Friends & Family wine bar opened in mid-October in the space previous occupied by Vinland. That’s right around the corner from where I live, and I’m kicking myself for not having checked it out sooner.

The décor gives off a mildly Scandinavian vibe, thanks to the wooden floors and counters, and the atmosphere is calm, relaxed and friendly. The lighting is soft but not so dim that you need a flashlight. Beautifully-framed enlarged family photos adorn the shelves, making you feel more like you’re at a friend’s place than in a bar – hence, I assume, the name.

Friends & Family offers full service if you sit at one of the six or so seats at the bar (which won me over by having hooks underneath for my purse). The barstools are minimalistic with slight backs, but they’re comfortable and have footrests. Four more of them face out a window overlooking Congress Street, and there are several group tables with backless stools.

We sat at the main bar because we didn’t want to have to keep getting up to order more items at the cash register, and because we enjoy chatting with the bar staff, but a close second would have been that prime people-watching real estate of the window bar. One word of caution: Although Friends & Family is wheelchair accessible in terms of entering and moving around the restaurant, the majority of the seating is high up, though some wheelchair-accessible seating can be arranged.

Friends & Family serves a rotating menu of wines with an emphasis on female winemakers.

The wine and food menus rotate frequently. The night we were there, they listed eight wines by the glass. Two were bubbles, a $15 Trebbiano (Uruguay) and a $10 Lambrusco (Italy). Two were regular whites, a $12 Sylvaner (France) and a $14 Vermentino (France), and another was a $15 skin contact Moschofilero (Greece), a wine I had previously experienced only in the traditional white version, not this beautiful ruby one.  The final three ($15 each) were reds: a Valpolicella (Italy), a Cinsault (France), and a Field Blend (California).

For the non-wine enthusiasts, canned and bottled beers are available, including several from Oxbow Brewing Co., and Farnum Hill Cider. Prices range from $2 for a Miller High Life Pony to $8 for Maine Beer Co. Lunch. Service was fast, friendly and not at all pretentious. The staff clearly knew wine, but was more interested in making sure we enjoyed our experience than in showing off their expertise. Much appreciated.


Barstools along a window at Friends & Family overlook Congress Street.

One thing I always enjoy doing at a wine bar is ordering a flight of different wines, but there wasn’t one on the menu during my visit. There was, however, a $16 ham flight. While I’m on the subject of the food menu, Friends & Family goes far beyond the predictable, though delicious, meat-and-cheese platters. On the menu during my visits were a few different salads, $16 raclette, $13 duck rillettes (a bite of which instantly transported me to France) and more. The $8 Grandma Slice is a thick slab of pizza that makes you immediately want more (in which case, you should come on a Monday, when they sell full round pizzas and have specials on bottles of wine).

Friends & Family targets low-intervention, sustainable wines, often showcasing female winemakers and cheesemakers. If you want the fun to continue at home, the retail section carries not only bottles of wine, but also several accompaniments that will make your own evening with friends and family more special.

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

This story was updated at 1 p.m. March 14 to clarify the availability of wheelchair-accessible seating.

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