This time of year, Monument Square is a magical place to be, with its twinkling lights and nearly naked trees. As twilight falls, the windows begin to glow with warmth as people pour from their offices, first onto the street and then into the bars and restaurants that line the urban square.
This is where you’ll find Shays Grill Pub, an old-fashioned and cozy space nestled between David’s Restaurant and Others! coffee shop. The walls are painted blue, gray and black, which may sound drab but somehow it isn’t. The daily specials are penned by hand in neon colors, and sports-themed art hangs on the walls, displaying the owner’s allegiance to the Red Sox and Gillette Stadium.
A hastily drawn sketch of the Shays logo, a tipsy martini glass, tilts cheerfully above a flat-screen TV that, on a recent night, showed sweaty basketball players from UConn and Oregon as they duked it out on the court. I was waiting for a friend, so I found myself a two-person table by the window, where I could people-watch and sip my $6 glass of merlot while I waited.
A purple-haired waitress checked up on me, and I told her I was grand. Brassy jazz music played in the background as the bar filled up with loud-voiced regulars. I felt right at home in Shays, which was odd because I’d never been there before.
Why not? I suppose it’s because Shays is easy to pass by. There are no gimmicks here, no precious cocktails or saloon-inspired winks to Prohibition. It actually reminds me an awful lot of Rosie’s, an Old Port bar I happen to adore. It has the same vibe — noisy, chill, friendly and fun, all at once. The food is reasonably priced, creatively tweaked American pub fare.
And then I remember: I have been here. I was here once in summer, but then I was drinking rosé outside and laughing loudly as a former coworker made lewd jokes. The two experiences of the one place were so exceptionally different that somehow I turned Shays into two locations in my mind: A warm-weather haunt for long days and loud conversations, and a winter retreat for wine (for me), Guinness (for her) and girly gossip (plus a hearty serving of pesto-coated Mediterranean nachos for us to share). Turns out, a place can be both.
WHERE: 18 Monument Way, Portland
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday to Friday, noon to 10 p.m. Saturday, closed Sunday.
AMENITIES: Outdoor seating in the summer, booths and tables indoors, bar seating, happy hour specials, central location.
BOTTOM LINE: A no-fuss, few-frills, all-American grill pub located right in Monument Square. An excellent place for people watching during the summer or cozy, chill happy hour drinks in winter. Good for casual dates or grabbing dinner before a show.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE: Yes