This review was written on July 1, as soon as I got home from the Lion’s Pride. I think I may have just had the best beer experience of my life. I walked into the empty restaurant and was asked by a server if I wanted I table. I told him I wanted to sit at the bar and he said I was welcome to. As I walked to the beautiful copper topped bar, the woman behind the bar said “You’re Nissa’s [my wife] significant other…Josh..or something with a J.” I told her it was Jim and sat down, amazed that I’m already known by name at a place I’ve never been to before. [It helps that I've been to Ebenezer's Pub a few times, and Jess, the bartender who recognized me, worked their regularly until Lion's Pride opened.]
This initial experience showed me that this place is just as inviting and friendly as Ebenezer’s is. Every patron is a friend and is always welcome. Within ten minutes of sitting down I was introduced to Chris Lively (the owner) as a Beer Advocate, and he handed me a $600 bottle of 3 Fonteinen J & J Oude Gueuze that he was planning on uncorking for the official opening of the bar on July 3. You don’t get an experience like that at just any bar.
The Lion’s Pride is laid out in three sections. As you walk in the front door you enter the dining room. It’s full of comfortable looking tables. To your left is a former sun room that provides the closest thing to outdoor seating you’ll find here with its glass walls. To your right is the bar area, where I spent all of my time and which I will cover in my review.
As I mentioned, there is an L-shaped copper topped bar. Behind one side of it are the 35 taps, each topped with a custom made blown glass tap handle. There are no brewery labels on the taps, all you have to go by is the wall-length chalkboard listing all 35 draft selections. Continuing the no labels theme is the glassware section behind the other side of the bar. Here you’ll find wine, pilsner, tulip and snifter glasses, all unadorned with any markings [No pint glasses! This is a bar with no pint glasses!]. Later on in the evening, they put up a selection of Allagash glasses; it was the only labeled barware in sight, save one random St. Bernadus chalice that looked out of place on it’s shelf. I doubt that the Allagash glasses will last much longer than the kegs of Fedelta and White that are currently on offer, unless another Allagash keg is tapped.
Surrounding the glassware are the bottle coolers, although you could easily call them a beer museum. In my quick perusal I spied a bottle of Gargamel, numerous vintages of Cantillons, a selection of De Rankes, and some 3 Fonteinens (including the aforementioned 03 J & J Oude Gueuze), and that was jsut the labmic cooler. At the other end of the bar are a number of Trappist selections, abbey ales and other Belgian goodies.
Elsewhere in the barroom you’ll find a flat screen television, a long upholstered bench on one wall, a number of tables with upholstered chairs that match the bench, and satellite blues music on the loudspeakers. On the walls are an assortment of bar signs (including a few St. Sixtus ones that were quite impressive). Even better than the bar signs are the large murals representing a number of different beer labels form around the country. [Be sure to look up at the ceiling as you enter the restaurant for an impressive but easily missed mural] The walls are either dark red, yellow or black, representing the three colors on the Belgian flag. There is a tin ceiling. I don’t recall what the lighting was like, but it was bright enough to feel comfortable. There are a few windows that look onto Pleasant street. It was very cozy and comfortable without feeling forced.
The service was excellent, with everyone eager and willing to discuss beer. They were also quick to ask you if you wanted a refill once your glass got empty (for both beer and water). I forget all the names of the people I met, but each of them would be a perfect server; to have a team this prepared and competent on opening day is amazing.
I didn’t try the food, but it looked great. The beef and pork come from the same farm that provides the meat for Ebenezer’s Pub, and those selections are to die for. All of the fruit and vegetables are purchased fresh at the local farmer’s market. I imagine the seafood is local as well. The cheeses are all artisanal, including some Trappist selections.
One aspect of the bar I cannot review yet is the brewery side. All of the brewing equipment is visible through large windows in the dining room. It will be a few months before anything drinkable is produced, but if it is even half the quality of the rest of this bar, then the beers will be something to go far out of your way for.
In summary, I can’t say enough good things about the Lion’s Pride. Previously, any beer fan would need to go to any of three places in Maine: Ebenezer’s, Novare Res or the Great Lost Bear. We can now safely add a fourth location to that list, and it may very well enter the list at number 1. If God were a craft beer drinker, he’s be a regular here. Do whatever you can to get to the Lion’s Pride. You will not be disappointed. For me, it is brewpub perfection.