Henry’s has retained much of the look, feel and decor of Bull Feeney’s, the longtime occupant of the Fore Street location. Photo by Judy Witherell

About a month ago, a friend and I visited Henry’s Public House, the latest business venture of the Miranda Group, which also owns Blyth & Burrows, Via Vecchia and Papi. In each of those places, the attention to detail when it comes to the décor is evident. That same attention is present in Henry’s, but in a different way.

Henry’s is located where Bull Feeney’s was, and owner Joshua Miranda wanted to preserve the feel and spirit of that former Old Port institution. Consequently, when you look around, very little appears to have changed, not even the wooden tables with etchings made by former customers, until you open the menu and see that there’s now a serious craft cocktail program. Miranda has managed to elevate the food, drink and service while simultaneously maintaining the casual, relaxed vibe of a traditional public house.

The bar area was crowded when my drinking companion and I arrived, so we sat in a booth. We could see that some wooden barstools had backs and some did not, and that there were both hooks and outlets (including with USB openings) underneath the bar, as well as a foot rail. Both the music and lighting were at appropriate levels, and the walls have numerous prints of Portland. Upstairs, there’s live music or a DJ several days a week, and football games are shown on Sundays.

Miranda Group added some of its signature sophisticated touches to the decor. Photo by Judy Witherell

When we opened the cocktail menu, we were delighted to see drawings indicating which kind of glass each drink comes in. The menu is divided into categories: Dead Poet’s Society (lighter, fruitier cocktails such as the Cease & Desist, with tequila, apricot, coconut, Campari, lime leaf and habanero), Writer’s Block (darker, warmer cocktails such as the Guinness Colada, with rums, coconut, pineapple, lime, Guinness, amaro and nutmeg), From the Canon (twists on classic cocktails, such as the L.I.T., an interpretation of a Long Island Iced Tea using Moxie instead of Coke), and the self-explanatory Martini Lunch, featuring the $8 “make it a mini” option that I think every cocktail bar should adopt.

The Cherry Coke Negroni and the 34th St. Julep from Henry’s Public House in Portland. Photo by Angie Bryan

My friend ordered the 34th St. Julep (rye, praline, hazelnut; $15), which was light and refreshing but more one-note than we had expected, and I went with the Cherry Coke Negroni (mezcal, bourbon, Averna, cherry and mole; $15). Before I ordered it, I chatted with our server,  who was extremely knowledgeable and helpful. I explained that, on the one hand, a Negroni is my go-to cocktail, and Diet Cherry Coke is my favorite nonalcoholic beverage, so I was tempted by the combination of the two. On the other hand, I worried that the mezcal would overpower everything. She encouraged me to try it, saying she’d swap it out for something else if I didn’t like it.

As it turns out, it was too mezcal-forward for me, and neither my friend nor I were able to taste even a hint of cherry, but – true to her word – she returned to see whether I wanted something else instead. This time I chose the Green Snapper (gin, snap pea, tarragon, grapefruit and club soda; $14). I was able to detect every single one of those flavors in each perfectly balanced sip, and would happily order that drink again on a return visit. That kind of customer service makes it certain that there will be a return visit.

As the person working the front of the house that night said, Henry’s Public House demonstrates that “Fore Street has grown up.”

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

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