Wilson County Barbecue opened in West Bayside in January. Photos by Angie Bryan

I don’t know about you, but I don’t expect a barbecue place to have a specialty cocktail menu. When it does, however, and the first “specialty cocktail” listed is “Maker’s Mark, splash of water,” I immediately feel right at home.

Such was the case during my recent visit to Wilson County Barbecue, a new restaurant that the founders of the Ri Ra Irish pub chain opened in West Bayside in mid-January. Putting the “bar” in “barbecue,” the open and airy space has a long bar with comfortable barstools with backs, electrical outlets under the bar and (pause while angels sing) purse hooks. There’s additional counter seating looking into one of the kitchen areas, a long community table in the middle of the restaurant, and plenty of smaller regular tables, making it a great place to bring a large group. The few big screen TVs don’t dominate the atmosphere, and the music was at a reasonable volume. The dim but attractive lighting makes it a perfect date spot if you want to hide your skin imperfections.

A rye Manhattan and a bourbon sour were $12 each at Wilson County Barbecue.

A friendly and enthusiastic bartender greeted us as soon as we entered (though I’d be friendly and enthusiastic if I were surrounded by barbecue all day, too.) The cocktail menu has seven actual cocktails, all of which are based on rye, whiskey or bourbon. I went for the $12 bourbon sour; my drinking companion had the $12 rye Manhattan. Neither of us was disappointed. Bonus points for the good quality whiskey cherries.

Wilson County (named after Wilson County in North Carolina, so all the barbecue served is done in the North Carolina style – generally pork, heavy on vinegar) also has 28 beers on draft, each one available in both 10- and 20-ounce servings. Prices range from $2 for the cheapest 10-ounce (Miller High Life) to $14 for the most expensive 20-ounce craft beers, which were Foundation Epiphany, Lone Pine Tessellation and Definitive’s Definitive Ale when I visited. There are also eight wines by the glass for $6 (one rosé, one sparkling, three whites and three reds), but the real star is the full page of whiskeys, bourbons and ryes. There are three adult hot beverages, including the tempting Maple Pecan Hot Chocolate, which I’m going to have to check out during the next snowstorm: hot chocolate, house-infused maple pecan Woodford Reserve and a toasted marshmallow garnish.

The only thing that detracted from our all-around enjoyable visit was that the menus didn’t show the prices of cocktails or wines, so you have to ask the bartender the price when you’re considering what to order. That doesn’t seem practical to me, and as a consumer, I definitely prefer being able to scan all the prices from the minute I look at the menu. But it won’t stop me from going back.

Angie Bryan is a former diplomat who is enjoying getting acquainted with her new home in Portland, one cocktail at a time.

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