I’ve probably walked past the Old Port Sea Grill at least 100 times, yet I never stopped in. I’m not quite sure why, because it is an attractive, sleek-looking establishment, and rumor has it that the Sea Grill is a great place for all things delicious on the half-shell. After last week’s visit to the restaurant’s lounge area, I’ll be walking through the glass doors more frequently.

When you enter the Old Port Sea Grill, you’re greeted by a Miami-esque fish tank filled with things that make you question for a moment whether you’re still in Portland. But once you clear the turquoise glow of tropical marine life and head to the bar, you can focus on the business at hand: cocktails.

After patient counseling by the very knowledgeable bartender — who didn’t seem to mind my myriad requests and requirements — I was presented with the Tea Martini ($8): Earl Grey-infused Kettle One meets simple syrup and fresh-squeezed lemon. I was delighted. Despite it being a chilled-up drink, I was warmed instantly from the first sip to the last, with the taste of tea subtly influencing the delicately flavored cocktail.

If you’re looking for a reminder that summer is not too far away, try the Cucumber Martini, which is a refreshing blend of Cold River gin, grapefruit juice, lemon juice, simple syrup, cucumber and muddled mint ($10).

Another tasty option is the Lychee Saki-tini, which keeps it simple yet charming with Cold River vodka, plum sake and lychee syrup ($10). And speaking of Cold River, the Sea Grill supports its local libation producers with a large number of cocktails created from Freeport-based Cold River vodka and gin. The on-tap beer selection gives a solid shout-out to other local favorites, including Allagash and Gritty’s.

Whereas most bars run happy hour specials exclusively during the work week, this lounge offers its two hours of happiness seven days a week, from 4 to 6 p.m. The winter happy hour is an easy choice with $3 draft beers, $4 wines by the glass, and tasty treats featuring what the Old Port Sea Grill is best known for — the raw bar. Pay $3 for two oysters on the half-shell, and $5 for P.E.I. mussels with white wine, garlic, butter and tomatoes. Yum.

Throughout the evening, I found myself reflecting on why I’d never stopped in before and whether it had anything to do with the glossy facade of the building. Or maybe it had something to do with the warm glow of a tropical fish tank in February.

But the honest fact of the matter is that I have a strong bias toward places that might be described as “rough around the edges.” In short, the more of a dive bar, the better. So go ahead and call me a hipster snob, but after my evening at the Old Port Sea Grill’s lounge, I was fully willing to toss my tendencies to the breeze and follow the old adage of “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Truth be told, there were people of every shape, size and fashion preference represented. Apparently, they all discovered the place before I did.

I encourage any who consider themselves discerning cocktail connoisseurs, or those who are just ready to step away from their (boring) old favorites, to spend some time with the bartenders at the Old Port Sea Grill. Your taste buds will thank you. 

Johanna Sorrell is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

 


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