Roustabout opened recently on Washington Avenue touting an open-all-day bar and Italian-American food. But it’s clear that Roustabout is still trying to figure out its demographic in the up-and-coming East Bayside neighborhood. That said, Roustabout has amazing bartenders, a creative drinks menu and great happy hour deals with tasty snacks.
The bar is beautiful. It’s made of light wood, has about 16 stools and the bare light bulbs hang from nautical, knotted ropes. It’s sleek and industrial. The bartenders shake cocktails – some with orange oils, other with eggs in them – with passion. But behind the bar stools is the Italian restaurant, which feels upscale.
I met a friend there on a Friday evening. She’s a young professional who lives on Munjoy Hill and wanted to show me her new LL Bean winter coat.
“You didn’t tell me this was a fancy place,” she said, suddenly self-conscious about her outfit. “Is this a cocktail bar or …?”
That’s the main question I had too, “am I supposed to be here?”
When I asked a bartender who tends to come in, she shrugged her shoulders. “Everyone?” she said. Baby Boomers seem to sit in the restaurant and a mix of people take to the bar, including 20-somethings who want a well-crafted cocktail. And they’ll find it.
Eight cocktails were printed on a teal sheet of paper. It included a ginger highball, an eggnog with rye, brandy and a whole egg ($10), and the bartender-recommended East Bayside Cocktail ($11), which has vodka, fresh herbs and bubbles. That’s where my night started. The drink was fragrant with the lemongrass bartender Griffin Cooper added to it. The drink was a little too easy to drink. The sparkling white wine and muddled mint would have been more suitable on a deck in the summer, but it was undeniably delightful and refreshing.
The menu included “bartender’s choice,” which was the El Diablo: Tequila, lime juice, ginger syrup and creme de cassis (an elderberry liqueur). Cooper rubbed the rim of the tall glass with a lime zest and placed a toothpaste-box shape ice cube in the drink. It’s a new thing he’s playing with: custom ice cubes.
“I have to play with things or I get bored,” he said.
The drink was the rich pink color of rhubarb. The ginger bit at the back of my throat a bit, but overall the drink was sweet and highlighted the tequila well.
My friend ordered the Sazerac off the happy hour menu for $5 – a steep discount from the regular $9 to $11 drink menu. The menu claimed it was rye, brandy and absinthe, but the absinthe was more of a scent than a drink. The bartender took a small spray bottle and spritzed in two sprays of absinthe. Weird. She then vigorously stirred the drink in a tall glass with ice to mellow it out before draining and serving.
The happy hour menu is a great deal. Wines are $5, the cocktail is $5 and the beer – on this night Smuttynose’s Old Brown Dog – was $3. Entrees on the restaurant menu range from $16 to $21, but the happy hour menu has some great snacks for less than $6.
Roustabout’s potato chips are the best I’ve ever had. Ever. They’re thin-sliced with a special dusting of garlic powder and salt. So crisp. They’re paired with a French-onion-type dip for $4, but you can’t get them after happy hour, which runs 4 to 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. to midnight. Order them. But if you’re a bit hungrier, you could go for the $4 house ricotta. The ricotta dish is small, but filling. It comes with bread, but the star of the show is the combination of the lemony (yes, lemony) cheese with the sweet, roasted red peppers that are draped over it.
I went on two evenings after work. The first time was after happy hour and my drinks tab quickly toppled over $21, which feels high to a cheapskate like me, but when I went for a more casual beer-and-food happy hour the tab was about $17 for two appetizers and a beer.
59 Washington Ave., Portland | 207-536-4008 | roustabout.me
HOURS: 11:30 a.m. to midnight Tuesdays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for brunch Saturdays and Sundays; 5 p.m. to midnight Saturdays and Sundays
AMENITIES: Roustabout recently launched brunch. A sausage and onions sandwich will run you $12, scrambled eggs are $11.
PARKING: On-street. Also: free parking after 5 p.m. on weekdays and all day on Saturday and Sunday in the lot at 75 Washington Ave.
BOTTOM LINE: The cocktails are great and you can get them at a good price at happy hour. The snacks are equally amazing. Atmosphere is odd because, as a new restaurant, the demographic isn’t quite clear yet. Feels like an Old Port cocktail bar/Italian restaurant, but in up-and-coming East Bayside.