A newcomer to Portland, I had heard of Mathew’s Pub, which advertises itself as the oldest pub in Portland, but I had never gone in. It struck me as a bit suspect from outside, and there were always a few guys hanging around the entrance who I didn’t want to have to push my way through in order to get in. That said, I love a good dive bar, so I decided that the visit of a sorority sister from Buffalo would be the perfect opportunity to check it out.
A bar like Mathew’s calls for day drinking, so we showed up at noon on a Saturday. There were a few other patrons in place, and we were pleased to see that the bar was spacious and clean, with a nice ledge under the bar for purses and bags. We knew we were in for a good time when, as we were settling onto our comfortable cushioned (but backless) barstools, we overheard the bartender saying to a customer, “Do you think I’m dumb enough to get married?” In a fascinating juxtaposition, the other background noise included a football game on TV and Taylor Swift on the music system.
The bartender, Tina, did not disappoint. I think she may now be on my sorority sister’s holiday card list. There’s no drink menu, and the bottles of liquor are my favorite size – gigantic. They don’t have Wild Turkey, which made me sad for a moment (after all, it was Thanksgiving weekend), but I cheered up when I discovered that well drinks were $5 – hello, rum and coke. After that, we wanted something more interesting, so Tina raised it to the next level and suggested a $6 green tea shot featuring Jameson Irish whiskey, peach schnapps and sour mix.
By this point Tina had our undivided attention, so we asked her about the bar’s history. She showed us old photos dating back to 1915 and pointed out the bank vault that used to be there (Mathew’s opened in 1872, but Tina has been there “only” 19 years). Mathew’s doesn’t currently serve food, but patrons are allowed to order in from other places. In a first-ever bar review move, my sorority sister and I (who, I should note, were on foot the entire time and not anywhere near a motor vehicle) decided to do a split-shift review and go stuff ourselves with pizza before returning for another round. Safety first!
Next on our to-do list was another Tina recommendation, a $7.50 concoction featuring Chambord (raspberry liqueur), milk, vodka and Kahlua, resulting in a milkshake-like beverage that tasted like melted black raspberry ice cream. By this point we were telling Tina about our love lives and considering changing our mailing address to Mathew’s. We closed out our afternoon with a $1.50 Jello shot because why not? Burp.
Mathew’s is a cash-only establishment and doesn’t provide receipts, so you might not want to host a business meeting there (unless you’re in the Mob), but it’s a great place to hang out with old friends and make some new ones. The crowd tends to be a mix of locals and tourists, with a heavy contingent of grizzly retired guys who I have heard will happily cheer on anyone doing a Jello shot.
WHERE: 133 Free St., Portland
PHONE: (207) 253-1812
WEBSITE: On Facebook.
HOURS: 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. daily
AMENITIES: Upstairs deck in good weather, arcade games, TV, happy hour (4-6 p.m.)
BOTTOM LINE: Laid-back, no-nonsense neighborhood bar where you can be yourself, especially if your true self is a day drinker.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: No