Bar guide: forgo the things to do and slip into Twelve for a cocktail

The dining room at Twelve, a new fine dining restaurant in Portland. Photo by Angie Bryan

Shortly after the long-awaited opening of fine dining restaurant Twelve in mid-July, a few friends and I tried to get a reservation. Hahahahaha. In early September, however, I learned that the restaurant was keeping seats open for walk-ins at the bar and on the lovely terrace, so I grabbed my friends and decided to give it a try.

I didn’t know what to expect in terms of wait times – Empire on Christmas Eve? Street & Co. in summer? The release of a new Harry Potter book? Twelve opens at 5pm, so we arrived a little before 4:30pm on Tuesday after Labor Day. Turns out we didn’t need to be there so early. There were still five empty seats left at the bar by 6.

Twelve, part of the Prentice Hospitality Group and run by New York restaurant heavyweights, is named after the historic building it is housed in – Building 12: Pattern Storehouse, a former railroad industry building. The atmosphere is serene without being pretentious. The reception staff greeted us enthusiastically and seated us at the 14 seater bar with extremely comfortable olive colored leather bar stools with backrests and footrests. Under the bar were purse hooks and sockets for regular outlets and USB cords. A chef’s counter for seven people overlooks the kitchen.

From the layout of the bar, it was obvious we were in for a visual treat. Indeed, watching the three bartenders ply their trade was a highlight. Glasses filled with edible flowers, fresh dill, sprigs of thyme and more hinted at some of the spectacular garnishes.

Twelve has a full bar with a strong selection of Scotch and bourbon, as well as a well-curated wine and beer list. Seven beers/ciders ($8-$9), two sparkling wines by the glass ($13-$17), six whites ($13-$17), three rosés ($12-$16) and six reds ($13-$ $18). But as you may know, I’m all about the cocktails. In addition to four $8 mocktails, Twelve’s cocktail menu features six $16 specialty cocktails. We tried five. You’re welcome.

We started with the Blood Moon (mezcal, scotch, amaro, hibiscus and flambé orange peel), the Arcade Summer (Cachaca, South American spirit, blueberry syrup and homemade egg) and the Run Like Wild (rye , carrot, turmeric, lemon and pink pepper, served with a sprig of thyme).

The Cast Away and the 0012 Vesper from the cocktail menu at Twelve in Portland. Photo by Angie Bryan

We then moved on to Cast Away (Bimini coconut gin, rhubarb, pineapple and Peychaud bitters, garnished with both a pineapple leaf and a rolled-up rhubarb ribbon) and the cleverly named 0012 Vesper, a wink to the fact that Agent 007 (aka James Bond) often ordered a Vesper martini. Twelve’s Vesper is made with gin, sweet kelp vodka (sweet kelp is local to Maine, as are a large percentage of the ingredients Twelve uses), Lillet Blanc, lemon oil, and a sprig of lemon. fresh dill.

Our favorite was the extremely creative and perfectly balanced Run Like Wild, but we also really enjoyed the Blood Moon, in which the mezcal shone without being too strong, and the Cast Away, which was much less sweet (in a good way) than We have planned. The Arcade Summer was lightly sweet and beautifully presented, with lavender playing a starring role. We weren’t huge fans of the sweet seaweed vodka in the 0012 Vesper, but we drank every last drop. We are not quitters.

I’ll leave the food commentary to Press Herald restaurant critic Andrew Ross, but I’ll say that while everyone in the regular dining room must get the $82 four-course prix fixe menu, diners at the bar and on the terrace can order à la carte items.

Throughout the evening, the service was impeccable. I don’t have the budget to go regularly, but I’m glad I got to check it out before it got harder to get in.

Retired diplomat Angie Bryan writes about Maine’s cocktail bars while doing as many puns as her editor allows.

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