Saturday, May 18, 2013
By ELISA DOUCETTE
For Brazilians, Figa is a symbol of good luck. For Portlanders, Figa is a newish bar/restaurant found on Congress Street by looking for the bright orange sign among the surrounding stores and studios.
Kyle Miron mixes a house specialty drink called a Starfruit Sparkler at Figa in Portland.
John Patriquin/Staff Photographer
WHERE: 249 Congress St., Portland. 518-9400; figarestaurant.com
HOURS: 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday; 5 to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday
PARKING: East End parking, while limited to on-street, is full of beautiful unmetered spaces. The only challenge is finding one.
PEOPLE WATCHING: The bar seating faces away from the dining area, so it's difficult to watch the dinner folks without it being obvious that you are spying, but the close quarters of the bar make it easy to make friends over cocktail conversations quickly.
BAR STOOL COMFORT: Wooden and wrought-iron chairs that prove a slight challenge to anyone less than 5-foot-5 who is trying to climb up into them.
I-SPY: Wrenches, pliers and other tools forged into the metal shelves over the bar, crafted by local metalworker Ed Lutjens.
GUILTY PLEASURE: Figatini ($9). A light but very sweet concoction, the signature drink of the Figa bar combines 22 Vodka with St. Germaine Elderflower liquor.
Owner and chef Lee Farrington has created a warm environment inside the long, narrow space, which is common in the large multi-business buildings of intown Portland. The walls are exposed brick and the space has a very industrial feel, with heavy-looking metal light fixtures making the room very bright. Along one wall is a mounted wooden bench, with two-top tables spaced out to accommodate parties of more than two when pushed together.
The bar itself is quite tall, with a poured concrete top and orange accent pieces scattered throughout. You can spend a good hour on conversation about the knickknacks on the shelf, including statuettes and hilarious greeting cards.
Although it has only been open for about two months, Figa is quickly becoming one of the next "bars to frequent" in the East End. I attempted to sneak in under the radar on a Tuesday night at 7:30, but both the restaurant and bar were bustling.
Throughout the course of the night, it was refreshing to watch bartender Kyle Miron not only greet repeat patrons, but also discuss without hesitation their prior orders and offer samples of new but similar drinks if their favorite had been replaced.
This is not one of those local bars where new visitors will feel left out. Miron's friendly conversation and careful attention were well-paired with weekend bartender Dan McCarthy's extensive bar knowledge as he pulled up the stool next to me for dinner on his night off.
The bar menu is chosen specifically by Farrington, with input from her staff. With wine offerings evenly split between reds and whites and available by the glass ($7 to $15), half bottle and full bottle ($29 to $88), there are many choices for a wine enthusiast. Especially of interest at Figa is the sparkling wine selection. With about 10 options, it is one of the most extensive I've seen. If you want to try out a few, order the Sparkling Flight ($13), a sampling of rose brut, cava and prosecco sparkling wines.
Draft and bottled beers offer fewer options but a wide variety of flavors. They are subject to change seasonally and with the current food menu. Figa has three beers on tap: Peak Organic, Peroni and Allagash ($5). By the bottle, choose from beers such as PBR ($3), Brooklyn IPA ($5), Maine Beer Company ($8) and a couple of Rising Tide ales ($8 to $10).
The bartenders at Figa are currently working on their summer drink menu, and I got a bit of a sneak peek. You can expect to see things like mint juleps and margaritas (both tentatively priced at $9 to $10) for the lighter summer months, although the top-secret recipes are still being tested. In the meantime, order one of the most popular drinks, a Starfruit Sparkler ($9; prosecco, Cointreau, starfruit juice and orange bitters) or go for something a little more rugged with a Manhattan ($7; whiskey, vermouth and bitters).
For those who would like to grab a snack while sitting at the bar, the locally grown and harvested dishes will certainly tempt you into trying at least something. The menu is divided into three common tapas sizes: spoon (small/appetizers), fork (medium/soup and salad), and knife (large/entrees).
Everyone at the bar raved about Farrington's wild boar rendang ($7), one of the most popular spoons. If you're looking for something with a little more sustenance, try the warm beet carpaccio with goat cheesecake ($9) from the forks.
If you are looking for a great small bar to meet with a couple of friends, visit for a date night or just fly solo and have good conversation, then add Figa to your list of "bars to frequent" in the East End.
Elisa Doucette is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.