Last year, New York transplants Orenda and Peter Hale opened Maine & Loire, a natural wine shop featuring organic wines that are hand-harvested and farmed without the use of chemicals. Up until a month ago, the shop occupied an entire storefront on Washington Avenue in Portland (next to Roustabout).
The couple’s innovative wines were new to Maine – they worked extensively with suppliers and distributors here to partner with New York importers – and while they had steady foot traffic and sales, they wanted to offer customers a way to sample these new-to-Maine vinos without needing to commit to an entire bottle of La Boutanche or Gaspard from France, or Meinklang of Hungary.
Drifters Wife is the name of their new neighborhood wine bar and bistro, situated in front of Maine & Loire (you enter the shop through the cafe). It’s simple with a peaceful aesthetic, 24 seats (eight at the bar), a few vintage mirrors, potted plants, tasteful artwork and warm lighting. The name of the bar pays homage to the late musician J.J. Cale’s song “Drifters Wife” (“Drifters life is a drifters wife, don’t say I didn’t tell you so” goes the tune) from an album that was part of the couple’s courtship early on.
Orenda is a graduate of Cornell University’s hospitality school and a 10-year veteran of the restaurant industry in New York. Peter spent years at Diner and Marlow & Sons – ground zero for Brooklyn’s food and wine scene. The two eventually met at Reynard (at the Wythe Hotel) in Brooklyn – Orenda was Peter’s boss.
For now, they run Drifters Wife with a small staff, including Ben and Alexis Jackson, also Diner veterans. Ben manages the small, open kitchen that’s connected to the bar, and conceives and executes new dishes daily, such as fresh whole fish, spaghetti alla puttanesca, squid with radicchio, or the Tuscan kale salad with sunchokes and piave. Alexis is a kindhearted food and wine whiz who speaks to the menu expertly without leaving you in the dust.
Wines by the glass range in price from $9 to $13, and there’s an extensive list of nearly 150 wines by the bottle. A few of Maine’s craft beers are available by the bottle (Oxbow, Bissell, Bunker), and there’s a Maine Root Ginger Brew, and sparkling water.
The wine and food menu change regularly, and expect to find a wine featured nightly by the glass (that would normally be sold only by the bottle). On Fridays, Chef Ben is roasting whole chickens for a family-style meal for four ($85 total) that includes appetizers and dessert.
Drifters Wife breathes new life into Maine’s wine culture, and is a welcome newcomer to the East End. Stop in as soon as you can.
WHERE: 63 Washington Ave., Portland
HOURS: 4 to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday; Maine & Loire Wine Shop Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday
AMENITIES: Wine shop in back, lots of sunlight in the early evening, great music, open kitchen, impeccably clean bathrooms, terrific service
PARKING: Street Parking. After 5 p.m. on weekends free parking available in 75 Washington Avenue lot
BOTTOM LINE: Orenda and Peter Hale have created an unforgettable wine bar and shop featuring all organic, hand-harvested wines made by small producers. The 24-seat bar is simple and elegant, with lots of natural light, and intimate two- and four-top tables reminiscent of a corner Parisian café. Food is available, from a warm bowl of warm olives, a Tuscan kale salad, or a plate of spaghetti, to a Friday whole roasted family-style chicken dinner ($85 total feeds four).
WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE: Yes