Dried herbs and fancy cocktail glasses hanging above the bar were the first indicators that creative cocktails were coming. Photo by Angie Bryan

You know how some hosts set the mood before the party by sending out a really fun invitation card? (Yes, some people still mail paper invitations, I swear!) The owner of The Wallingford Dram in Kittery has done the same thing, but via décor.

The minute you step into the tiny cocktail bar, you know you’re in for something extraordinary. The interior is decorated with deep forest green paint, dark stained wood and a subtle nautical theme, thanks to a few paintings of boats, some brass gauges and small ship lamps illuminating the high-top tables. The focus on creative cocktails is evident from the fresh herbs on the counter and dried ones hanging from above. Also hanging above the bar is a wide variety of vintage-looking cocktail glasses.  My drinking companions and I were hooked before we ever opened the menu.

Swear To Me, Golden Hour and Knock Life are among the selections on several pages of cocktails on the menu.

Speaking of the cocktail menu, it’s several pages long. My friends and I had a difficult time narrowing down our choices, finally ordering a Swear To Me, a Golden Hour, and a Knock Life, each $10. The Swear To Me (gin, Thai basil, ginger, grapefruit liqueur, lemon, black pepper and honey) reminded my drinking companions of a Finnish cocktail called the Lonkero (aka Long Drink). The ginger and the grapefruit were low-key, with a smooth finish (see what I did there?). The Golden Hour (tequila, sherry, house apricot liqueur, lime and orange-chipotle-cinnamon agave nectar) was a bit sour (in a good way), starting off with a burst of flavor and then ending with notes of cinnamon and apricot.

The Knock Life (coconut oil-washed bourbon, lemon, passionfruit, orgeat, vanilla and bitters) was my favorite, a good thing since it was the drink I had ordered.  The orgeat (an almond syrup) gave it a creamy texture without using cream, and the flavor layers developed with each sip.

There was no way we were leaving after one drink, so after a semivicious argument over who had to stop drinking in order to drive us home, my remaining drinking companion and I opted for the $11 Northsea Lineman and $10 Boat Cowboy.  Our second round was just as impressive as our first, with the Northsea Lineman (rye, Islay single malt, Italian vermouth Punt e Mes, maraschino, bitters and salt) feeling like a smoothed-out single malt, and the Boat Cowboy (tequila, bourbon, pineapple gomme, allspice dram, lime and bird’s eye chili) equally smooth, with a mild aroma of spice.  I couldn’t taste the chili, but my four years of eating spicy food in Pakistan might have damaged my judgment in that department.

Watching the bartender work was almost as enjoyable as drinking her creations. At one point, she was doing a dry shake with an egg white; at another she was spanking a bundle of fresh mint over a glass. Once, we saw her squeeze fresh citrus oil from zest. The bar was packed almost immediately after it opened, so service was a bit slow at times, but the drinks were worth the wait.

WHERE: 7 Wallingford Square, Kittery

PHONE:  703-4298

WEBSITE: thewallingford.com

HOURS: 4:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday, 4:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday

AMENITIES: A menu featuring page after page of original cocktail creations, with some delicious nibbles available as well.

BOTTOM LINE: Not the kind of place you go for a rum and coke – this is the kind of place you bring your mixologist friends when you want to impress them.

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: No


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