The cocktail program uses Italian aperitifs in interesting and approachable ways. Photos by Angie Bryan

Located in the former site of Vignola & Cinque Terre, Via Vecchia (Italian for “old street”) is the kind of place where no detail has been overlooked. The atmosphere commands your attention before you ever enter, with ivy-covered brick walls and a cozy patio, but the décor once you come inside is absolutely breathtaking.

A stunning curved bar is the centerpiece of the room, making it clear that this is a cocktail-forward restaurant. In addition to the exquisite main dining room featuring a variety of seating options (my personal favorite being a plush, emerald green corner booth), there is also a less formal-looking bar in the back of the restaurant that I predict will be a wonderful gathering spot for groups once it is safe to mingle freely again.

My drinking companion and I had requested seats at the bar, and I was momentarily disappointed to see that the bar stools, whose bottoms were wide and cushioned (something I have in common with them), had no backs. They were so comfortable, however, that I forgot about that as soon as I sat down. Bonus points for the fact that they had purse hooks under the bar.

This plush couch is one of several seating options at Via Vecchia.

Via Vecchia’s cocktail menu lists a dozen original cocktails, divided into categories “fresh/savory,” “bitter” and “almost classic.”  My friend went with the “almost classic” Sicilian Negroni ($13): gin, Antica Torino, Amaro dell’Etna, Campari and salted grapefruit oleo. The spectacular charred grapefruit garnish alone made it an excellent choice.

True to my character, I went with a “bitter” choice, The Smoking Mirror ($13): Mezcal, Zirbenz, Pasubio, passionfruit and vanilla foam. Phenomenal. As you may have surmised, Via Vecchia is the kind of place where you might have to ask a lot of questions about what some of the ingredients are, but I find that appealing – I don’t want to order something in a cocktail bar that I could easily make at home.

The Sicilian Negroni and The Smoking Mirror at Via Vecchia.

They also sell five sparkling wines by the glass, six whites, one rosé and eight reds. Glass prices range from $9-$26, with most between $10 and $15; the vast majority of the wines are (no big surprise) Italian. They also have four draft beer options and three bottled/canned options. The cocktails, however, are definitely the stars of the menu.

One of the most unique and fun elements of Via Vecchia is its apéritivo program, the Italian version of a happy hour. Offered Tuesday through Friday from 4-6 p.m., it has its own special menu, which got my approval the minute I saw it was titled “Spritz & Giggles.” It features $8 Negronis, $8 Aperol spritzes, a handful of other $8 cocktails, $6 house wines and four options for small plates ranging from $6-$8. Regardless of whether it’s apéritivo hour or not, though, patrons are always welcome to come just for a drink and a nibble.

Via Vecchia is in the former home of Vignola & Cinque Terra in the Old Port.

Other highlights of our visit included the complimentary aperitivo platter of salami, cheese, olives, pickled vegetables, honeycomb and baba ghanoush, as well as the fact that the music was playing at the perfect volume for conversation.

Owner Joshua Miranda (who also owns Blyth & Burrows) happened to be there during our visit, as was beverage director Mark Hibbard, the one-man genius behind Dove Shanks Bitters.

Miranda, who opened Via Vecchia in late June 2020, chose an Italian theme not only because his father was Italian, but also because “the space just screamed Italian.” Hibbard doesn’t have any special connection to Italy, but is passionate about finding ways to incorporate “wildly interesting” Italian apéritifs and amaros into cocktails in approachable ways for people previously unfamiliar with them.

He’s succeeding.

Retired diplomat Angie Bryan writes about Maine’s cocktail bars while making as many puns as her editor allows.


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