With its elegant fireplaces, hardwood floors sweeping views of Casco Bay and antique d?cor, it’s hard to believe that R?-R?’s (Irish Gaelic for fun and merriment), Portland’s new Irish pub, was once a fish packing plant gutted by fire.
“I came to see it last year,” said Angela Grogan, a manager at R?-R?. “There was nothing really to see.”
Carefully restored and shipped to Portland, everything in the bar – Victorian furniture, fine china, Guinness, and even some of the staff – was imported from Ireland.
Grogan, originally from County Mayo, Ireland, has been in the United States for the past two years assisting R?-R?’s owners, Irish natives Ciaran Sheehan and David Kelly, in opening the bar.
According to Grogan, Kelly had vacationed in Portland and wanted to open a R?-R? here. There are four other R?-R?s in New England and the Carolinas.
Since the pub opened a month ago, local 20-somethings have taken notice. While the bar seems too formal for rowdy college students, many young drinkers lined up to get into R?-R? St. Patrick’s Day.
“It was non-stop, like a zoo all day,” Grogan said.
Now that the buzz has died down a little, R?-R? is looking to find its place among the local bar scene. Grogan said the pub hopes to bring in live bands in a few weeks.
For now, the pub offers a trivia night from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m. on Tuesdays. Winning teams will receive prizes ranging from free drinks to a trip to Ireland, Grogan said. She said the pub is considering starting a college night.
Inside R?-R?, it is hard to tell if the college crowd would be a welcome addition to the upscale atmosphere. Yet, the place is huge. With three separate bars and semi-fine-dining upstairs, maybe R?-R? has room for everyone.
Wait, make that everyone with a fat wallet.
At the upstairs bar I ordered Boddington Pub Ale for $3.75, and my friend Ann got a Guinness for $4. While the beer was tasty, the prices were high for Portland – even if R?-R? is conveniently located next to Casco Bay Ferry Lines, where island-hopping tourists wander aimlessly in search of lobster rolls and blueberry pie.
(And if Portland gets its wish for “Oceangate” – a multi-million dollar waterfront renovation, even more tourists with fat wallets will be flocking to the area).
It was around 10 p.m. and the kitchen was closing, but I looked over the contemporary Irish menu. It seemed ornate and mildly expensive (think gold card, but not quite platinum). I would eat at R?-R? if I wanted to impress a client or my fianc?e’s parents, but not if I wanted to satisfy a craving for fries and Buffalo wings. In other words, I’ll eat there when I’m a grown-up.
Likewies, for a young 20-something, drinking at R?-R? is like stepping into a time warp – there you are, sipping malt brews among suits and sailors. Aye, and don’t spill yer drinks on the nice furniture, lads and lassies.