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Erik Neilson

Erik Neilson is a writer, musician and passionate food-head based in Portland.

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Posted: March 19, 2018

Portland Harbor Hotel’s rebranded bar makes a fine Old Fashioned

Written by: Erik Neilson

The entrance to Bluefin at the Portland Harbor Hotel. Photos by Erik Neilson

Hotel restaurants are interesting animals. On one hand, you have those with tables so heavily sought-after that patrons are much more likely to show up specifically for the food and drink than as a side-effect of staying the night; New York’s NoMad and the Restaurant at Meadowood in St. Helena, California, come to mind.

On the other sits rooms essentially serving guests and guests alone, whether by design or default. With super high prices for the area (e.g. $34 scallop bucatini) and an unfortunate lack of physical visibility compared to other surrounding businesses, BlueFin North Atlantic Seafood – the October 2017 re-brand of Eve’s at the Garden in the Portland Harbor Hotel – sits firmly in the latter category.

That said, the bar contained within is one of the better spots in the area to duck away for a quiet, meditative drink.

Serving an abbreviated bar bites menu from 2 to 9:30 p.m. every day, the bar at BlueFin offers a glimpse of chef Tim

The Old Fashioned ($13) from the bar at Bluefin is excellent.

Labonte’s recently overhauled menu, including items such as Maine crab cakes ($18), charcuterie ($19) and a market-price lobster roll with lemon-thyme dressing. It should be noted that Labonte’s food is quite good: He recently won Maine Restaurant Week’s Incredible Breakfast Cook-Off with his Lobstah Hash – a drool-inducing combination of fresh lobster, chervil-infused mascarpone, root vegetables and corn.

The restaurant is quite obviously geared toward folks “from away” with money to burn, however, which I believe takes away from its potential to gain ground among local diners.

Drinks, though, are a different story altogether. While offerings such as the Apple Pie Mimosa ($12) may induce eye-rolling, the house Old Fashioned ($13) most certainly will not. Classic in form, the drink skillfully combines Maker’s Mark – the Old Fashioned’s bourbon of choice, in my opinion – with bitters, Maraschino juice, orange peel and just enough sugar, all rounded out with a splash of soda. The latter is a staple of hotel bars I’ve actually come to look for in an Old Fashioned recently, adding just a hint of zip to the drink while also putting competing flavors in check in the process.

Thanks in large part to a generous pour of bourbon, the resulting drink shows just enough sweetness, settling at the back of the tongue, while highlighting the boozy bite it requires for balance. With candied orange overtones and a beautiful appearance, the drink glistens in its glass and finishes with a velvety, almost creamy mouthfeel lasting well into the next sip. It is, in a word, divine.

Though not somewhere I see myself heading often in the near or distant future, the quiet ambiance and spirit-driven cocktails at BlueFin’s bar in the Portland Harbor Hotel are worth the detour – even (and perhaps especially) during tourist season.

Bluefin North Atlantic Seafood

WHERE: 468 Fore St., Portland (in the lobby of the Portland Harbor Hotel)
PHONE: 536-0592
HOURS: Bar bites available 2 to 9:30 p.m. daily
AMENITIES: Full bar, courtyard seating, hotel luxury, numerous menus available in dining room
BOTTOM LINE: Though far from a locals’ haunt, the bar at Bluefin provides a quiet bit of respite from the Fore Street bustle – perfect for ducking away and clearing one’s head.

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