The bar at Papi, a Puerto Rican restaurant on Exchange Street in Portland. Photos by Angie Bryan

As soon as Papi opened, it was so popular that you couldn’t always get in, so when it came time for me to check it out, I showed up right when it opened at 4 p.m. on a Monday. By 5, it was about 75% full, and by 5:15, I didn’t see many empty seats left.

In keeping with Papi’s Puerto Rican theme, the vibe is lush and island-like, with attention to even the smallest details – something co-founder Joshua Miranda (of Blyth & Burrows and Via Vecchia) is known for.

You’d never recognize it as the former home of athletic wear retailer Lululemon, the inspiration for the $7 Lulo Lemon Spritz mocktail, a light, refreshing, minty beverage served in a gorgeous glass. (Lulo is a Latin American fruit known as naranjilla in some countries.) Seating options vary, including some great people-watching spots overlooking Exchange Street, but my friend and I sat at the bar, which I was delighted to see had purse hooks.

Chancleta and Corpse reviver shots from Papi.

But a mocktail wasn’t how my drinking companion and I kicked off our visit. Instead, we decided to order two of the $8 specialty shots to enjoy while we perused the menu. She went with the Corpse Reviver, an anisette-forward concoction that also contained Bacardi, banana Lillet, Triple Sec and lemon; and I went with the Chancleta, the Spanish word for flip-flop sandals. Made with rum, Pama pomegranate liqueur, lime, and Genepy, an Alpine herbal liqueur, it was my favorite.

Bartender River Gish (formerly of The Danforth), who is Puerto Rican, was both super-friendly and knowledgeable. Service was fast, music was at a decent volume (although I’ve heard it gets louder as the evening progresses), and we thoroughly enjoyed looking at all the special touches, such as the wall of photos of Puerto Rican legends, the stunning tiled ceiling, the cocktail menu drawings of the type of glass each drink comes in, and the specialty ice cubes imprinted with the Taino petroglyph for “baby.”

The Salinas Soundsystem and Sadie Pop cocktails from Papi.

For our main cocktails, my friend ordered the $12 Salinas Soundsystem (Brazilian spirit cachaca, sugar, mint, lime, clarified yogurt and guanabana, a Latin American fruit also known as soursop). She loved it, not only because of its sophisticated flavor profile, but also because guanabana is now her favorite fruit to pronounce.


I chose the $14 Sadie Pop (rye, red vermouth, passion fruit and vanilla Angostura), which I later learned was a cocktail that Papi co-founder and beverage director LyAnna Sanabria (who is also Puerto Rican) created for herself. Sanabria, who happened to be there during our visit, told us that she loves making cocktails for people, but doesn’t tend to like drinking them herself. The Sadie Pop, she said, is a cocktail she made for her taste preferences (booze on booze). It’s the flavors of a porn star martini combined with those of a Manhattan.

“It’s tropical and fruity with a boozy backbone, kind of like me,” she quipped. More importantly, it was delicious. I loved it even more once I learned that Sadie Pop is a famous Puerto Rican porn star, a fact that so far only one customer has admitted to knowing.

A few days after our visit, Sanabria added eight new cocktails to the menu – I look forward to checking them out during future visits.

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

Comments are no longer available on this story

filed under: