Whether it's because nobody's wandering the East End of Portland in January, or perhaps because hop-happy Bissell Bros. Brewing Company has captured the zeitgeist and therefore the expected line of beer pilgrims, Oxbow Blending and Bottling has not been filled to the brim nightly.
Owners Tim Adams and Geoff Masland and manager Greg Jasgur filed an application for a Class A Lounge License with Entertainment and Dance, which would allow the facility to stock a full bar, including wine, spirits, and even other breweries' beer. They wrote,
Although we have been enjoying a steady early draw of customers to our new Portland tasting room, it has quickly become apparent that the ability to provide a more complete [menu?] would generate substantially more traffic to our location, and subsequently also to the many small businesses that surround us.
They also envisioned the near and bright future of the neighborhood, which is slowly but surely becoming a popular destination for locals and tourists alike, harboring hidden gems like Silly's, Tu Casa, Portland Pottery Cafe, and Maine Mead Works, as well as newer players like natural wine shop Maine and Loire and upcoming Terlingua.
We are also very excited about our specific location within the city, namely the inner Washington Avenue neighborhood. We believe that in the near future this section of the Portland peninsula between Congress Street and the Eastern Promenade will become a food and drink destination for locals and tourists alike, and we would like to be a major driving force in the blossoming of this beautiful part of our city.
On Wednesday night, the City Council voted unanimously to grant the license. Adams said it was rewarding to see the smiles on people's faces as the measure passed without dissent. When asked if he was concerned about the feelings other businesses in town may have about Oxbow's new license, he replied, "We don't want to step on any toes but I think there's enough interest and tourism here that we can all help each other out."
Adams told Eater today that his primary focus is offering food. "Our first priority is food options for people, and our other primary motivation is events," he suggested. He has said previously that he'd like to work with local butchers to cure meats from Oxbow's farm-raised pigs; for now, offerings could include a variety of $5 servings of meats, cheeses, olives, spreads, and slaws to accompany "rustic bread."
The Maine native repeated throughout a phone call how excited he is about the possibilities that have now opened up. "We're super psyched. This is a good license that allows us a lot of flexibility," Adams explained. "This means we can have music and dancing and parties."
Adams downplayed the notion that Oxbow would start pouring wine and mixing drinks: "We don't have immediate plans to stock a full bar. The main reason we wanted the license is functions or private events, where not having wine or booze is a deal breaker," he said. "In terms of beers, we're thinking about being able to do events that feature other brewers we've collaborated with, or using our international connections to bring brewers from around the world to portland to feature their beers."
This is unusual territory in Maine, though states like California are well known for having brewery tasting rooms that operate more like true bars. Barreled Souls Brewing Company's owners said when they were in planning that they hoped to serve other breweries' beer at their Saco brewery and tasting room, but the liquor inspector put the kibosh on that idea. Has anything changed, or is this a case of asking the right people at the right time?
In'finiti-cum-Liquid Riot Bottling Co. occupies a similar modern niche, but qualifies as a brew pub. The company maintains a separate retail space to sell bottles of beer to go, also known as "off premise" sales. Sebago Brewing Company's restaurants are also close relatives, since they transformed from brew pubs to brewery offshoots when that company's Gorham production facility opened. They also sell bottles to go.
But Oxbow's status may be unique, and the company will be carefully considering its available moves. Don't expect an overhaul overnight, Adams cautioned: "Nothing's changing tomorrow. We still have to finalize several things, but good things will be happening. We're psyched."