The East End has undergone an immense amount of change over the course of the past decade — particularly in the past five or so years. Even as recently as 2010, the notion that Munjoy Hill and its surrounding neighborhoods would soon be home to multiple breweries, distilleries and boutique restaurants would have seemed like a stretch. Today, the area is in a state of constant flux no matter where you look.
Although The Snug predates the East End renaissance, it has gone through its own change of late.
Nearly 12 years in business, The Snug has long been one of the few real neighborhood bars on the peninsula. It’s the kind of place where everybody really does get to know your name if you show up often enough, where you’ll always find more locals than folks “from away.”
Appropriately billed as “Irish-ish,” it pays homage to the motherland without relying on cheesy tchotchkes.
For most of its existence, the pub was also synonymous with one of Portland’s most colorful bartenders, Michelle Bathurst.
Even people who had never been to The Snug knew of Michelle thanks to the countless, larger-than-life stories told by friends or acquaintances who had been on the receiving end of her charisma and intensity. She didn’t care what she said, who you were with or how it made you feel, as long it was in good fun. This worked for those who called The Snug home and got a kick out of her vivaciousness; it also caused plenty of people to drink elsewhere.
It’s been just about a year since Michelle’s mysterious exit, and The Snug is a different bar — kind of. It’s still the best place in the neighborhood to enjoy a well-poured Jameson on the rocks ($7), but ordering one is no longer a wild-card scenario. During happy hour especially (when all drinks are $2 off), the bar is quiet, dark and relaxed; patrons sip drinks while reading or catching up with friends after work. Stop in on a Thursday night, and you’ll likely have the chance to eavesdrop on a cribbage tournament.
Along with Michelle’s absence, the shift in vibe may also be a result of who is hanging out at The Snug these days. A look around the room yields glimpses of familiar faces from the era of Mama’s Crowbar, which was up the street and is now the Munjoy Hill Tavern with an entirely different crowd and scene. In many ways, the vibe at The Snug today feels not too dissimilar from what “Mama” and her staff curated at the Crowbar: quiet, respectful, welcoming. It’s an interesting function of what can happen when a neighboring establishment with such identity serves its final drink.
While those who haven’t visited the Snug since the Michelle days might be surprised to find what almost feels like a different bar, there’s plenty to love about the relaxed atmosphere that characterizes the room today. Plus, what other area watering holes let you bring in your own food for when the munchies inevitably hit?
WHERE: 223 Congress St., Portland
PHONE: (207) 772-6839
HOURS: 4 p.m.-1 a.m. daily
AMENITIES: Full bar, bring your own food, semi-private booths, cozy atmosphere
BOTTOM LINE: The Snug offers a relaxed, ever so slightly Irish atmosphere that makes it an East
End fixture worth visiting.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes