University of Southern Maine

Gritty McDuff’s Brew Pub
February 2007
by Marc B. Zawel

Walk down the cobblestone streets of Portland, Maine — salty air in your lungs, foghorns blaring in the distance and seagulls circling overhead — and you’ll know you’ve found the quintessential New England city. But don’t waste too much time taking in the scenery. You’ll want to head straight for Gritty McDuff’s, the first brew pub to open in the state since Prohibition ended. Gritty’s churns out more than 1,400 barrels of beer every year, and the roughly 11,000 students at nearby University of Southern Maine are more than happy to help polish off that sudsy stash, mug by mug.

The Scene: Duck into Gritty’s gutted warehouse off historic Fore Street and you’ll find brick walls, beamed ceilings and a signature copper-topped bar. “We don’t do karaoke, sell shooters in test tubes or do other gimmicks,” says Thomas Wilson, the bar’s marketing director. Grab a communal bench at one of the beer-hall style wooden tables with friends or cozy up with strangers and make some new ones. All who visit share a love for the small batches of fine, fresh ale. “It’s less than 50 feet from grain to glass,” Wilson adds. The heartiest of drinkers can join the Mug Club. A $50 annual membership buys an individual ceramic mug, discounts on pints and a rewards program. Judging by the hundreds hanging above the bar, Gritty’s has more than a fan or two.

Girls at the Bar: The beauty in the bar matches the picturesque setting outside. “You won’t find any outdoorsy, backwoods ladies here,” says Mike, an English major. Instead, be prepared for friendly and outgoing women who can talk about Uggs one minute and trapping lobsters the next. Steve, an accounting major, says: “You’ve got cute girls who are easy to talk to — and take home. To heck with New York!”

When to Go: Bartenders say Friday and Saturday nights are packed with the college crowd, so you should arrive early and snag a table. “It’s easily six to eight people deep at the bar,” Wilson says. During the summer months, relax outdoors with a pint on the patio overlooking Wharf Street. Local musicians typically keep the mood upbeat on Saturday and Sunday nights.

Dress Code: Casual is key. For happy hour, anything goes, from blue collar to blue ties. As night falls, guys go for the stylish but casual look while women tend to dress to impress.

At the Bar: Order a Bud Light or vodka tonic and you might be escorted off the premises. Stick with Gritty’s award-winning ales, brewed in the traditional fashion using barley, wheat, hops and water. Four to five different brews, including seasonal styles, are usually on tap. The Original Pub Style is a must for first-timers. And, if you’re lucky enough to visit during the autumn, try a pint of the Halloween Ale. “It has a cult-like following. We sell out of it early every year,” Wilson says.

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