Through it is only the end of November, we’ve already had a significant snowstorm pass through Maine, bringing us straight into winter whether we were ready or not. When the snow falls and the cold wind begins to whip down the streets of the Old Port, my go-to spots for beer change a little. The breweries and lively restaurants take in their outdoor seating, and the large, open-air spaces are too looming and chilly when there’s a Nor’easter blowing through. So instead, I head to my favorite cozy spots to curl up with a locally-brewed pint.
High on my list of winter haunts is The Bramhall Pub. Definitely a cocktail-focused establishment, it nonetheless makes it on my list because of its atmosphere and the care that is taken with everything that they do. It is nestled in a brick-lined basement, and the owners call it a “modern speakeasy.” While there is no password needed to get in, it can certainly feel like you’ve stumbled upon something secret once you walk into the bar and see the brick arches and candlelit nooks. The beer list is mostly local and also contains a set spot for rotating cider. Rather than chase the newest or hippest beer, it has a tendency to put on beer that’s been around the block a few times, like Allagash White, Oxbow Farmhouse Pale Ale and Bissell Brothers The Substance. This takes away the anxiety of potentially ordering something new that may or may not be to your taste and allows you to pick something you know and already love. The bottle and cans list includes some big beer (Bud, Bud Light, Hamm’s, PBR, etc.) but also some surprising out-of-state gems like Old Rasputin, a Russian Imperial Stout from North Coast Brewing in California.
A relatively new addition to my list is Blyth & Burrows, a cocktail bar on Exchange Street. Its large street-facing windows let you watch the bustling shoppers go by as you sit sipping a drink. Blyth & Burrows (which is also the front portion of a “speakeasy” bar in the rear section) has just the right level of lighting to be cozy and intimate and is just small enough to always feel full but not crowded. The focus here is definitely on the cocktails, which are original without being pretentious. The beer list is small but always features local choices. Usually, beers from Mast Landing and Lone Pine make their way onto the tap list, and they rotate through with other well-selected local and regional beers.
If your idea of a winter’s night is more gregarious than intimate, then head to The Thirsty Pig. What makes it an ideal winter pick for me is the combination of the friendliness and atmosphere of the bar and the hearty, soul-warming food available to go with your beer. After the hard work of clearing snow or helping strangers push their car out of a snowy parking spot (or where it landed after a slippery mishap), The Thirsty Pig is a great place to refuel. Though this is a beer bar, there are always ciders available, and the combination of the tap and bottle/can list provides plenty of choices. It’s also the kind of place where you can bring a large group of friends or just curl up alone while you watch some nostalgic movies play on the unobtrusive corner TVs.
Perhaps you’re in the mood for something different. My first trip to The North Point wasn’t deliberate. A friend and I were walking around the Old Port, hoping to find someplace to talk, but somewhere other than our regular haunts. We heard music drifting down the street, and as we turned the corner of Silver Street, we saw the inviting yellow façade that drew us in. The North Point has a small draft beer list that caters to a spectrum of drinkers and always includes local beer. While not beer-focused (there’s wine and cocktails, as well), it is a reliable place to sit among the eclectic décor and have a cozy winter night chat. The diversity of drinks on tap makes it a good place to bring friends who may not have beer in mind. It also has the best olives (served as an appetizer) I’ve ever tasted.
Many of these bars ended up on my list because I happened to go in on a winter’s night and it felt so right – to be surrounded by the bustle of people and kitchens while the world stood still outside. Though the definition of “cozy” may be different for some, I hope this might encourage you to not retreat at the first signs of winter but, perhaps, find your own favorite place to celebrate the transition.