How do you convince a vegan to go to a Thai-inspired fried chicken restaurant?

Tell them Arvid Brown is the bar manager there.

Brown was previously the bar manager at vegan-friendly Baharat, where he was known for his use of Middle Eastern flavors to create cocktails that paired well with Baharat’s food menu. When he joined Crispy Gai (“gai” is Thai for “chicken”), which moved from a stall at the Public Market to its own place in the Old Port this summer, several of his regulars followed him, eager to see how he’d incorporate Thai flavors into his cocktails.

Brown did not disappoint, and neither did Crispy Gai.

Located in the former space of Eaux on Exchange Street, Crispy Gai had a line of people waiting to enter when it opened on the day of my visit. My friend and I grabbed seats at the bar, admiring the funky teal wallpaper. The barstools were comfortable and had backs, there were purse hooks under the bar, and everyone working there seemed genuinely enthusiastic about being there.  There’s also a long counter along the wall with backless barstools, a few regular tables and a small outdoor seating area.

Pep in My Step and Skin in the Game from Crispy Gai’s cocktail menu.

The drinks menu features eight cocktails ($11-$14), two mocktails and two shots, one of which is a $5 snack-sized pineapple daiquiri (I like to call it a “snack-iri”). My drinking companion ordered the $13 Skin in the Game (Mekhong Thai Spirit, Amaro Montenegro, pineapple skin oleo, carrot juice, lime and bitters, garnished with pineapple fronds). I went with the $12 Pep in My Step (cachaca, Manzanilla sherry, red bell pepper juice, mango, a house-made bird’s eye chili tincture and lime). Both were perfectly balanced and a delight to drink. I particularly liked the more savory feel of the Pep in My Step, which Brown said is a top-seller.

We couldn’t resist ordering a second round. My friend chose the $11 Same Same … but Different (rum, coconut milk, ginger, makrut lime leaf, galangal, lime and tom kha tincture). I had an early workout the following morning and no menu right in front of me, so I asked Brown to make any mocktail for me. He went off-menu and combined watermelon and Thai basil in a way that was light and refreshing – the perfect contrast to our meal’s spicy flavors. It hit the mocktail jackpot for me, meaning I didn’t think to myself how much better it would be if only it had alcohol in it – it was absolutely perfect as is.

A mocktail with watermelon and Thai basil and the Same Same … but Different from the bar at Crispy Gai

The day after our visit, I reached out to Brown to learn more about the thinking behind Crispy Gai’s cocktail menu. His goal, he said, was “to complement both the cuisine of the restaurant and the vibe of the space.” His general approach is “to produce drinks that read as fun and refreshing that are also able to cut through all of our spicy food and hold their own against all of our big flavors.” Not surprisingly, Brown tries to incorporate many of the ingredients being used by the kitchen and said, “The pantry at Crispy Gai is an easy one to raid.”

Southeast Asian flavors are not new when it comes to cocktails. What’s new and exciting at Crispy Gai is the manner in which Brown is using those ingredients. Consider a pineapple, for example. He doesn’t use just the juice and the wedges. He uses the fronds as garnishes and the skins (which many bars and restaurants just toss) to make a slightly fermented oleo saccharum, a type of sugared citrus oil.

The bottom line was best summed up by my drinking companion, who sighed in contentment at the end of her visit: “This was worth the drive from Damariscotta. Through Wiscasset. In the summer. Totally worth it.”

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


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