Not everyone knows Ri Ra Irish Pub on Commercial Street in Portland is part of a larger conglomerate that includes nine other locations. In fact, general manager of Portland’s pub, Frank Gioffre, discovered Ri Ra was a chain when he applied for the job this past year – even though Ri Ra Portland has been around since Gioffre turned 21, nearly 13 years ago.
In general, New Englanders are likely more familiar with Ri Ra than, say, folks in Georgia, Indiana, New Jersey or even Las Vegas, where there’s just one Ri Ra for hundreds of miles. New England boasts three locations (Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont).
The downstairs ceiling at the Portland location is outfitted with an old Irish church door, and behind the bar are vintage Irish apothecary drawers with their original labels. The overall aesthetic is unique and authentic.
Another original feature at each Ri Ra is the food menu. Every location hosts a different chef, and while there’s an expectation for classic pub food and Irish fare, chefs are given free rein to create the menu.
The drink menus are, for the most part, the same at every location but the bar is encouraged to include local beers and spirits, especially in a location like Portland. Gioffre says it’s important to him to promote local distilleries, such as New England Distilling’s Gunpowder Rye, as well as local breweries.
There are more than 20 Scotch varieties available at Ri Ra, as well as more than 30 whiskeys, 20 drafts and nearly 40 beer choices.
Gioffre says, hands down, Guinness is Ri Ra’s number one seller. In fact, the Ri Ra Portland location is one of Guinness’s top accounts in all of New England. And there’s a reason for this.
Ri Ra Portland has actually won several Guinness awards, such as the “Guinness Greatest Pint,” which actually comes down to a science. Every month, Ri Ra trains and test servers on how to correctly pour a Guinness. The secret, which isn’t so secret, has to do with the angle of the glass, and pouring a certain amount and then waiting exactly 119.2 seconds for the head, or foam, to settle. And then the remainder of the glass can be filled.
Guinness is so popular at Ri Ra that they’ve recently created a Guinness cocktail menu that includes drinks like the Wilde Oscar ($6.50), made with Bulleit bourbon, simple syrup, angostura bitters and topped with Guinness. The price tag is low, but the drink is very strong.
On the regular cocktail menu, there are 16 cocktail choices, which are more of a safe bet, despite the higher prices. The 1867 Sour ($10) is satisfying mix of Woodford Reserve bourbon, fresh sour mix, egg whites, cherry and lemon.
Ri Ra, which in Gaelic means “chaos” or “disorder,” doesn’t necessarily live up to its name. On weekend nights, there’s a steady crowd of customers, but Gioffre says he rarely sees anything resembling mayhem. This is impressive considering that on an average Friday and Saturday night (between 4 p.m. and 1 a.m.), Gioffre says Ri Ra serves up to 1,000 patrons. Disorder or not, this bar is not the place to go if you dislike crowds.
However, for lunch, late-afternoons or early evenings on weekdays, Ri Ra is actually kind of quiet and a perfect place to enjoy Portland’s waterfront. The main bar and dining room downstairs is open, airy and gets great natural light. The service is quick, friendly and the food is way above your average pub fare.
Beginning after St. Patrick’s Day, Ri Ra will start a late-night “Chipper” — menu available from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. — including pub food and some items from their happy hour menu (4 to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday). Trivia is every Tuesday night, Wednesday through Saturday nights feature live music, and in the summer, Monday night is open-mic.
72 Commercial St., Portland | 207-761-4446 | rira.com/portland
HOURS: 11:30 to 1 a.m. Monday to Friday; 10 to 1 a.m. Saturday and Sunday
AMENITIES: Fireplace, heated lobby area, coat hooks under bar, several TVs, upstairs views of Casco Bay
PARKING: On street.
BOTTOM LINE: Ri Ra Irish Pub is a national conglomerate with 10 locations, but each one feels unique and individual. Each is designed with imported goods from old Irish churches, pharmacies and pubs. Whether it’s live music or trivia, there’s always something happening at Ri Ra, and they are open late for an especially jovial crowd.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE: Yes.