Two and a half years ago, Vikki Walker and her husband, Kyle Tzrinski, decided to move to Portland after 12 years of working all over the world, mostly apart. They’d spent the bulk of their careers in the music industry – bouncing from country to country on tour with Lady Gaga, or Elton John, or Depeche Mode – but they were ready to live in one place, for the first time, together.
“We really picked Portland randomly,” Walker said, “and then we fell in love with it – and two weeks later we bought a house.”
The pair then started looking for a small basement space they could transform into a bar.
“Those were the two prerequisites – small and basement,” Walker said. “We love bars – whenever we’ve had time together in cities, that’s what we do – we go to cool bars.”
“Cool” is definitely one word to describe Maps, the couple’s 6-month-old underground bar on Market Street, across from the Big Easy. Cool and cavernous, hip and inviting, there’s nothing else quite like Maps in Portland. Although hard to spot if you’re not looking (there’s usually a sandwich board out front), Walker and Tzrinski have created a homey space filled with thrift store finds and some of their own possessions that have been locked up for years in storage.
“Kyle has this huge vinyl collection that we haven’t used for so long because of travel,” Walker said. “We really just wanted our stuff around us again.” A turntable and a vintage Marantz stereo system, along with two shelves fat with LPs, now have a space behind the bar.
Originally from England, Walker was inspired by some of her most cherished bars from home and travel. She says many of her favorite bars are subterranean, dimly lit, and in Europe, and it’s not unusual for them to serve tea and coffee and cake – three popular items on Maps’ menu.
“My favorite bars are like a living room – we want people to feel at home,” she said.
In addition to the bar (about 10 seats), Maps offers about five additional seating “sections.” There’s the snug lounge seating situated in front of a faux fireplace; a longer communal table; a pair of retro rocking chairs (on either side of another faux fireplace); a pair of antique barber seats, and cushioned maroon swivel stools in front of a matching counter. Walker says a lot of the furniture also comes from local antique and thrift shops, such as Found on High Street.
And maps are everywhere. Antique maps, framed maps, globes (one glows), and even maps on the glassware.
“We didn’t have a concept or anything [for the name],” Walker said. “We’ve just been collecting maps from all of our travels.”
Maps serves beer and wine only, and the couple expects it will stay that way.
“Lots of people ask if we’ll eventually serve liquor, but we’re not mixologists or anything,” Walker said, “and the bar is so small – there really wouldn’t be any room.”
Plus, Portland’s beer scene was one of the first major draws for them. They are both “obsessed” with Bissell Brothers. Walker says sometimes, even when the bar is closed (Tuesdays), she’ll want to come in just to have a pint. “Both of the beers they make are real game changers,” she said.
On a recent night, Smuttynose, Rising Tide, Bissell Brothers, Paulaner and Foundation were on tap, served up in 16- or 10-ounce glasses.
There’s also a list of about 20 bottled beers, from Atlantic Coal Porter to PBR.
The wine list is short but straightforward and includes a house wine for $5, and hot mulled wine, also for $5.
Maps’ secret weapon is undoubtedly its three grilled-cheese sandwiches ($8). All made with freshly baked Portuguese bread, there’s the “simple” with fontina and mozzarella, the “English” with aged cheddar, provolone, red onion and roasted garlic jam, and the “Blue” with blue cheese, mozzarella, red onion and Maine blueberry chutney.
The sandwiches are dense and super cheesy, served with a few slices of dill pickles.
“I love cheese and it’s just that comfort food that’s so simple,” Walker said. “We didn’t want to have to compete with all these other wonderful restaurants.”
But there’s a distinct charm to Maps that will compete with other Portland bars, no matter what. In addition to their on-the-money grilled cheeses, Walker wakes up early most days to bake one of her grandmother’s cake recipes. She’d often bake with her grandma as a girl, and cake at the bar was another European element Walker wanted to play up. The carrot cake has become a customer favorite.
While maybe too early to tell, Maps could very well be around for years to come; that’s only if Walker and Tzrinski don’t get the travel bug anytime soon. This is the kind of bar that needed no breaking in or softening of edges. The elements of Maps – from the décor to the music, the drinks to the food – are all there, perfectly tuned.
For now, Maps is closed on Tuesdays but could be open seven days a week within a month or so. Check out its daily happy hour specials starting at 4 p.m.
WHERE: 64 Market St., Portland | no phone | www.facebook.com/portlandmaine.MAPS
HOURS: 4 p.m. to midnight daily; Closed Tuesdays.
AMENITIES: Jukebox, lounge seating, vintage barber chairs, clean bathrooms, vinyl collection with record player, dim lighting, two faux fireplaces.
PARKING: On street.
BOTTOM LINE: Maps is a new bar on Market Street as of July. A cozy, dimly lit basement bar, it’s hard not to feel right at home with the antique décor, faux fireplaces, jukebox, and fine service. Beer and wine, coffee and tea, and a small menu of grilled-cheese sandwiches and cake.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE: No.