24 Preble St., Portland
It’s hard to know what to make of Slainte, the new place in the space on Preble Street formerly known as Meritage Wine Bar. The name alone is a brain-teaser for anyone hooked on phonics, and the week-old bar is still figuring itself out.
Here is some of what we know so far.
Slainte is pronounced “Slan’-cha.” It’s an Irish Gaelic drinking toast, often said, much less often written or read. Mistaken variations include “Salon Che” (not the place to get the hip Latin Revolutionary look) and “Salon Tae” (not outgoing school board member Tae Chong’s new weekly political discussion group).
Slainte, despite its name and decor, is not an Irish wine bar. Granted, I’m no connoisseur, but isn’t the term “Irish wine bar” an oxymoron anyway? The only Irish wine I know is Wild Irish Rose, and you drink that in the alley next to Slainte, not inside.
Slainte is not a sports bar, despite the wide-screen TV broadcasting a soundless cable sports channel above the beer taps. (Another mystery: Why do bar owners think people prefer staring at muted college football footage and deodorant commercials rather than, say, the brick wall behind the TV?)
Slainte is not a place you’ll flock to for the food. The spinach dip came with thin pumpernickel triangles that seemed to grow stale by the second. The Slainte Plate claimed to include chicken skewers, but the cubes of white meat that arrived were suspiciously unpunctured and likely microwaved. The accompanying melon, grapes, carrots, celery and pumpernickel triangles didn’t help the situation, and the cheese – a couple slabs of smoked gouda, two rolled-up slices of swiss and two bland slabs of mozzarella – was uninspiring. By comparison, Meritage offered an unpredictable variety of interesting, stinky cheeses and crusty baguettes. This plate wasn’t stinky. It just stunk.
That said, also by comparison, Slainte has a more relaxed atmosphere than Meritage. The beer selection is solid and reasonably priced, especially during the evening Happy Hours, when beer and wine are a buck off. New owner Adam Dougherty has lengthened the bar a bit and opened the narrow space up by changing some walls around. Once the kitchen is fully equipped and the chef finds his way around the triangles, this could be a handy spot for a late-night chow.
The white tablecloths make the place seem classier than necessary, but the couches are cool, and guys on dates will appreciate both. The service is good and free of pretension. Hard liquor is on the way.
Slainte has plenty of potential, it’s just not clear yet what kind. As it is, it’s not a bad bar even in this awkward proto-stage. It’ll be worth a visit every so often just to find out what happens next.
— Chris Busby
Slainte is open Tues.-Sat. 4 p.m. to close (as late as 1 a.m., crowd depending).