A postscript on “24 Hours in Portland” and why Novare Res Bier Café didn’t make the list.
Yesterday, I posted a list of breweries, bars and brewpubs that you should visit if you’re only in Portland Maine for part of a day – and have limited time to get the sense of Maine’s craft beer. Among the feedback that I got was the criticism that the well-known beer bar, Novare Res Bier Café wasn’t on my list – which people assumed I’d forgotten or perhaps had something against it.
I’m here to say that omitting Novare Res from that particular list was a conscious decision – and should (I hope) be taken as a compliment for a couple of reasons.
For those not familiar with Novare Res, it is located in an alley off of lower Exchange street in Portland has a physical address – 4 Canal Plaza – that confuses cab drivers and GPS devices (hint: Just put in the address for Mount Desert Island Ice cream and walk across the street). The bar has two sections – an outdoor and an indoor space. The outdoor seating area features picnic tables, stools, and places to lean/stand, as well as a seasonally operating outdoor bar with a few beers on. Inside is a long, Belgian basement style brick and wood ambiance with a two-section bar, featuring benches, family-style tables and barrels for optimum social interaction.
But, it isn’t just the atmosphere that draws people to Novare Res – it’s the beer. They have a gigantic, expertly-curated draft selection, with a permanent chunk of the lines dedicated to Maine beer. However, they are best known for serving Belgian and international selections – as well as special releases, rare brews, and beers that are just not on tap anywhere else in town or in the state. I have never been to Novare and seen a tap list that contained beers that were all familiar to me – there’s always something I haven’t tried, which is a feat in and of itself. They also have a massive – and I mean massive – bottle list that includes bottles of any kind of beer style under the sun – with a focus on Belgian and European styles as well as some of the best sours and wild beers able to be purchased in the U.S.
So when I’m writing an article about experiencing Portland’s beer scene – why leave it out?
The problem (if it even is a problem) with a place like Novare Res is that you can’t – and shouldn’t – stop in for one beer on your way to your next stop. It doesn’t fare well as a pub crawl stop or a stop on a long itinerary for one simple reason: it is not a stop on the way to another destination, it IS the destination. The family style seating, the friendly staff, the endless list of beers waiting to be tried, the downright uplifting graffiti scrawled on the bathroom stalls (trust me) all keep you firmly in place, and it’s very hard to leave.
So, if you’re in Portland with less than a day to explore everything about Maine beer, you have two choices. Hit up the list of recommendations that I posted yesterday to get a feel for Maine and Portland’s entire beer scene, or camp out at Novare Res for the afternoon. Personally, I don’t think there’s a loser between those choices.