Portland’s shuttered Bramhall reopens with old-school charm

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Mike Fraser, owner of Bramhall

The new owner of Bramhall Pub, Mike Fraser, wants former customers of the Congress Street subterranean watering hole to feel at home when the doors reopen tonight.

Regulars who played darts and pool here since the ’70s, will not be scratching their heads wondering what hall they have bumbled into.

“This is part of what Portland used to be like,” said Fraser, on a tour of the brownstone basement buzzing with activity in mid-September. “I’d like to bring it back.”

The bar underneath the long-defunct Roma Cafe shuttered years ago. But as Fraser says, “it wasn’t because it wasn’t doing well.”

Portland’s dining scene shifted. Oysters and crudo were suddenly derigueur with tequila flights at night. Beer and nuts? Not so much.

Fraser, who recently left Fore Street after a decade of waiting tables and working behind the bar, minded the gap.

“New places are super food-focused and the food scene is awesome,” he said, but amid all the James Beard nods, something was amiss.

“It can be a challenge to grab a meal for two, even lunch, for less than $80 in Portland,” said Fraser. “I want people to be able to come in and have a few drinks and have a good time.” And party like it’s 1999.

Meals at the new Bramhall gastropub will be priced from $8 to $10. In the kitchen is Chris Beaulieu, former sou chef at Duckfat and chef at Sebago Brewery in Portland.

“I am not looking to compete with the Central Provisions or Fore Streets of the world,” said the new owner. “The food will not be over-complicated.”
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In keeping with this throwback concept, Bramhall 2.0 returns to its earlier roots as a speakeasy. Edison bulbs hang from the ceiling, brick walls are being buffed, an open cove where a wood-fired oven once raged anchors the room and stained glass windows evoke the Belle Epoque. “It’s a place to come when you just want to get away,” he said.

For music fans, the Jerks of Grass return with a weekly residency on Thursdays — live bands will play several nights a week. The beloved Jerks re-inaugurate the space at 9:30 p.m. tonight according to Bramhall’s Facebook page.

Behind the bar is Guy Streitburger, former bar manager of Ginko Blue, who knows his way around a craft cocktail. But you can also snag a “simple gin and tonic or a beer and a shot,” said Fraser. “I am not trying to recreate the wheel, but take something that people loved and update it.”

Bramhall, 769 Congress St..

This post has been updated

Kathleen Pierce

About Kathleen Pierce

A lifelong journalist with a deep curiosity for what's next. Interested in food, culture, trends and the thrill of a good scoop. BDN features reporter based in Portland since 2013.