10 Cotton St., Portland
A few weeks ago we reviewed Bleachers, the sports pub in Bayside, and assessed its strengths and weaknesses as a destination for satellite-fed football. This week we turn to Rivalries, a sports bar and restaurant on the fringe of the Old Port, behind Una and Brian Ború. But first we must return to Bayside for a correction of sorts.
While researching Bleachers, we noted that though there’s an asphalt patio with several tables and beer umbrellas, the area is uncovered, open to the elements, exposed to the gritty winds that whip through the neighborhood’s industrial underbelly. It’s inhospitable territory for the late-season smoker, with nary a good angle to peek at any TV inside.
Sitting down to write Bleachers’ review, I considered listing this as a weakness, but then thought better of it, reasoning that at least there is a patio, and it’s functional as such. What more can you expect?
Rivalries’ patio puts this question in perspective.
Patio. Rivalries’ patio embodies the ideal to which all sports bars’ patios should strive. It’s not very big, but the owners have made the most of the space they have by filling it with two rows of wooden picnic tables. A tall wood fence protects it from dust kicked up in the parking lots around it, and a large awning spanning its length and width keeps the rain, snow, hail and frogs at bay – this last form of precipitation is predicted to fall the day the Bills win a Super Bowl title.
Having considered and accounted for their customers’ needs in these respects, Rivalries then goes further, providing a tall propane space heater and – the coup de grâce – a television mounted high in a corner by the door, safely enclosed in a wooden box. That’s what you can expect.
TV coverage. If they have not yet done so, Rivalries’ owners should consider hiring someone to lobby Maine’s Public Utilities Commission. That’s because even a tenth-of-a-penny increase in the rate CMP can charge for electricity could have a major effect on the bar’s bottom line. With nearly 30 televisions on two floors broadcasting simultaneously, Rivalries must rival National Semiconductor in wattage-use per month.
But that’s not our problem. We reap the benefits of multiple angles on the most popular games and enough diversion to ensure we never have to watch a Cialis commercial.
Food and beer. Rivalries fills the niche in Portland for sports establishments serving up-scale food. Granted, that’s a small niche. Few are the football fans who wake up Sunday at noon craving Mussels Provencal, but Rivalries is there for them. You won’t find fried mozzarella sticks or potato skins on the menu, but there’s fried calamari and shrimp cocktail. Maine crab cakes are an option, as are grilled salmon and hanger steak, seafood scampi and pesto penne pasta.
Aside from a lack of fried appetizers, Rivalries’ menu is quite satisfying. The burgers are top-notch, the sandwich selection is deep, and they do personal pizzas, quesadillas and nachos. Everything’s reasonably priced, and the chef’s foodie-friendly approach pays off. For example, the Ballpark Sausage Sub ($7.95, fries and pickle included) is grilled Chorizo with roasted red peppers and caramelized onions. There’s a BBQ pulled pork pizza ($8.95), and some pretty tasty ribs ($10.95 for half a rack, $15.95 full).
The beer selection offers a decent mix of national and local brews, but a word of warning is in order regarding the pitchers. In keeping with Rivalries’ classy edge, the pitchers are solid glass mothers that seem to weigh 10 pounds when full of beer, nine empty. Guys, if you’re going on a date at Rivalries, be prepared for this. Get in shape by squeezing one of those wrist-exercisers at least 500 times a day before the big night. Your lady friend will not be impressed watching you struggle to heft a pitcher high enough to fill a pint glass with just one arm. Even beefy athletes who already have the arm strength to make this appear effortless can be surprised and humiliated by the challenge.
Specials. Rivalries’ weekday Happy Hour specials are exceedingly generous. On Monday, it’s two-for-one appetizers and any draft beer for $2. On Thursdays, it’s two-for-one personal pizzas. Wednesdays they’re practically giving away racks of ribs for $5, and tossing $2 Geary’s drafts into the deal.
I wish I could report Tuesday’s special with equal enthusiasm, but sadly, Rivalries has a major flaw. A $5 all-you-can-eat wing special is cause for celebration in just about any other sports bar, and Rivalries teams this with $2 Shipyard drafts. But…
Wings. Why? That’s the burning question my associates and I kept asking after ordering Rivalries’ wings. Why serve General Tsu’s Chicken and call it “Sweet Chili Buffalo Wings”? There’s nothing Buffalo about this sauce. It’s sweet, sticky and hot to the extent a chili seed makes contact with your tongue through the gooey glaze. General Tsu may have liked these wings, but in Buffalo they’d cause a riot.
This wasn’t always the case at Rivalries. My memory’s a bit sketchy in this area (see discussion of pitchers, above), but a friend distinctly recalls Rivalries serving actual Buffalo wings a couple years ago. Consider this a plea to reconsider that menu adjustment. Or at least offer both kinds of sauces: Buffalo and Sweet Chili. The term “Sweet Chili Buffalo” is like calling a sauce “Tangy Hawaiian Cajun” – wrong on several levels.
Aside from the wings, my associates and I had no other notable quibbles with our trip to Rivalries. It’s a clean place with good service and an atmosphere that’s classy, but not so much so that you look like a drunk for cheering on your team – even if you feel drunk on the inside.
— Chris Busby
Rivalries is open daily for lunch, dinner and the late game.