The front section of Smalls seats about 20, including at the bar. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Located in the tiny West End space formerly occupied by Omi’s Coffee Shop, then The Cider House, Smalls has completely reinvented the location, making it almost completely unrecognizable.

The front section features about 20 seats – some at the bar counter (which has purse hooks underneath), some at another counter against the wall (where a few people were using their laptop computers on my visit), and a few tables and benches. In back is a retail space highlighting eclectic items from local makers – a few finds included some phenomenal-smelling hand soap, sweet greeting cards with encouraging messages such as “You’re doing a good job” (perfect for new parents), and some gorgeous, unique multicolored cutting boards.

I settled in at one of the tables and waited for my drinking companion to arrive. It’s the kind of place where you go up to the counter to order, but when I did not do so (because I was waiting for my friend), one of the employees came over and asked if I had any questions, which I thought was really nice. While the purpose of my visit was of course cocktails, I was also pretty hungry. One of the salads sounded amazing, but I was concerned it wouldn’t be enough given that I had worked out earlier that day. She suggested adding a jammy egg and some crumbled bacon to the salad, which I thought was a great solution. (Then again, I think adding a jammy egg and some crumbled bacon could make dog food sound appealing.)

You can eat, drink, shop and even work if you want at Smalls. Photo by Angie Bryan

Luckily for my hunger level (and for everyone else who had to deal with me), my friend arrived shortly after that, so we placed our orders right away. I may or may not have texted the menu to my friend so that she could decide while in the Uber. Like I said, I was hungry. It was in her own best interest that we not waste time.

The cocktail menu at Smalls is – like everything there – small but carefully chosen. Six cocktail options, all either $12 or $13, were: a spicy grapefruit margarita, a bloody Mary, a ginger paloma, a Last Word, a Negroni and an Aperol spritz. There were also two mocktail options ($8 and $10) and eight beers ($3-$8). We were there for happy hour (which happens from 5-7 p.m. every day but Wednesday), which meant that all beers and cocktails were $2 off.

My friend opted for the Last Word, an absolutely perfect version of one of my favorite Prohibition-era cocktails. Made by combining equal parts of fresh lime juice, Maraschino cherry liqueur, gin and green Chartreuse (a French herbal liqueur), it’s a beautiful color and a complex balance of flavors that you wouldn’t expect to work together, yet somehow do. I have an image in my head of the original inventor just pouring a bunch of leftover ingredients in a glass and tasting it on a dare, but I’m pretty sure that a lot more thought and logic went into building the drink.


Feeling a bit daring myself, I chose the spicy grapefruit margarita, which was super spicy, but in a good way. Pro tip: If you’re trying to slow down your drinking pace, order a spicy cocktail. They’re impossible to guzzle.

The Last Word and spicy grapefruit margarita from Smalls in Portland’s West End. Photo by Angie Bryan

Everything we ordered came out quickly, and we were also impressed by the food. It’s hard to believe that the kitchen equipment on site consists only of a panini press and a small oven. Smalls does most of its food prep at East Ender, its sister restaurant.

My only objection is that the music was a little too loud for comfortable conversation, but that wouldn’t stop me from returning regularly. A great new find.

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

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