Blue is the kind of music venue where you’ll feel right at home after just one visit. It’s comfortable and welcoming and, as you sit and hear music, you’ll catch glimpses of people walking by on Congress Street, while also having the feeling that you could be in Manhattan.
Blue first opened in 2005 and has been owned by Terez Fraser since 2010. It was a small, hole-in-the-wall kind of joint that felt full, even with only a dozen or so people in it. Last year, the place had an opportunity to expand and did just that, joining 650A and 652 Congress St., which more than doubled the capacity without sacrificing the intimate feel.
Admission to many of the shows is by donation, and there’s live music at Blue almost every night of the week, often starting as early as 6 p.m. with multiple acts in the lineup. Blue’s musical tastes are eclectic, though it for sure loves its jazz. But you’ll also hear Celtic, blues, bluegrass, folk, old-time and middle-eastern on the regular from acts from Maine and all over the country. Blue recently hosted a singer-songwriter from Alaska as one example.
Blue does bring in some bigger acts that require tickets. A recent ticketed show was the Donny McCaslin Quartet, which had an early and late show, each drawing about 70 people.
There’s not really a bad seat in Blue and you can be right up front, steps from the musicians, or tucked away in the shadowy back, where there’s a standing room area. A seat at the bar is also a good spot.
Sound wise, Blue does just fine and the room’s acoustics seem to lend themselves well to all the genres that come its way. The lighting, however, is one area that could use an upgrade. At the moment, track lighting doubles as stage lights, which isn’t terrible, but a bit of a distraction. One can only assume that Blue would rather be able to keep the lights on than invest in expensive, professional grade lighting, but here’s hoping it gets there at some point. The rest of the lighting in the room, however, is subtle and works well.
Blue does have right to brag about its cocktails and food offerings. The specialty drinks run between $10 and $12 and include classics like a Manhattan, Whiskey Sour and Cosmopolitan, as well as gems like the French 75 (Cold River gin, lemon, splash of simple syrup, bubbly and lemon twist) and the King Cole (Bulleit bourbon, Fernet, splash of simple syrup and orange twist). The Hummingbird (St. Germaine, sparking wine and soda) is particularly tasty.
It’s also entirely fine to show up for your night of music with an empty stomach, because this is another area where Blue shines. Sharing the Mediterranean Plate (hummus, olives and stuffed grape leaves served with hot baguette for $12) and the Nachos (topped with salsa, black beans, cheese and sour cream for $10) was a satisfying nosh fest for two people. Blue also has a cheese plate, arugula salad, soup of the day, roasted butternut squash ravioli, mac and cheese, avocado deviled eggs, pork sliders, a cheeseburger and baked meatballs among its offerings, and every dish that was brought out to surrounding patrons looked delicious. Music lovers with sweet teeth might be tempted by a homemade Kit Kat or the triple chocolate brownie a la mode.
Head to the Blue website, and you’ll see how robust its calendar is, including comedy on Mondays and Irish music on Wednesdays. The next time you find yourself as one of the people walking by Blue on your way to somewhere else, maybe you’ll pop in for a few songs and a cocktail, and you’ll wonder why it took you so long to do just that.
LOCATION: 650A Congress St., Portland
TICKETS & INFO: portcityblue.com; 207-774-4111
CAPACITY: About 200 including standing room
SEATING STYLE: Tables and chairs, bar seating and standing room
REFRESHMENTS: Full bar, appetizers, dinner and desserts
PARKING: On street
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.
OTHER: Shows are all-ages unless indicated