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Claire Jeffers

Claire Jeffers is a freelance writer living in Portland, Maine. Follow her on Twitter: @claireeats

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Posted: October 28, 2014

Self-serve beer wall & red Solo cups (let’s not forget the tire swings) at Bonfire Country Bar in Portland

Written by: Claire Jeffers
 Photo by Claire Jeffers

Photo by Claire Jeffers

The original red Solo cup was introduced in the ’70s and has since gone through several iterations. Today’s model includes extra grips and a square bottom, and maybe you’ve heard that the lines on Solo cups actually serve a purpose; they measure 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine and 1 ounce of liquor.

This plastic chalice is unmistakably the official cup at all college parties, BBQs and beer pong competitions around the country.

And then, of course, there’s Toby Keith’s now-famous 2011 hit song, “Red Solo Cup,” in which he croons, “red Solo cup is cheap and disposable, in 14 years they are decomposable…let’s have a party, let’s have a party…”

Keith’s ode to a red Solo cup might as well be the anthem for Bonfire, the new country bar on Wharf Street in Portland’s Old Port, an establishment that serves most of their beverages in – you guessed it – red Solo cups. There’s even a display case in front that sells porcelain (reusable, what a thought!) Solo beer cups, wine glasses, martini glasses and even shot glasses.

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The southern saloon-themed bar is punctuated by the distinctive cherry red of the Solo, but this is just one of many novel details at Bonfire. In fact, one of its most talked about attractions is the self-serve beer wall – making it the first self-serve bar in Maine. And while one of the four bartenders on duty (yes, four) will happily pour you a beer from one of their 16 taps or make you a drink from the list of 11 “Redneck Cocktails” (all $12.95 and you can keep the Mason jar it comes in), the self-serve aspect does help during busy nights (of which there are many) when you can’t get a bartender’s attention.

(Note: there’s no tipping required with the self-serve wall, but find a dry spot on the bar and leave a tip anyway.)

One of Bonfire’s “All Day, All Night” daily specials is “The 16 Gauge,” which is just as scary as it sounds: 16 ounces of PBR in a red Solo Cup and a shot of “Bonfire” whiskey for $4.50.  Photo by Claire Jeffers

One of Bonfire’s “All Day, All Night” daily specials is “The 16 Gauge,” which is just as scary as it sounds: 16 ounces of PBR in a red Solo Cup and a shot of “Bonfire” whiskey for $4.50. Photo by Claire Jeffers

Aside from the Solo cups and the self-serve beer wall, another exclusive detail at Bonfire is the choice of seats. Ever sipped a beer from a Solo cup on a cowboy saddle seat? (Don’t answer that.) Well, here, in the dim glow of Mason jar candles and the blue glare of 12 flat screen TVs, you finally can.

Each high-top table at Bonfire hosts a different theme, such as “Jack Daniels” and “John Deere.”

Some tables are outfitted with saddles while others offer tire swings, which appear to be securely bolted to the ceiling. According to general manager, Bobby Byer, there have not been any drunken tire swing accidents…yet. The novel details continue and perhaps a list would be more efficient:

All servers are required to wear plaid shirts – many of the women choose to expose their midriffs and belly button rings. There are six security men (also dressed in plaid, no midriffs exposed) on weekend nights who escort inebriated guests out (on a recent night, a guest was escorted out at 6:41 p.m.); the bathroom doors are slanted barn doors that will knock into you if you don’t move quickly; there’s a broken ATM machine; the age range of guests is surprising (early 20s to late 50s); the menu is so busy it’s almost incomprehensible (stick with beer and whatever you do don’t order the “16 Gauge” unless you want to be escorted out); and the $1 to $3 happy hour food specials are not worth the cheap deal.

There’s a lot going on at Bonfire – it’s kind of hard to keep track. For now, the place is packed elbow to elbow most nights and you’ll know you’re in the right place when you hear loud country music echoing off the historic walls of Wharf Street.

Country singer Toby Keith would undoubtedly love Bonfire, so let’s end with a quote: “I love you red Solo cup … proceed to party, proceed to party.”


WHERE: 37 Wharf St., Portland
PHONE: 877-653-7678
HOURS: 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Monday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday and Sunday
SPECIALS: Many cheap deals. See online menu.
AMENITIES: self-serve beer wall, ATM (wasn’t working at the time), merchandise, TVs, cowboy saddle seats, tire swing seats.
BOTTOM LINE: Bonfire Country Bar is the first of its kind in many respects, but more specifically, the first self-serve bar in Maine. The music is loud, the TVs are plentiful, and the crowd is wild and ready to party.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Not really on busy nights.

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