Sweetness, sass, and spice at the newest spot on Congress
If you were walking away from the Old Port’s “frightening” weekend bar scene toward a more civilized cocktail in one of the Downtown Lounge’s big comfy booths, about two-thirds of the way you would pass Portland’s newest drinking spot, The White Heart. As far as location-as-metaphor goes, that gets it just about right.
The White Heart has real style, good drinks, and a friendly atmosphere. But The White Heart is not exactly laid back. It seems a little self-conscious about its hipness. We wondered if that might draw, on weekends especially, that crowd that dons their “night out” clothes and heads to the Old Port seeking a critical mass of people getting drunk enough to obliterate not just self-consciousness, but also the good sense to avoid an ill-advised hookup or fight. Time will tell.
In the meantime The White Heart is a great place to grab a drink, and a pretty good spot for a snack. The place looks great, and thanks to the tastefully dim lighting, people look good in it. We liked the understated neon sign in the front window, and the elegantly decorated curved ceiling above. It’s a straightforward space, divided into thirds. All the action is in the middle third, where a long, elegant, smooth-concrete bar dominates one wall and a long black leather sectional dominates the other. In between, comfy red leather stools line the bar and matching chairs line the six or so tables along the couch. The front has a small lounge area with comfy looking chairs. A larger space in the back features the jukebox but is otherwise bare. This is where DJs and bands will set up, I suppose, but when empty it gave the back of the bar an odd feel. The jukebox is loud enough that you have to raise your voice for Conversation. Your experience depends a great deal on the whims of whomever plugged the machine last.
The drink menu has escaped the early third millennium martini-hegemony and offers some interesting choices, many involving fruit juice. The name of my Tennis Nerd hit me a little close to home, but I enjoyed this mix of mostly vodka and lemon juice. It was a little sweeter and a little less strong than I expected, but perfectly nice. Its always good to see drink umbrellas. The wine list trends toward Europe and South America. We tried three of the six red wines available by the glass and liked them all, especially a dry Echeverria Cabernet. It seems you can also get a beer pretty cheap.
The short bar menu makes it possible to put together a meal. We liked the beef and vegetable skewer, which came with lightly fried basmati rice and two sauces. It was the beef we liked best. It was tender and not too lean and had the just burnt edges you want from flame broiling. The citrus sauce was too sweet and oddly gelatinous. The other sauce was a little like a watery, sugary, Chinese mustard. But the beef was good enough to enjoy without either.
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