The mystery behind the seafood-flavored gelato shop, Bikram yoga and hot sauce emporium and Brazilian blowouts and dumpling house in the Old Port has been solved. Behind the scenes at 26 Exchange Street, where humorous posters for fictitious businesses have foiled the public for months, Portland native Joshua Miranda is creating a deluxe cocktail bar steeped in Maine history.
“This is my 401K. This is my dream,” said the lifelong bartender, who’s worked in Miami, New York, the Top of the East and is currently food and beverage director at the Glass Lounge in The Hyatt Place in the Old Port.
His new bar, Blyth & Burrows, which opens in mid-May, is an ode to commanders shot down in the battle of the Boxer and Enterprise off the coast of Maine during the war of 1812. The fallen captains, Samuel Blyth and William Burrows, are buried in Portland’s Eastern Cemetery and memorialized by Longfellow in the poem “My Lost Youth.” Miranda grew up with a fascination of the valiant duo.
When a space came up for rent on Exchange Street last summer, the concept developed fast.
“There are many bars down here for 20-somethings to drink and dance. We are going for the adults,” said Miranda, who took over a key Exchange Street storefront, formerly Lovell Designs, in July.
He has kept his plans under wraps until this week. The fake adverts were done intentionally to throw the nosy and curious off the scent. “I’ve been wanting to open a bar in Portland for a long time, but you only get one chance.” All summer, fall and winter, he’s worked on his multi-tier concept outside of the spotlight.
Miranda, who owned The Pearl on Fore Street in 2008 and sold it in 2011, was itching to give Portland the bar it deserves. With help from craftsman Nat Towl (the vision behind the interiors of Rhum and Slab in Portland and Elsmere in South Portland) Blyth & Burrows’ decor may be as divine as its drinks.
Like entering a ship’s galley, it draws you in. A front quartz bar and nearby wooden drink rails, artifacts from ships, old factory windows and custom booths lend the intimate space with high ceilings a snug, cosmopolitan feel. “This is a bar you could have stepped into in the 1800s,” said Towl, who was inspired by Victorian and nautical design. Figureheads from a ship’s bow, mermaids and netting will round out the theme.
Molecular mixology (drinks that foam), cocktails on tap and potent libations like Navy strength, will be matched with creative small plates. The drink menu is based on old trade routes that Blyth and Burrows navigated, highlighting spirits and spices that would have been available in their day. “I am a son of Portland. I am a Mainer,” said Miranda. “I will use local spirits as much as possible.”
Miranda has hired chefs from Napa Valley to create on-trend bites like tuna tartar and grilled oysters. “We will hit all the notes,” he said.
On the second level (a few steps up) is an oyster pit, where bivalves caught off Pemaquid Point will be shucked and served to hungry patrons.
But that is far from all … Those in the know can access a hidden back bar if they lean on the right wall. One flight down a speakeasy, called The Broken Dram, is in the works. Accessed from Blyth & Burrows as well as Fox Court Alley, the bar within a bar will not have a sign. Down here the theme is less refined. “We will have the daily slop,” said Miranda, of beans and hot food served simply on a plate for modern pirates.
And if that’s not enough, there is a downstairs lounge at Blyth & Burrows where guests can mingle over their molecular cocktails amid Victorian decor and chandeliers.
Miranda has hired an “all star team” of nightlife pros including Portland notables like Matt Sherwood, the brains behind Sur-Lie’s signature cocktails, and Mike Gatlin, the creative force at Evo Kitchen and Bar and founder of Owl and Whale bitters company.
Blyth & Burrows will be open from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. seven days a week.