Friday was a night that I just couldn’t let myself stay home. The sea breeze was a perfect compliment to the nice weather, and the city of Portland seemed like it was buzzing with anticipation for the weekend’s events. From an online tip, I had heard that there was a new bar opening up – The King’s Head – and felt motivated to take a walk to go and check it out.
After obtaining the address (254 Commercial Street) and hearing that it was located in the “Pierce Atwood Building” which I somehow neglected to really notice until now, I managed to spy a small, brightly illuminated wooden sign on the outside of the brick wall and headed in.
I was greeted by a large, freshly varnished bar and a line of tap handles, with about a dozen or so patrons talking with the bartender about beer. Turns out the bartender was co(?) owner Rick Binet, who is also responsible for the Blackback Pub in Waterbury, VT, known for pouring Vermont’s best beers including Heady Topper, Hill Farmstead and Lawson’s Finest Liquids – none of which are distributed or available in Maine.
The space – which was once a spice mill and canning plant – has been transformed into a classy combination of brick and wood, and was well lit and comfortable. When I went back the next day, they had some tunes playing at a good volume that allowed for conversations to continue, which is a big plus in my book. I was also assured that there would not be TVs going in (another plus) but they might occasionally pull out a screen above the bar if there was an event where it made sense to do so.
The tap list on the second day was about 20 items long, but struck me as being both ambitious and rather special. A few highlights on the list included the reason I ventured back on Saturday – Cantillion Iris – a spontaneously fermented glass of perfection that is rarely poured from a tap due to its expense and rarity. But mixed in were several of Allagash’s special releases (Victor, Confluence, Ginger Wit), some international selections including Chimay (Belgium), Dieu Du Ciel (Canada) and Thornbridge (England). I also liked that these beers were also side by side with IPAs from Founders, Baxter, and Rising Tide.
Though I haven’t yet sampled the food, they’ve hired Bob Betzold as chef and will be serving many locally sourced food dishes (the full menu is slated to be published once they get a working website). The bar itself has a maximum of 28 taps – a reasonable size – and 76 seats in a bar area and a side dining room. What I enjoyed most, I think, was the circular bar space so that you have a little community of people that can talk across the way and to the bartenders directly. It’s also a nice departure from the town’s other “intimate” spaces with 5-10 seats that are just too cramped for me on a busy night.
Its location is very close to In’finiti Fermentation & Distillation, Portland Pie Company and Three Dollar Deweys, so it will be interesting to see how a bar in that location can stand out in a town with lots of craft beer enthusiasm. I, for one, am curious to see what’s on tap once they get “officially opened” in the next few weeks.