On the corner of Exchange and Federal streets, beneath the shadow of City Hall and the spanking new Press Hotel, the third of Harding Lee Smith’s four Portland restaurants, The Corner Room Italian Kitchen & Bar, is staying busy in its sixth year.
Now that warmer weather is – for the most part – here to stay, four patio tables reside along the Federal Street side, adding to The Corner Room’s nearly 200-person capacity. But the place doesn’t seem big. In fact, with its mostly wood furnishings and big windows that capture western light in the evening, The Corner Room is quite cozy and warm.
Smith’s open kitchen concept, a constant at all of his restaurants, creates a fun, cooking-as-theater atmosphere, and here, you can watch the cooks at the pasta-making station as you sip a cocktail, or whet your appetite as you make eyes with a sizzling pizza being sliced to serve.
The main dining room is subtly divided from the bar and lounge area, which features 12 seats, a few two-top tables, and plenty of standing room with counter space in view of the open kitchen.
From 4 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, patrons crowd the bar for The Corner Room’s generous happy hour. Of the six beers on tap, five are available for $3 to $4 and glasses of Prosecco are $3. There is also a substantial spread of food along one of the counters, which changes nightly, but includes things like pizza, pasta, salad and French fries. While it’s not a rule (but perhaps should be), bar-goers can enjoy this spread with purchase of a drink.
The wine list is extensive, featuring over 100 bottles (all Italian), and many by the glass. The Corner Room hopes to host more wine dinners in the next year (they’ve done two so far) – they often try to get the Italian winemaker to stop by for a visit. Smith studied in Italy for 10 years and takes his wine seriously.
Cocktails shouldn’t be missed at The Corner Room. The Pickles and Beer ($10) is made with house made pickled asparagus, New Amsterdam Gin and Bissell Brother’s The Substance. With a drink like this, it’s clear they are keeping up with local competition by featuring popular local brews and being creative with their drink list. The Funny Bunny is another interesting one – carrot juice, house made ginger simple syrup and tequila ($10) – and makes drinking alcohol almost seem healthy.
The Corner Room is not just a reliable mainstay – this place is keeping up with the times, which is imperative if you want to survive in today’s food scene. Open every day until 11 p.m. (9 p.m. on Sundays).
110 Exchange St., Portland | 207-879-4747 | thecornerroomkitchenandbar.com
HOURS: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. Monday to Friday, 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday, 4 to 9 p.m. Sunday, brunch 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, bar menu available all day, happy hour 4 to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday
AMENITIES: Four outdoor tables, plenty of additional seating and standing room in bar area, good acoustics, natural light, cushioned bar stools and hooks under bar, TV
PARKING: Street parking
BOTTOM LINE: The Corner Room is one of restaurateur and executive chef Harding Lee Smith’s four restaurants in Portland. In its sixth year, The Corner Room is going strong, with a vibrant crowd every night, especially during happy hour from 4 to 6 p.m. The cocktail list is unique and a collaborative effort with the bartenders and chefs. This is the perfect place to visit for an after-work drink with a friend or two, and certainly a reliably good place to grab a bite at the bar.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE: No; outdoor patio, yes