The bar at The Danforth on Portland’s West End. Photos by Angie Bryan

When you head to The Danforth to check out its impressive cocktail program and wine list, don’t make the same mistake my friend did – some navigation services will take you to the site of the former Danforth Inn at 163 Danforth St. Keep going to 211 Danforth St, where Little Giant used to be.

There you will find just-turned-1-year-old bar and restaurant The Danforth, owned by the same group behind the Death & Co cocktail bars which originated in NYC and led to the wildly popular book of the same name on modern classic cocktails.

The atmosphere is cozy and welcoming from the start, a far cry from the Scandi-inspired starkness of the last occupant. It’s hardly recognizable as the same location. The music and lighting are at the perfect level for conversation in a bar, and large comfortable U-shaped booths are the first thing you see in the bar area, which also has backless wooden-seat barstools at the actual bar (where there are both hooks and electrical outlets underneath). A back room has regular booths as well as small round tables with wide plush chairs, and a bit further back is a medium-sized covered patio with cozy lighting, ceiling fans and plants. We would have been happy with any of those options, but decided to go with one of the U-shaped booths in the main bar area.

The Monarch Martini and the Land of Hats, with house-made Chex mix ($5), from The Danforth.

Service was fast and attentive, and we loved the fact that the cocktail menu included a drawing of the type of glass used for each drink. It was tough to decide from the 10 craft cocktails ($14-$18) on the regular menu (a shorter menu exists for both happy hour and late-night service). You can also order the Dealer’s Choice and have the bartender come up with something based on your preferences. My drinking companion opted for the Monarch Martini (gin, the quinine-flavored Italian aperitif wine Cocchi Americano, manzanilla sherry, pineapple and cardamom; $15). I went for the Land of Hats (gin, strawberry, Campari, Madeira, and Gran Classico bitter, $16). The Monarch Martini was perfectly balanced, although we both felt that it could have been colder given that it is not served over ice; it did, however, come with a sidecar in a glass of ice. Not surprisingly, given its ingredients, the Land of Hats reminded me of a Negroni with a very subtle undercurrent of strawberry – in other words, I loved it.

The cocktail menu also offers three seasonal cocktails, three boilermakers (variations on a shot of whiskey served with a beer), and three mocktails ($7-$11). There were also six beers on draft ($5-$9).

We had come to The Danforth for the cocktails, so we were surprised to see that it also has an impressive wine list covering two full menu pages divided into sparkling, white, skin contact and red. There are four sparkling by the glass, ranging from $9 for a French apple cider to $25 for a champagne. There are four whites by the glass: a $13 Portuguese Galego Branco, a $13 Burgundy, a $14 Austrian Gruner Veltliner, and a $15 French Chardonnay. The three $11-$13 skin contact wines available by the glass are from California, Chile and Slovenia, and the five reds by the glass: a $12 Italian Barbera, $12 Argentine Malbec, a $13 French Pinot/Gamay, a $13 French Cabernet Franc and a $13 French Rhone blend. Many more are available by the bottle, including several high-end options.

Designed to be a neighborhood bar and restaurant with high-quality food and cocktails, The Danforth absolutely hits the mark. If I lived closer, I’d be there all the time.

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

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