Big Black.

We didn't order food on our ladies night out, but Empire does have a menu that would tempt, and nothing is more than $10. If I liked bourbon, I probably would have opted for the famous nightly "Beer, Bourbon, Burger" special ($6). Had I ordered something, it probably would have been the Blue Mango Veggie Burger, because that just sounded amazing.

I've eaten at Empire in the past, but I think it has changed the menu since then, because I remember having a quesadilla, and I didn't see it listed this time around. But that could have been one of the nightly specials too.

We admittedly did leave just as the band du jour kicked off downstairs, because we wanted to try out another fine local establishment and wouldn't have been able to carry on a conversation with the band jamming out right next to us.

But we definitely toasted to a fun and different night out.


Emma Bouthillette is a freelance writer who lives in Biddeford.


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