Monday, December 9, 2013
By EMMA BOUTHILLETTE
When you think of "congress," that place in Washington where politicians are supposed to be making laws may come to mind. If you know anything about Portland, you may think of the street that runs through the city.
M. Vincent Leonetti makes a Washington Apple Martini at the popular Congress Bar & Grill.
Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer
CONGRESS BAR & GRILL
WHERE: 617 Congress St., Portland; 828-9944
HOURS: Open daily at 11:30 a.m.
PARKING: On-street metered parking that's free after 6 p.m. or on Sundays
AMENITIES: A few outdoor seats and a television
SCENE: It's a cozy, laid-back bar with a friendly atmosphere that's sure to be busy before or after any State Theatre act due to that venue being a few doors down.
WHAT ELSE: Find "Congress Bar & Grill" on Facebook.
But if you're a bar on that street, you may think of "congress" as the act or action of coming together and meeting.
That's one of the two definitions offered for the word on Congress Bar & Grill's Facebook page. The other definition is a formal meeting of delegates for discussion and usually some questioning.
When you define "congress" in these terms, it makes the bar's name seem a little more deep than being named after the street it's on.
I swung by Congress Bar & Grill around happy hour. It was early enough to beat the crowd from a State Theatre act that was scheduled for later that night, but prime time to witness this coming together, discussing and questioning.
The barkeep, Deb, was cleaning up a bit and chatting with regulars at one end of the bar. I pulled up a chair closer to the end with the television so I could keep up with the ongoing Olympic coverage. Deb was quick to welcome me and ask what I'd like for a drink.
Before realizing the bar had a specialty drink menu, I jumped the gun and ordered an Absolut Ruby Red with soda water.
"Would you like a lemon or lime with that?" she asked after pouring the drink.
Indecisive, I asked for both, and she delivered.
As I sat, casually sipping my drink, I looked around the space. Deep-red walls and a dark wood bar make it cozy and casual, but the light coming off the street kept things light enough so I didn't feel as if I was in a cave.
The menus were tucked in between condiments in round tins on the bar. Specialty drinks range from the house-made sangria for $6 to the "JD Rita," the bar's spin on a margarita, for $12. There are eight beers on tap for $4 or $5 apiece, and a number offered by the bottle for $2 to $4. There's also a selection of white, red and pink wines costing $5 to $7.
Anyone really familiar with Portland may recognize the place, because it was once known as Norm's Bar & Grill. Apparently the name change didn't deter the regulars from coming, of which I was told there were quite a few. Some even were kind enough to contribute to a figurine collection of bobbleheads featuring "Star Wars" characters and others that sit poised atop the wine shelf.
As I mentioned before, the coming together and discussing was prevalent while I was there. Deb chatted with a number of regulars about the Olympic coverage, tourists, the weather and, of course, Portland's recent excitement of the Mumford & Sons concert on the Eastern Promenade.
In addition to myself, one patron had attended the concert. We agreed it was a pretty cool event and that, despite the large crowd, everyone seemed calm, had a good time and exhibited all-around good behavior.
Sometimes, pulling into a bar by yourself when you've never been there before can be awkward. But I've never felt more welcomed than I did at Congress Bar & Grill.
Emma Bouthillette is a freelance writer who lives in Biddeford.