October 6, 2011

Bar Guide: Swanky lounge offers classic martinis, cocktails


There was a time not so long ago when martini lounges were as popular in the Old Port as brewpubs. Then they slowly started disappearing.

click image to enlarge

Bartender Charles Nedzbala makes a ultimate cosmo at FortiFem Martini Lounge in Portland.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer


WHERE: 45 Wharf St., Portland; (877) 653-7678; fortifem.com

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

PARKING: The lounge is located on Wharf Street in the center of the Old Port, so parking is available either at metered spaces on nearby streets or at one of the public lots or garages. (Ladies, be careful on those cobblestones!)

SPECIALS: Happy hour Monday through Friday from 4 to 6 p.m. offers half-off appetizers, martinis and beer.

PEOPLE WATCHING: In the early evenings, you'll find young professionals looking for an upscale place to relax after work. Things are turned up about five notches on the weekend with a DJ, a professional scene photographer and a dress code.

BARSTOOL COMFORT: Very tall, thick wooden ladder-back stools with cushioned leather seats. If you are 5-foot-5 or under, you may have to jump a bit to get into one.

GUILTY PLEASURE: Chocolate Dipped Strawberry Martini (Pinnacle Whipped Vodka, Godiva and strawberry puree, $12)

FortiFem Martini Lounge, next door to partner establishment 51 Wharf, is looking to bring that era of upscale sophistication and classic drinks back to the city by the sea.

The atmosphere at FortiFem is the pure definition of swank. To enter the front door, you have to get through an iron gate designed to create a small outdoor patio space where people can step out if they need a breath of fresh air. This is an easy task during the week or early evenings, but on weekends, a bouncer stands at the gate checking IDs and enforcing a dress code.

Inside, you will find a low leather sofa running along the two side walls and around the corners of the front of the room. Metallic mesh curtains hang from the ceiling, and long, white, gauzy curtains hang perpendicular to the walls, effectively portioning off areas of the sofa into more intimate sections.

Ceiling lamps and lighting fixtures alternate colors for a Vegas-lounge experience. The lounge is small, accommodating about 30 to 50 people on any given night.

Cocktails and martinis are the name of the game at FortiFem. A martini ($12), in its purest form, is a cocktail made with gin, vermouth and a garnish and was once referred to by H.L. Mencken as "the only American invention as perfect as the sonnet."

At FortiFem, all cocktails fall under the "martini" header on the drink menu, and there are some delicious ones from which to choose. With the seasons changing to the crisper autumn air, I was excited to see a Manhattan made with Maker's Mark at the top of the list ($12).

FortiFem also excels in the creation of mixed drinks to inspire a fun night out on the town. One of the most popular, an Orange Kiss made with Grey Goose Orange and cr? de cacao ($12), is ordered practically every 10 minutes on Friday and Saturday nights. If you're looking for less expensive drinks, you can always visit on Monday or Tuesday nights, when martinis are $6. You can also order most of the liquors neat or on the rocks for less than $10.

Beer is served only by the bottle. The selection is good, with domestic darlings such as Michelob Ultra and Sam Adams Lager and local favorites including Allagash White and Shipyard Export. With the exception of Bud Light ($4), all bottled beer is $4.50.

FortiFem also has a great wine list. Featuring 10 whites and about a dozen reds, wines are available both by the glass ($6 to $8) and bottle ($22 to $59). There are a handful of sparkling wines as well. Celebrate a special occasion with a glass of Prosecco ($8) or a bottle of Moet ($149).

Food is an essential piece of the happy hour puzzle, and FortiFem offers most of its appetizers for half off from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Try the Sandwich Spirals ($11.95), which offer cured turkey, ham and swiss; genoa salami and jack cheese; or turkey, bacon and ranch on flatbread, rolled and sliced into bite-sized post-workday deliciousness.

Elisa Doucette is a freelance writer who lives in Saco.


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