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Claire Jeffers

Claire Jeffers is a freelance writer living in Portland, Maine. Follow her on Twitter: @claireeats

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Posted: July 1, 2015

Award-winning wine list, ever-changing cocktails and one of Portland’s finest bar experiences at Back Bay Grill

Written by: Claire Jeffers
A view of the bar seating at Back Bay Grill. Claire Jeffers photo

A view of the bar seating at Back Bay Grill. Claire Jeffers photo

By 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, Portland’s Back Bay Grill is poised for dinner service. Every place setting is prepared with a white linen napkin, a spotless wine glass, a bread plate and flatware. Every front-of-house employee dons a white bistro apron and an ironed white button-up shirt. The kitchen crew – all in eyesight in the open galley – are equally polished, ready for what is their norm: busy.

Now in its 27th year, Back Bay Grill has remained one of Portland’s, and perhaps Maine’s, most cherished dining establishments.

On a recent otherwise-sleepy mid-week evening in the West Bayside neighborhood, Back Bay Grill already had 50 people on the books before service even started.


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Evie Ladd, lead bartender, has worked at Back Bay Grill for three years, after stints at Portland Country Club and other high-end establishments.

Ladd is gregarious with guests, but not intrusively, and she’s nimble-fingered with her bar supplies. At the start of service, she scans her toolbox, furrowing her brow at one bottle, nodding at another, slipping an obscure liqueur from the shelves to give it a taste. By 5:15 she has a line of martini glasses prepped to shake into one of her specialty drinks, or maybe one of her regulars’ favorite martini.

One of her newest cocktails – so new it wasn’t printed on the menu yet – is a light, summery tumbler that’s first “spritzed” and “flamed” with absinthe. Ladd takes a square glass, holds it in front of a light and then sprays in a few mists of Absinthe – the result is a smoky, anise aroma that fuels a glass of Lillet and a house-made simple syrup.

Lead bartender Evie Ladd’s Queequeg Rum Cocktail ($11) is made with a house pecan simple syrup, Maine Craft Distilling Queequeg rum, Peychauds bitters, Jameson and lemon juice. Claire Jeffers photo

Lead bartender Evie Ladd’s Queequeg Rum Cocktail ($11) is made with a house pecan simple syrup, Maine Craft Distilling Queequeg rum, Peychauds bitters, Jameson and lemon juice. Claire Jeffers photo

Her other drinks, usually a brief list of five or so, are ever-changing, so unless you have a favorite, it’s best not to expect to see the same cocktail menu each time. In the coming weeks, she expects to fully transition into their summer menu.

Back Bay Grill’s wine list is something to behold. Wine Spectator has recognized the restaurant every year since 1999 with its Award of Excellence. In a quarter-century, they’ve figured out a nice balance of rare and specialty wines and guest favorites – the ones many people request and come back for.

General Manager Adrian Stratton has been with the restaurant for 11 years and has been the wine buyer for nearly that long. He gets excited about something different, but greatly respects a guest’s desire to come for what they know. Like the cocktails, every day brings something different, but the constant at Back Bay Grill is value. If Stratton deems a bottle unworthy, he’ll take it off the list.

The restaurant is used to guests requesting certain tables – some want to be private, others want a view of the kitchen – but at the bar is where everything is happening at once. Guests are coming, the kitchen is lively, your bartender is asking you about your day. “What was the best part?” she’ll ask, and likely your answer will be “coming here.”

Back Bay Grill

65 Portland St., Portland | 207-772-8833 | www.backbaygrill.com

HOURS: Open 5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday; closed Sunday and Monday
AMENITIES: Full menu available at bar, real hand towels in bathroom, white linen table service, comfortable lighting
PARKING: Complimentary parking at 55 Portland St., just 50 steps from front door, from 5 to 10 p.m. nightly. Ignore the “employee parking only” signs. Street side parking available.
BOTTOM LINE: A Portland dining institution for 27 years, Back Bay Grill is one of the finest restaurant experiences in the state. Known for exceptional guest services, top-notch American cuisine, and a comfortable, white linen atmosphere with an open kitchen, sitting at the bar is a great way to get to know the long-standing servers and bartenders. You’ll be planning your next visit in no time.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE: Yes

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