The Happiest Hours


photos/The Fuge

128 Free Street
(see above), Portland

The Free Street Taverna has a new owner, Dogfish Café proprietor Ted Arcand, and a new name, 128 Free Street, the establishment’s address. The old rock club and sometimes restaurant is noticeably classier and more subdued now, but the new name alone tips you off to that. (Think 555, or Fore Street, or how when George’s Tavern changed ownership it didn’t reopen as Awful Annie’s 189 Congress Street Saloon.)

The change was bound to be greeted with resentment by some of the bar’s old regulars, who feel 128’s too classy for comfort. The shift in atmosphere has tipped an already unsteady crowd further off balance, sending some of them reeling across the street to Mathew’s, others all the way to Brian Boru.

But allow me to be (perhaps) the first to say the new Free Street’s still a good bar – a better bar, even, than its predecessor in some ways. The service is less, shall we say, laissez faire. The food is a vast improvement. The downstairs bathroom’s so clean it’s like Jesus stopped in for a beer and upon entering that rancid chamber it was made immaculate. (He also may have waved a holy hand over the meatloaf, and possibly caused the lasagna to double in size.)

Fans of the old Free Street can find ways to enjoy themselves. There’s still cheap beer and food to be had – 16-ounce cans of Miller High Life, buck-fifty hot dogs (Sundays only, for some reason) and an open-faced chicken quesadilla that’s worth $8 and then some. Members of the old Mug Club can still get their flagons filled; the music may not rock, but it rolls a little.

The new Free Street appeals to a wide spectrum of the bar-going public. It remains the kind of place you can see an heir to a sporting goods fortune sit at a table next to a recently homeless 21-year-old pot dealer. That’s diversity. 

For people who feel outclassed by the change, I hear Mathew’s has dollar domestics for Happy Hour. The upper-crusters for whom Free Street is still too crusty will have to wait for more extensive remodeling next year. 

“It smells like a porta-potty,” I overheard a lady say last Friday night, referring, I realized, to the miracle-cleaned john. If only she’d chosen to visit a mere two months ago, the world would learn what the next strongest simile is.

“The only problem with the new Free Street is it’s not the old Free Street,” a regular remarked to me today. “Otherwise, it’s a perfectly fine bar.” Cheers to that.


—Chris Busby


128 Free Street is open seven days a week, from 4 p.m. on.

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