The Press Hotel’s renovations have been extensive, thematic and covered to death by the local media. Which is fitting, because this hotel restaurant is housed in the same building that was once the headquarters for this very newspaper. Hence the name, the typewriter art and typeface décor and The Inkwell, an in-lobby bar.
With all these cutesy little nods to the building’s previous tenant, I half-expected the drinks to be dyed with squid ink or served with a side of papery pulp. Thankfully, they’re not. They’re just plain delicious.
But first, it’s worth making a distinction. There are two bars in this high-end hotel, and while the one inside Union, the hotel’s restaurant, is worth keeping tabs on, The Inkwell is OK to space out on. It’s fine — casual and welcoming, with coffee and pastries for snacking — but it’s nothing to write home about. (Apparently the writing references are contagious.)
While Inkwell feels like an afterthought, Union is well done, from the classy, understated design to the simple, smart menus. Although it’s a restaurant, you can still sidle up to the bar and enjoy a drink or two without making a reservation.
On my most recent visit, I took my husband for a few choice cocktails and a plate of charcuterie and cheese. Our bartender, a tattooed dead ringer for English actress Phoebe Waller-Bridge, helpfully suggested updating the charcuterie plate with some blue cheese. “It goes amazing with the Katahdin,” she explained, gesturing towards my husband’s drink, a luscious concoction of bourbon and fig.
Yes, dear reader, she was right. She was so totally right, and I told her so immediately. She gave a little half-smile. “I thought you’d like it,” she said.
That’s the kind of care evident at Union. Everyone, from the front of the house staff to the line cooks, clearly knows their stuff. Plus, I know first-hand how kind they can be when called upon. See, last March, my guy and I eloped at Portland City Hall. Our first stop for champagne was Union. It was a snowy day and we were giddy and silly, and the server saw my white dress and quickly sent out plates of miniature pastries to serve as our impromptu wedding cake. My bouquet was made from Trader Joe’s flowers and my dress came from Amazon.com, but despite the hasty nature of our nuptials, Union still made it feel special.
Perhaps I’m biased. Perhaps I’m swayed by my love for the written word (and terrifically bad references to it) and my equally huge love for my husband. But that’s OK. When it comes to such significant spaces as bars, it’s hard to be entirely objective.
WHERE: 390 Congress St, Portland
HOURS: 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday and Sunday
AMENITIES: Dinner seating, bar seating, classy ambiance, locavore food, rotating list of cocktails, rooms available for rent should you drink way too much and need to lie down, thematic art produced by local artists, excellent wine list.
BOTTOM LINE: Hotel bars have their own magic, and Union is no exception. While the lobby bar, Inkwell, is decent (better for coffee than cocktails) the restaurant bar seating is much nicer. Reservations are suggested if you want a full dinner, but walk-ins are welcome at the up-market bar.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE: Yes