Situated on the ground level of the renovated Eastland Hotel, now known as the Westin Portland Harborview Hotel, Congress Squared – C2, for short – is carving its path and holding its own as one of Portland’s go-to bars.
With Portland’s real estate boom and the rapid growth of tourism, any hotel in the area is expected to be a worthy contender against the incredible and eclectic bar scene we have in our small but strong city. Despite the quiet Monday night, C2 held its own.
My first impression when I walked in was that it seemed to be catering directly to vacationers staying at the hotel. This isn’t the trendy, loud bar you go to in order to see and be seen. My husband and I were easily a decade younger than most others drinking and eating at the bar. Even still, the sleek, contemporary design was nice. The streamlined, white bar was comfortable and bright (perhaps a little too bright for an evening drink), and the open floor plan blended into the dining area. In a city where most interior designs seem to be rustic chic or vintage eclectic, the modern design was appealing, even if it was a little disjointed in places — for example, the TV above the bar playing the Blue Jays game or the dining chairs covered with a fabric that can only be described as hotel décor. That aside, it was quiet, well lit and the bar seats were buttery soft and ultra-comfortable.
The cocktail list still featured its summery cocktails (I’m in no rush to see it end, either), all priced at $10. The list was balanced with a little something for everyone, and each drink had its own seasonal spin. My husband ordered the Maine Killah’ (Maine rum, pineapple, orange, coconut), and I ordered the Peachy Bubbles (prosecco, peach, strawberry vodka, watermelon and raspberry).
The first thing we noticed about the drinks was their size. They were large pours — very large. I’m not complaining, but I was hesitantly optimistic, as large cocktails are sometimes stuffed with fillers, juices and sugars, yet only have an average drink’s amount of alcohol. I’m thrilled to report that it was not the case here at C2. Both the size and alcohol content were generous. And the drinks made me feel like I belonged poolside, with a magazine and large sunglasses.
The Maine Killah’ was fruity and sweet with that boozy flavor of rum cutting through the fruit. The fresh nutmeg grated on top added a savory spice to each sip. It was essentially the C2 take on a piña colada with an added splash of orange.
The Peachy Bubbles was crisp and refreshing. Fresh raspberries and strawberries floated inside, and while all those fruity flavors could have turned the drink into something that tasted like Hi-C for adults, the freshness of the fruit gave the drink hints of flavor that weren’t overpowered by the sugar. If I had one complaint, it would be the use of strawberry vodka. I find with those flavored bottled liquors, notes of the artificial cut through. With every other aspect being so fresh, it stood out.
Our bartender was friendly without being intrusive and told us about the happy hour every day from 4-7 p.m., featuring specially priced drinks and appetizers. But more exciting than that, he told us about the half-priced bottles of wine on Wednesday nights. I had to clean out my ears to make sure I heard him correctly on that. And if a half-priced bottle of wine isn’t enough to entice you to give C2 a try, its weekend brunch has $10 bottomless Bloody Marys.
To sum up, C2 is a lovely place to have a quiet, sizable, well-made drink at a reasonable price. If you pop in for weekend brunch and find a blonde at the bar wearing Manolo Blahniks with a Bloody Mary in hand, be sure to give me a wave hello.
WHERE: 157 High St., Portland
HOURS: 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., with bar service until 11 p.m. daily
AMENITIES: Dinner, lunch, weekend brunch, happy hour, private dining, events
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes
BOTTOM LINE: Quiet, upscale cocktails and a contemporary setting makes for a refined, upscale evening. Congress Squared isn’t breaking any molds but is putting its own spin on some classics in a memorable and well-crafted way.