Monday, January 9, 2012

How To: make a night of it in Bath, ME

I love Portland as much as the bicylce-riding, PBR-swigging hipster we've all come to know and hate on our walks down Congress Street. But, sometimes you just need to get the hell out of dodge. However, if you're broke as sin, getting "the hell out" can become tricky. Boston and NYC are almost instantly ruled out on account of being too expensive for your average broke Portlander. So should you just bite the bullet and head to The Downtown Lounge* for the fifth night in a row? Well, that's one option. But here's another solution I've found helpful when the itch to leave "the big city" starts to flare but bank accounts aren't quite measuring up to the task of spending: go to other towns in Maine.

*nothing against DTL--I love that place!

Wait...there are are other towns in Maine aside from Portland? And, they are, like, civilized? Yes, believe me, I was as shocked as you. Well, no, I wasn't, but I get where you're coming from. Portlanders, myself included, have a way of getting trapped in the bubble of our pretty little seaside city--however, it wouldn't be the worst thing on earth to check out some more of the state. And not just to hunt/fish/camp/pretend your outdoorsy. Believe it or not, culture doesn't cease to exist north of Portland. And Maine is significantly cheaper than other weekend getaways. This post focuses on one awesome non-Portland destination in particular: Bath, ME.

My friend Cam lives up in Bath, and after so many weekends of the Old Port scene and Congress Street bars, a few of us decided to pack our weekend bags and make the 45 minute drive to the City of Ships. I had only ever known Bath in passing, on my way to what I'd previously considered more desirable locations (Boothbay, Camden); however, I will not overlook it again.

Cam's been up that way a few years and was an excellent host. Knowing my affinity for wings and mac n' cheese, he took us to Beale Street Barbeque for dinner. Beale Street had been a long love of mine since childhood. I used to go to the old South Portland location often. Sadly, they no longer reside on the other side of the Casco Bay Bridge, but thank heavens for me (and BBQ fans across Maine), there's still one in Bath.

Cam (and his girlfriend, my lovely rooommate Kelley) were raving about the buffalo wings. As Kel is a bit of a buffalo wings connoisseur, and I'm never one to turn down buffalo anything, I ordered them. Boy, am I glad I did.  They were amazing. I know everyone's freaking out over Gritty's wings since they were named here as the fourth best in the country, but I strongly suggest Beale Street not be ruled out. They were cooked perfectly: not stringy and dry, but tender and cooked through. Also, the sauce was just right. Evenly coated and most importantly, no drippy messes. Well, maybe that's not true. When you eat like me, a mess is a hard thing to avoid, but at least the sauce wasn't dripping down my arms, so that's a plus. While there is no 50 cent wing special at Beal Street like at my beloved Samuel's, I still spent less than $20 with food AND drink. Total score.

After dinner, we decided to head out on our Bath pub crawl. Our first stop: J.R. Maxwell. Well, actually we were in their basement bar, The Boatbuilder's Pub. This place definitely gave off a "regulars only" vibe so if you're from out of town, be ready for some possible stare downs. Luckily, I didn't have to get all Road House Swayze on these regulars, because Cam seemed to know pretty much everyone there, easing the tension. And though the bartender still kind of of ignored the rest of us, we were all eventually served our drinks. I ordered the "double" gin and tonic. It seemed like the norm here and I reallly didn't feel like being the sweet bitch from Portland who only ordered a single. Word to the wise: their double felt more like triple so make sure you eat first (preferably at Beal Street!).


While we enjoyed our doubles, we played Big Buck Hunter, which, as evidenced by the video above, was hilarious. Though it was not my first time playing, it reminded me that more bars in Portland should probably get this game. There's nothing I like more than embarrassing myself in front of my drunken peers, so why not give me a fake gun and let me miss animated prey point-blank.

Once we tired of Buck Hunter, we moved on to The Black Barnacle. We didn't stay here for long, but they had a decent selection of beers on tap and a knowledgeable bartender, who let us try a couple of different samples before we decided what met our drinking needs. The beers weren't expensive so that's always a positive thing for me and my ever-dwindling bank account. The crowd appeared to be a bit older than us*, but this was nice. It seemed like a good place to grab a drink after work. They also feature live music most nights, so another thumbs up from me.

*us being 20s, crowd being 30s and up

(Pictured above: Maggie at Byrnes Irish Pub)

When we finished our drink at the Black Barnacle, we set sail for Byrnes Irish Pub. This was my favorite part of the night (aside from stuffing wings in my face). While there is a quite the array of authentic ones scattered throughout Portland, I never seem to tire of a good Irish pub. Once again, everyone knew Cam. But this time, despite never seeing us before, the bartender (and general manager) Maggie, was very friendly and the service was great. I ordered a Guinness, and as I anticipated it might be (with a name like Byrnes), it was a lovely pour. Maggie chatted with us throughout the night, giving that old "tell me your problems" bartender vibe which seems to have gotten lost these days. So, naturally, I told her my life story--sorry Maggie!

Not only was the service great, but the astmosphere was perfect for an Irish pub. It's the kind of place where even the Irish cops stop by at the end of their shift, still in uniform, to grab a Guinness. I'm not making that up. This happened while I was there. I even winked at this particular cop because we had ordered the same beverage. He didn't wink back.

While I recovered from the rejection, I took in the general atmosphere of Byrnes. The walls are covered in silly, alcohol-related Irish sayings and photos (as evidenced below) and they have a countdown to St. Patrick's Day located in the back of the pub. Even the bathrooms cracked me up; in the men's bathroom you can find a poster of the urinals of Dublin. Please ignore the fact that I used the men's bathroom in an Irish pub (imagine all the poor aim...), and just accept that this place is cool. Bath is somewhat notorious for its Irish heritage; they host a HUGE city-wide St. Paddy's Day celebration every March. If you haven't got any plans yet for March 17th, I'd suggest taking the trip to Bath. Be sure to stop in at Byrnes while your'e at it. Something tells me it's going to be pretty wild.

My friends and I enjoyed Byrnes so much that we closed the place out. We were also the first ones there in the morning for breakfast. There was a different bartender working the day shift, and she was just as cool. She instantly made fun of our friend for ordering regular coffee, rather than an Irish one. So naturally, I liked her right off the bat. Not one for morning drinking, I did muster up the strength for a Bloody Mary, which was delicious. I'm also not a huge going-out-to-breakfast girl, unless it's at Uncle Andy's Diner. I ordered the mac n' cheese, instead. It was good--a little more mild than I usually like but very homestyle and very cheesy, so kind of perfect for soaking up the previous night's Guinness.

Aside from cops ignoring my advances, I had a great time. While I've never been to Ireland, Byrnes felt authentic. Maybe it's because it's where the locals seem to congregate. Or maybe it's the laid-back, "Guinness will fix your problems" attitude. It could be the fact they host an Irish sing-a-long every Sunday, which is beyond awesome. I'm not sure. But whatever the reason, I like it. 

After 24 hours in Bath, I had to get back to Portland for a concert. As a result, I only got to spend one night in this little city. It was short, but very sweet. I fell in love with some buffalo wings, shot and missed animated deer, didn't spent too much money, and when I returned to Portland, I felt like I'd been on a mini-vacation. All in one night! I'll be back for sure and I suggest next time you're feeling Portland-ed out, you venture up, as well. If you actually heed my advice, say hi to Maggie for me.


  1. I LOVE Bath! Just wait til we take that family trip to the home of your Dado and Momo. June 2013! Meanwhile, make sure you take another trip to Bath, there's lots more there to enjoy. I LOVE Bath. Now, I'm going to go take one.

  2. This from a well seasoned local.......Thank you for your kind words. I've always loved Bath. I've done some traveling and there are very few places left with the small town generosity that Bath offers. As far as Byrnes, good food, good times and good people. My friend, John Roberts, hosts the sing-a-longs and they are wonderful. You should check it out some time. They actually have whole families that attend.

  3. 'bout time Bath, (and Byrnes's,) gets its due!

  4. Thanks for reading! Conrad--next time I'm in Bath I will definitely check out your friend's sing-a-long. Sounds like a pretty awesome time. With a last name like Donahue, I can't resist an Irish sing-a-long.

    1. Too cool. I hope to see you there sometime.........

      I'll be the guy with all the hair......!!!!LOL