Back about a hundred and fifty years ago, a good portion of Portland went and burned itself to the ground. That historic fire explains the lack of wood buildings in the area, and why we have to look at so much exposed brick when we drink in the Old Port. We didn’t live through that conflagration, but we were around for the blaze that nearly destroyed the Kerrymen Pub in Saco this past June.
After five months of renovation work the pub celebrated its reopening last month. Thankfully, it was not rebuilt with brick. Located on Route 1 amid a sea of franchises, the Kerrymen Pub occupies a two-story wood building. It was opened in 1978 by brothers David, John, Paul and Richard Kerry and their cousin, Jim Sullivan. Thirty-five years later, it is still family owned and operated.
There’s a spacious dinning room downstairs and an even larger barroom on the second floor. The walls are made of wide, think planks, like you expect to find in a barn, and the beams above are rough-hewn, as well. This gives the place a comfortable, rustic feel. There’s also a lot of carpet, even at the bar. The décor is appropriately Irish, with big beer mirrors and lots of family photos.
I spent most of my time upstairs. The bar itself is a beautiful oval island made of thick, dark wood. It was refinished after the fire but still contains shellacked Irish coins, old pictures and dollars. Located in the center of the room, it can easily accommodate a few dozen convivial drinkers. A half dozen tables are set up at both ends of the room, and one of the back walls is lined with booths. There’s a stage at the front of the barroom for live music, Irish and otherwise, on weekend nights, and numerous TVs tuned to sports channels. There’s also a pool table in back that’s recently been resurfaced and is free to play.
Aside from the atmosphere, the food is the main attraction here. It’s pub-style fare, with fried apps, soups and chowders, burgers and sandwiches, salads, pasta, and a few traditional Irish dishes, like shephard’s pie. Most items on the menu are under $10. There’s also a decent seafood and steak selection, though those dinners are pricier, a kids’ menu and daily specials worth checking out.
The Kerrymen Pub stocks a standard selection of beer, including the obligatory Guinness, Bass and Smithwick’s. The most daring options on the bottle list are Seadog Wild Blueberry beer and Angry Orchard cider, but at least you won’t have to ask your server how “hoppy” anything is. The wine list is similarly uneventful, though I must say there’s a special place in my heart for any pub that serves Yellow Tail.
There’s no cocktail menu — this is, after all, a pub — and the barkeeps keep the mixes simple. Rum and Coke is exactly that. My Manhattan was made with Maker’s Mark (I wasn’t asked my preference) with a healthy splash of sweet vermouth and a cherry. Most of the cocktails come in footed highball glasses, and the prices match the sizes, so I never felt like I was paying too much for a drink.
However, I do question the way they serve whiskey. I order mine neat, and on every occasion it was poured to precision (one ounce) in a thin shooter glass, the kind you’d give a college kid. Whiskey needs a wider berth to allow the flavor to open up. I’ve since learned that not every bartender there uses those glasses, but you’d be wise to make sure yours doesn’t. That said, even locals will likely have to drive to this place, so it’s a credit to the pub that they pour responsibly.
The Kerrymen Pub is a great local hangout and a go-to place for those who appreciate authentic Irish drinking establishments. Enjoy it to the fullest this holiday season, but for Christsake, be safe!
— Carl Currie