On most Wednesday nights, my teammates from Maine Roller Derby, sweaty from hours of skating and hitting each other, walk into the Great Lost Bear on Forest Avenue in Portland – or, as we call it, “The Great Lost Beer.” That’s the deal here: beer.
The tri-fold brochure of a menu changes frequently, adding in seasonal beers and changing up the 80 taps. But don’t worry, they offer 5-ounce taster glasses so you can mix them up. Five pours will set you back $6.
The Great Lost Bear has the credentials of a beer cafe without any of the pretension. That starts with the staff. Randy, a big guy who’s worked there forever, will hassle the regulars jovially. (He’s my favorite because when he can tell we’re all dehydrated, he’ll bring us a “tower of water” which is usually a tower used for beer.) Even if you go to the bar alone, you’re not going feel like the creepy person at the bar.
You’ll find the local brewers on the menu, along with regional brews and a variety of international beers. Mead and ciders always have a place on the menu, and those change every week or so, too. I’ve seen ginger, cranberry and other ciders for the gluten-free crowd. Last week Woodchuck Cheeky Cherry was on special – a fizzy cider blend that tastes (dangerously) like juice.
The best deals are Monday and Tuesday’s “talls for smalls,” where you’ll pay for a pint but get 23 ounces.
Atmosphere varies widely, and it’s based on where you sit. Half of the restaurant feels like family dining – well lit, regular tables and service. Then there’s the bar area. The bar is a mix of regulars and beer connoisseurs. Both dark booths and well-lit tables frame the bar – I’ve been on dates in the booths and held meetings at the tables … on different nights, of course. Then there’s the back room, past the bar. It’s dark, cozy and has a massive table with benches on three sides and a big screen TV for sports fans. This is where the derby team loves to get rowdy on some weeknights, but it’s perfect for any informal group setting. In short: Parents, beer nerds, young people and groups all will find a place at The Bear; you just need to pick the right spot.
The food menu is – disturbingly – longer than the beer list. There are more than 110 items, and there is a separate gluten-free menu. It’s an overwhelming six pages of tiny type. They have spanikopita, fish sandwiches and salads, but The Bear really shines at its burgers, wings and nachos game. Also exceptional are the two foods served in a jar: Mess In a Jar is made of layers of pulled pork, mac and cheese, coleslaw and fried pickles. Its sister, Cake In a Jar, is cake, hot fudge, ice cream, whipped cream and a cherry in a mason jar. My one issue with the Bear is its lack of pricing diversity. The appetizers, including the delicious marinated mushrooms, all start around $8, and most of the entrees start near $10.99. It’s not practical to get a snack and a beer at the Bear; it’s best to go for a burger and try a new or new-to-you brew.
540 Forest Ave., Portland | 207-772-0300 | greatlostbear.com
HOURS: 11:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday; noon to 11 p.m. Sunday
AMENITIES: No special amenities
PARKING: On-street, small lot
BOTTOM LINE: The Great Lost Bear has an extensive beer list and maintains a hometown-bar vibe. Good for a burger and a beer, especially on Mondays and Tuesdays when it’s “talls for smalls” pricing.