Located in East Bayside where One Eye Open Brewing used to be, the Portland Zoo has that instantly-welcoming feel of a neighborhood bar, yet also manages to be a trendy destination for beer lovers thanks to its exceptional list of cans and bottles.
It’s a cozy venue, with only eight seats at the main bar (which, I am pleased to report, has both purse hooks and USB chargers underneath it) and another nine at the wall-side bar. There’s also outdoor seating when weather permits.
Earning it major points in my book was the friendly and inclusive atmosphere, with everyone at the bar talking to each other, regardless of whether new arrivals were locals or tourists.
My friends and I came for the beer (more on that later), but stayed longer than planned thanks to the music, a fun mix of hip-hop and funk, heavily weighted toward bands like The Beastie Boys and Wu-Tang Clan. In fact, the song “Brooklyn Zoo” by one of the Wu-Tang Clan founding members is what inspired the name of the Portland Zoo, which opened in mid-October.
Bartender and co-owner Mark Miller was on duty during our visit and quickly impressed us with his knowledge of all things beer. He hit the right balance of explaining the differences between his various offerings without sounding pretentious, and it was clear that he absolutely loved being there, as did we. Originally from Kansas, he moved to Portland two years ago, choosing East Bayside for his business because it was his favorite neighborhood. Miller’s co-owner is Chris Blake, and their team also includes manager Josh Maner.
The beer list is handwritten, a good sign that the offerings change frequently. It featured a good mix of accessible beers and more special/unusual ones, such as the $8 Lawson’s Sip of Sunshine, one of only a handful of beers to receive a 100 rating from Beer Advocate (and, no, Beer Advocate was not my nickname in college). The list is heavy on sours and IPAs and lighter on pilsners and dark beers; several of the cans are at nice and low price points. There’s even a section for non-beer lovers, so don’t hesitate to bring those friends along, too.
We started with the $7 IPA Night Shift Santilli, the $5 Dogfish Sea Quench sour and the $5 Woodchuck Cidery Pearsecco. (That last one was mine – I’m a sucker for a good play on words.) My friends then tried the $8 IPA Bissell Lux Rye Pale and the $5 Prairie Pink Guava Funk sour. We ended the evening with the $7 Dirigo Black Lager The Shape (the favorite drink of the evening), and a $5 Truly spiked seltzer. The Portland Zoo usually sells Italian sandwiches from a nearby grocery store, but they were out the night we were there. It also sells unusual glassware and T-shirts, at least some of which feature the original logo for the bar, a “P” designed to look like a vinyl record album. Eventually, Miller also hopes to open Illmadic Brewery on site, a nod to the song “Illmatic” by Nas (and a play on his nomadic life).
Watch out, zookeepers, I’ll be back, and I’m bringing my friends.
WHERE: 41 Fox St., Portland
PHONE: (207) 252-9666
WEBSITE: On Facebook
HOURS: (Still evolving) 4 p.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday, 2 p.m. to midnight Friday, noon to midnight Saturday and Sunday
AMENITIES: TVs, outdoor seating, and (most importantly) personable and knowledgeable people behind the bar.
BOTTOM LINE: Great place to go if you want a low-key, friendly place to talk about (and, of course, drink) beer, but also welcoming to non-beer drinkers. Hipster beard not required.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: No