When word got out that a three-level bar was going to be joining the Old Port’s roster of watering holes, I will admit, I let my imagination take me away. In the absence of any other tangible details about the place (minus whispers of an oyster bar), I pictured a three-story building, each floor catering to its own specific clientele: First floor for the dive bar crowd, second floor for house music and fist pumping, and the third floor for an upscale roof deck (and oyster bar).
The reality of Blyth and Burrows, located at 26 Exchange St., is roughly 95 percent less intense than what I imagined. A small blue sign above the door lets you know you’ve reached your destination, and the interior (of what I will call bar No. 1) is cozy, dim and instantly atmospheric.
There is an understated nautical theme throughout the bar, which makes sense given the its origin story. Blyth and Burrows gets its name from Commander Samuel Blyth of the Royal Navy’s HMS Boxer and Lt. William Burrows of the USS Enterprise.
The rival captains were both killed during the capture of the HMS Boxer off the coast of Maine during the War of 1812 and are now interred with military honors at Portland’s Eastern Cemetery. Considering they were Navy men back when they could drink on the job, we think sharing the name of a bar in Portland is appropriate.
Unbeknownst to me, my two companions were something of Blyth and Burrows experts, having visited more than once and sampled a number of the cocktails already. Hearing them describe most of them as “chuggable” made it clear that it was hard to go wrong, so I ordered myself the HMS Boxer ($11).
The combination of fernet, green chartreuse, balsamic basil honey, elderflower and lime was sophisticated, well balanced and, according to the owner, will always be on the menu. We also sampled the Delia Lea ($10), which was bubblegum-pink without being too sweet, and the General Tso Fashioned ($11), which is Blyth and Burrows spicy take on a classic Old Fashioned.
The cocktail list is always changing, with a few staples that will always be on the menu. While this is great for those constantly looking for something new and exciting to try, it’s possible that the (intentionally) limited supply of ingredients could lead to some disappointment. The night I was there, they were out of three drinks on the menu, two of which we tried to order before landing on something available. We chalked it up to B&B still working out the kinks, having only opened to the public a month earlier, and, as I said before, every cocktail on the menu is a good choice anyway.
Up a couple steps from bar No. 1 is the oyster bar/bar No. 2, which is a bit more casual than the one that greets you upon entry. A few more steps will lead you to a bookcase that looks suspiciously like a door; we suggest trying to open it. It may or may not lead you to the secret bar downstairs, with a completely separate cocktail list and, if you need to make a getaway, another exit.
WHERE: 26 Exchange St., Portland
HOURS: 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday and Sunday
AMENITIES: Creative and thoughtful cocktail list, beer and wine options, small plates, raw bar, “secret” bar, moody ambiance, cool downtown location, multiple rooms to explore, rotating cocktails, friendly service, attentive owners
BOTTOM LINE: Blyth and Burrows, nautical theme and all, is a cool addition to the Old Port bar scene. Upscale without being snooty, different without being too gimmicky, it’s definitely worth ducking in to sample the HMS Boxer alone.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE: Yes