The dining room at Twelve, a new fine-dining restaurant in Portland. Photo by Angie Bryan

Shortly after the much-anticipated opening of fine-dining restaurant Twelve in mid-July, some friends and I tried to get a reservation. Hahahahaha. In the beginning of September, however, I learned that the restaurant keeps some spots open for walk-ins at the bar and on the lovely patio, so I grabbed my friends and decided to give it a try.

I didn’t know what to expect in terms of wait times – Empire on Christmas Eve? Street & Co. in the summer? The release of a new Harry Potter book? Twelve opens at 5 p.m., so we arrived a little before 4:30 on the Tuesday after Labor Day. As it turned out, we didn’t need to be there that early. There were still five empty seats at the bar by 6.

Twelve, part of the Prentice Hospitality Group and helmed by restaurant heavyweights from New York City, is named after the historic building in which it is located – Building 12: Pattern Storehouse, an old railroad-industry building. The vibe is serene without being pretentious. The front of the house staff enthusiastically welcomed us and seated us at the 14-seat bar with extremely comfortable olive-colored leather barstools with backs and footrests. Underneath the bar were purse hooks and outlets for both regular plugs and USB cords. A seven-person chef’s counter overlooks the kitchen.

It was evident from the bar setup that we were in for a visual treat. Indeed, watching the three bartenders exercising their craft was a highlight. Glasses filled with edible flowers, fresh dill, thyme sprigs and more hinted at some of the spectacular garnishes.

Twelve has a full bar with a strong Scotch and bourbon selection, as well as a well-curated wine and beer list. Seven beer/cider options ($8-$9), two sparkling wines by the glass ($13-$17), six whites ($13-$17), three rosés ($12-$16) and six reds ($13-$18). But as you may know, I’m all about the cocktails. In addition to four $8 mocktails, Twelve’s cocktail menu lists six $16 specialty cocktails. We tried five. You’re welcome.

We started off with the Blood Moon (mezcal, Scotch, Amaro, hibiscus and flamed orange peel), the Arcade Summer (South American spirit Cachaca, a house-made blueberry lavender syrup and egg) and the Run Like Wild (rye, carrot, turmeric, lemon and pink peppercorn, served with a sprig of thyme).


The Cast Away and the 0012 Vesper from the cocktail menu at Twelve in Portland. Photo by Angie Bryan

We then moved on to the Cast Away (Bimini coconut gin, rhubarb, pineapple and Peychaud’s bitters, garnished with both a pineapple frond and a curled ribbon of rhubarb) and the cleverly-named 0012 Vesper, a nod to the fact that Agent 007 (aka James Bond) often ordered a Vesper martini. Twelve’s Vesper is made with gin, sugar kelp vodka (sugar kelp is local to Maine, as are a large percentage of the ingredients Twelve uses), Lillet Blanc, lemon oil, and a sprig of fresh dill.

Our favorite was the extremely creative and perfectly-balanced Run Like Wild, but we also really enjoyed the spirit-forward Blood Moon, in which the mezcal shined without overpowering, and the Cast Away, which was far less sweet (in a good way) than we had expected. The Arcade Summer was slightly sweet and beautifully presented, with lavender in a starring role. We weren’t giant fans of the sugar kelp vodka in the 0012 Vesper, but we drank every last drop. We’re no quitters.

I’ll leave the food commentary to Press Herald restaurant critic Andrew Ross, but I will say that, while everybody in the regular dining room must get the $82 four-course prix fixe menu, diners at the bar and on the patio can order items a la carte.

Throughout the evening, service was impeccable. I don’t have the budget to go there regularly, but I’m glad I got to check it out before it becomes more challenging to get in.

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

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