Follow the skis to the entrance of Howie’s Pub, a friendly neighborhood bar in East Deering. Photo by Angie Bryan

I love a good dive bar, but somehow had never made it to Howie’s Pub, an East Deering institution located on Washington Avenue just off I-295. As a result of its offbeat location, it’s better known by regulars than by tourists, although it sees its fair share of people staying in Airbnbs along Washington Avenue and Veranda Street.

My drinking companions and I found parking just off Veranda Street. A sign above a colorful display made of old skis pointed us to the door, which we walked through a small outdoor seating area to access. We walked down a flight of stairs into the bar, which was small and already relatively crowded by the time we arrived around 5:30 p.m. on a Wednesday – many patrons stop in on their way home from work. The atmosphere was convivial and welcoming – none of that vibe you get in some local bars where everyone stares when an unfamiliar face walks in.

Most of the seating is at the large wooden bar, although there are a few high-top tables. The barstools had backs and were comfortable, several large TV screens were showing various sports games above the bar, and there were purse hooks underneath the bar. We settled in at the corner of the bar and noticed the server wiping down a nearby table as soon as its occupants departed; the same thing happened every time someone at the bar took off.

Howie’s Pub does not have a cocktail menu, but they’re happy to make you a drink. Photo by Angie Bryan

Like most dive bars, Howie’s Pub doesn’t have a cocktail menu, but they are happy to make just about anything. We were surprised they didn’t stock the ingredients for a Negroni (gin, sweet red vermouth, and Campari), but the friendly bartender had lots of alternative suggestions, including a spicy margarita and a vanilla vodka with orange soda, so that’s what we went for, as well as a gin and tonic. The cocktails arrived in large glasses, were nice and strong, and were $7 each, a far cry from the prices you’d pay in the Old Port.

Howie’s Pub markets itself as having “the coldest beer in Portland.” We didn’t test that claim, but saw that they offer around 10 beers on tap ranging from $3 to $7, plus 15 canned and bottled beers ($3.50 to $6, including a non-alcoholic option), eight ciders and seltzers ($4 to $6), and five $7 glasses of wine (prosecco, pinot grigio, chardonnay, malbec and pinot noir).

We’d heard good things about their made-to-order pizza, so tried a $16 pepperoni pizza with onions and green bell peppers. It lived up to its advance billing. The menu offers typical bar appetizers, such as mozzarella sticks with marinara sauce ($6), jalapeno poppers with ranch dressing ($10), and $15 house-smoked chicken wings with a choice of dipping sauces. You can also order sandwiches ($10-$13), such as BLTs or patty melts, or hoagie sandwiches ($17-$25) by Salvatore’s.

Named after longtime former owner Howie Chadbourne, Howie’s Pub was purchased in 2017 by regulars Joe Hardy and Adam Moore when Chadbourne retired. It’s no longer a cash-only establishment, but it’s still a beloved local watering hole completely free of pretentiousness, hipsters and (usually) cruise ship customers. It’s been around for so long that the original customers have started bringing their adult children with them, something of a tradition each Thanksgiving. It’s nothing fancy, but it doesn’t need to be.

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

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