Bar Guide: Offbeat, modern Outliers Eatery adds imagination to drinks
The building was once the home of the notorious rough-and-tumble Popeye's.
By SUSAN AXELROD
Picture the familiar, welcoming neighborhood bar and restaurant. Now, stand it on its head, send it down Alice's rabbit hole -- and you have Outliers Eatery in Portland's West End.
Perched on the neighborhood's southern edge, overlooking the Casco Bay Bridge, the building was once the home of the notorious rough-and-tumble Popeye's.
New owner Peter Verrill has transformed it into a stunning, modern but still casual space, where bar snacks run to crispy pigs' ears instead of chicken wings and the men's room is a tribute to "gonzo" journalist Hunter S. Thompson.
Verrill, who also owns Foreside Tavern in Falmouth, let his college pals Ryan Wither and Paul Lewin (who also designed the bar at Grace) have free rein with Outliers. (It's so well done, the duo recently won an award from the American Institute of Architects.) The bar is rough-textured, poured concrete, with comfortable, black swivel stools reminiscent of old desk chairs.
A wall of copper-colored, ripple-patterned panels behind the bar is a dramatic focal point. At night, lit from above, it appears to shimmer, a subtle reference to ocean waves.
The designers had an especially good time with that men's room, installing riveted roofing membrane as wall covering, a broken mirror and an unusual pay phone; pick up the receiver and hear the creepy voice of grunge poet Steven Jesse Bernstein reading a Thompson poem. Go ahead, ladies, you're welcome to check it out, too.
Verrill has put considerable thought into his beer and wine lists. Outliers is one of the few places I've encountered vinho verde -- the refreshing, slightly effervescent Portuguese white wine -- by the glass ($6).
The 12 taps feature local breweries, as well as more esoteric choices like Stone Old Guardian Smoked Barley Wine Ale. (On the other side of the trend fence, hipster cheapskates can find $3 Schlitz on the list of canned beers). Cocktails (all $9) boast clever names and range from enticingly imaginative such as Harbor View (Mount Gay rum, Green Bee Ginger Sting, simple syrup and lemon juice), to downright weird like The Ice House (vodka, Allen's Coffee Brandy, Southern Comfort and Coke).
Cocktails made with beer are a trend that in the wrong hands can go, well, wrong. At Outliers, capable hands mixed up my order, Postman Always Rings Twice (wheat beer, gin, St. Germain, lemon and grapefruit juices and orange bitters), a refreshing, perfectly balanced libation for warm summer evenings. On such nights, the outdoor deck beckons, with its view across Harbor View Park to the bridge.
The restaurant has a full menu of locally sourced, contemporary American food that changes regularly, if not daily. On the "small plates" side, the crispy pigs' ears (don't knock 'em 'til you try 'em), charcuterie board, mussels and oysters are especially drinks-friendly.