Portsmouth Book and Bar in “Maine Today” magazine

Nice write up in Portland-based Maine magazine.



Written by: Heather Steeves – staff writer – hsteeves@mainetoday.com

The second I turned 15-and-a-half (legal driving age in New Hampshire), my friends and I went to Portsmouth, the cool place to hang out away from our parents. It’s been a few years since then, but I’m happy to find Portsmouth hasn’t lost its cool factor.

Portsmouth is often compared to Portland — maybe Portland’s cute little sister who really likes indie rock, french toast and Rocky Horror. The two have a lot in common: They both love the ocean, beer and twisty old streets. They’re both historic, walkable and filled with art stores that have to satisfy locals and tourists. Portsmouth has so much that we’re going to have a full guide up soon*. Plus, at only 50 minutes away, Portsmouth is a lot closer to Portlanders than Rockland, Bar Harbor, Bangor and most of the rest of Maine.

You could spend an entire day window-shopping in Portsmouth, and if you go you probably will. Poke around the book stores, cafes, thrift shops (there are lots of them, some with sequined pants, just sayin’), breweries and historic neighborhoods or catch a show/movie at the beautiful Portsmouth Music Hall.



DESTINATION: Downtown Portsmouth, NH, about 50 minutes from Portland.
HOW MUCH: $9 for a flight of beer.
WHO: You, probably. Portsmouth is best if you have another reason to go, like if you are already planning to catch a concert.
WHY: It’s close by, quirky and super walkable.
WHEN: Autumn and spring are nice because everything is open, but the tourists have migrated elsewhere.

If you go, here are some places to check out:



Every little city needs that killer coffee-beer-books-wifi combo space. In Portsmouth, it’s Book & Bar.

After some window-shopping in downtown’s Market Square, this is a nice little (air-conditioned/heated – pick your season) respite. You can order a local beer with a grilled cheese (with hot pepper jelly) or coffee and a cookie while perusing the Pollan, Atwood and Nabokov hardcovers in the sale section. A few New Hampshire beers (or ciders) are usually on tap, plus some other New England breweries, lesser-known West Coast brews get a couple taps too.

It can get pretty busy. The cafe doesn’t offer wifi on the weekends to cut down on all those aspiring novelists who might otherwise spend all Saturday morning at the counter with their MacBooks. Darn aspiring novelists.

Book & Bar is at 40 Pleasant St. It’s open every day 9 a.m.-10 p.m., open until midnight on weekends. More info at bookandbar.com.

This is Emilio. He may or may not let you into his yard sale. He probably won't sell you something, according to my experience. But I'm cheap.


“Good stuff — not cheap” is an understatement, or overstatement, depending. It’s the sign I saw at about 93 Daniel St. I was headed to get a cappuccino at the German caffe next door (Kaffee Vonsolln — it was great, btw) when I saw Emilio come down his steps and unchain his sign. When I asked if he was open, he began to test me. He pulled out a drawing of a mouse in a white tuxedo with the caption, “Here’s looking at you, kid.”

“What’s this from? This fine drawing with watercoloring?”
“How did you know that? Do you know where the word ‘hearth’ comes from,” he asked.
“No,” I said.
He gave me an etymology lesson.
“Are you open?” I asked.
“No. I have to clean up first. Go get a coffee and then I’ll let you in. You know, in Germany you don’t order the coffee. You buy some chocolate, sit down and begin shaving it. They’ll bring you a cappuccino. You put the chocolate on and (smacked his lips).”

After a cappuccino next door (perhaps not coincidentally, with chocolate shavings), I headed back to find Emilio hadn’t cleaned up (he apologized), but was instead arguing with a customer. No, he would not sell that. No, he can’t do $10 for that.

“She won’t leave me alone,” he told me about another customer who was trying to buy … anything, it seemed. I poked around the Audrey Hepburn mugs, the $150 heavy cast iron dutch oven (one of the only priced items in the store) and the stuffed animals before finding something useful. I snagged a small hand-held panini press (shaped like two scallops) that you might bring camping and a chess grater. I pulled $5 from my pocket and handed Emilio the money.

“Oh no no no,” he said, taking the aluminum (tin?) camping panini press from me. “What do you want to do with this? What do you think this is for?”
“Paninis? Maybe for making eggs when I go camping,” I said.
“This is very old, valuable,” he said, “you put your bread here, then your filling here, then put it over heat,” he said. “I can do it for $15.”
“Sorry,” I said, putting the money back in my pocket.
“Take this for example,” he said, taking a mashed potato hand-masher from a jar near me. “You buy this at Wal-Mart it will cost you $7. But it will break and you’ll need to buy four of them in your life. You buy this one for $15 and you’ll only need one.”
“True,” I said.

He shook my hand, asked my name and said goodbye.

Emilio’s yard sale store doesn’t have a name. I suspect he lives there. I suspect he won’t sell you anything. If you go, bring cash and your Latin books — he’ll appreciate it.

Emilio’s place is near Kaffee Vonsolln (79 Daniel St.), doesn’t have hours, probably doesn’t have a phone, no website and no name.  



After all that haggling, how about some serenity? Six minutes (walking) from Emilio’s yard sale store is the ever-pretty Trial Gardens in Prescott Park. The park is green and occasionally has free music (every Wednesday night) or theater (most weekend days) or movies (Monday nights). But it also has wharfs where you can watch the Terns dive (or the teenagers make out, as the case may be).

You’re now near Strawberry Banke (an outdoor living history museum) and State Street, which has a bunch of shops. Pickwick’s Mercantile has gifts like tea, bracelets, cologne, hand-made candles, etc — everything beautifully arranged, right down to the store’s color-coordinated bookshelf, offering a rainbow of spines. There’s also a cupcake shop, a dog boutique, The Red Door Lounge (for a late-night drink and some music every Monday night).

Prescott Park is on Marcy Street. It’s free. All the program listings are available at prescottpark.org.

*Don’t worry, we will have The Friendly Toast in the guide.


Get out of dodge (at least for a little while) with a mini adventure. These excursions can be done in a day – sometimes an afternoon – and will hopefully lead you to places you’ve never been. This is Maine, after all, and we all need some adventuring.





Yankee magazine awards Portsmouth Book and Bar as best new bookstore 2014

BOOK & BAR, Portsmouth

Owners John Petrovato, Jon Strymish, and David Lovelace realize that books and beer or wine are even better together. Pick from high-quality used books while sampling from their menu of beers, wines, gourmet sandwiches, and pastries. 40 Pleasant St. 603-427-9197; bookandbar.com







Article: “Added perks: Portsmouth Book & Bar adds music to its lineup”


By Christopher Hislop
May 23, 2013 2:00 AM

It’s been just about six months since Portsmouth Book & Bar opened up its doors and showed off the painstaking renovations that transformed the historic granite Chase House into the thriving business atmosphere you see today. Walking through the doors you’re welcomed by bright and vivid colors accented by remarkably ornate pillars and decorative trim molding around the ceiling — all of which was hidden by a suspended ceiling in a past incarnation of the establishment. A shame…; but boy is it nice to see the architecture of the building highlighted as it has long meant to be seen.

To say the least, the Portsmouth Book & Bar is a unique place. It’s comfortable, it’s inviting, and everything about it is infinitely interesting. It’s an establishment that is looking to aid in the distribution of fine used books for those who still covet the tangible and beautiful entity that is a book. It’s an establishment that allows you — while thumbing through said volumes of fine books — to partake in a tasty beverage, be it a gourmet latte, a high-quality wine, or a delicious craft beer. And don’t forget the food. Crafted by Chef Amy Mehaffey, the Book & Bar conjure up a luscious array of cuisine to tempt any palate — from baked goods, to sandwiches, small plates, and more.

WHAT Music at Portsmouth Book & Bar

WHERE 40 Pleasant St., Portsmouth

COST Varies

CONTACT 427-9197,www.bookandbar.com, and on Facebook


• June 21, 9 p.m., The UnExplainable Billy Eli & The Spook Lights (proceeds benefit the Birchtree Center for children and youths with autism)

• July 6, Ken Stringfellow. His newest album is “Danzig in the Moonlight,” and he’ll be coming from France. His band, the Posies, has been recording and playing for decades. Stringfellow played with R.E.M. for 10 years and has been with Big Star for more than 17 years.

• Aug. 2, sultry indie-jazz singer Margaret Glaspy

So…; apart from giving folks the opportunity to divulge in the age-old tradition of soaking up the ambient pleasure that you can only experience in a bookshop — an ethereal opportunity that continues to phase out at the expense of virtual shops, and the cold, personality-less plastic thin-line box known as a digital reader — what else is the Book & Bar up to? Glad you asked…; They’ve been giving touring musicians an opportunity to play their songs. In a town where music venues seem to be failing and falling in similar fashion to bookshops, Portsmouth Book & Bar is adding a little space to listen to interesting music that you may not otherwise see and hear in the Seacoast.

The three owners (of note: they have 80 years of book selling experience among them), David Lovelace (who has built upwards of seven book shops in his life — including The Montague Bookmill, which has become an iconic cultural presence in Western Massachusetts), John Petrovato (who also owns and operates Raven Books — with two locations in Boston and Cambridge), and Jon Strymish (who recently sold New England Mobile Book Fair in Newton, Mass. — the largest independent bookstore in New England for the past two-decades), along with Mehaffey have collectively orchestrated a music series that speaks to the eclectic tastes present among them. From folk, to Americana, bluegrass, Celtic, alt-country, rock, and even cabaret style performances, the series has (in its short life thus far), and will continue to offer unique listening experiences for everyone — from the casual music fan to hardcore music lovers.

Strymish — who was on the board of directors at Club Passim in Cambridge for the better part of a decade — has strong ties to the Boston music community and is looking to expound upon those connections for the continued cultivation of the series.

“My theory is to get, and expose people to musicians that are making, and feeling music, not simply selling it,” said Strymish in a recent interview. “When a musician is ‘selling’ music they’re never as interesting and exciting as they were when they started out, or had an inherent passion to play. Those are the folks we’re looking to book here. The folks that are excited about playing and have the ability to engage the crowd in amazing ways. I’m pretty excited about what we have going on.”

Mehaffey — who has spent portions of her life in Oklahoma, Los Angeles, Austin, and Boston, also has thick ties to the music scene here and abroad including Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore who has expressed interest in a future performance at the venue.

“So far it’s going great,” said Mehaffey. “The artists have been enthusiastic about the space, and the people that have attended the shows have been very appreciative and have expressed interest in what we have going on (musically) moving forward. We’re happy to have this space to afford people an opportunity to play, and listen to music. So far all the shows have been a ‘pass the hat’ affair, but for some shows we’re looking to bring in, there will likely be a cover charge. It will be a mix for sure. It’s good to have a mix (of free shows, and ticketed events).”


Up to this point the Book & Bar have hosted Session Americana, Boston favorites The Swinging Steaks, innovative cellist Rushad Eggleston, Damon and Naomi (of Galaxie 500), The Jimi Hendrix of the mandolin — Jimmy Ryan (of the Blood Oranges), Soprano Julie Braun Haines with an evening of cabaret music featuring songs by Weill, Satie and Gershwin, The Murphy Beds with Irish folk music from Brooklyn, Anna and Elizabeth — ballads, fiddle tunes, great harmonies and storytelling, and Sisters of the Moon featuring members of Della Mae.

“You never know what’s going to come through the door,” said Lovelace. “From the music, to author events, to films…; We’re just trying to keep it fresh, and keep it interesting. And — I can say this because I’m an author myself — if you’re not interested in what’s going on in here (or you’re just interested in conversing with your peers), there’s an escape valve by way of the patio that we’re building outside.”

As of right now future shows include Texas songwriter Billy Eli (June 21), Ken Stringfellow — founding member of the Posies, as well as a former member and longtime collaborator with R.E.M., and a member of Big Star, Lagwagon, and many others…; (July 6), and sultry indie-jazz singer Margaret Glaspy (Aug. 2).

“We’re not looking to pack a schedule just for the sake of booking a schedule,” said Lovelace. “We want to make sure that what we have coming is of the highest quality, and something you probably can’t get anywhere else around here.”

“We’re still getting organized, but we want folks to know that this is happening,” said Mehaffey. “It takes a village. We’re happy to have become a welcome part of the Portsmouth community, and we’re trying to give back with unique programming. We hope you’ll join us.”


Indy rock legend Ken Stringfellow to perform at Portsmouth Book and Bar


Founding member of The Posies, member of R.E.M for ten years and with Memphis’s Big Star for seventeen years, Ken comes to us from his home in Paris for a night of solo performance from his new record “Danzig in the Moonlight” and beyond. Ken’s shows are legendary, pushing minimalism to its core definition, often performing without using the house PA. His voice soars, cries, leaps from barely audible to room-filling anguish, joy, sorrow and humor. Ken’s live shows have been raved about in packed audiences from Lithuania to Lima, from Taipei to Tasmania, from Johannesburg to Trinidad. kenstringfellow.com



Review of Portsmouth Book and Bar




December 27, 2012 10:15 AM

The hybrid Portsmouth Book and Bar really did a good job at making itself equal parts bookstore and bar/restaurant. The small bar and dining area surrounded by walls and rows of books. It can be a bit awkward getting around, but the food and drinks are good — creative and perfect for the venue and the books, well, it’s tough to stop browsing and buying.

Hopefully by the time you read this what I call the User Interface (to mix a metaphor) is better. There’s going to be a sign telling you to order at the counter soon but if there is not, here’s what to do. Stake a claim at one of the tables in the center of the room by leaving a jacket or some other personal but not too valuable object. Walk to the register by the front bar area, get a menu and order your food, wine and beer. They have a very good beer list. Sit back down and wait for the server to bring your food. Pop back up a few times to look at books. Sit back down. If you’re at the bar, just order from whoever is back there, maybe even longtime sommelier and chef Todd Cary.

It’s a bit awkward to sit in front of a wall of books if someone wants to browse over your head and walking around the tables can be tricky because they’re close to each other but in general, the feeling of eating and drinking in what seems like a big library is great fun, also the feeling of being in a museum dining area, where folks are talking about brainy things, not necessarily fluff. Although I did overhear a group of women older than I am talking about how some man they know changed his status on Facebook from married to it’s complicated. This is a good spot for meeting to chat, going out for a bite after or before the Music Hall and just writing your book, or reading one in the cushy couch section. The books have terrific prices and many are beautiful art books.

The menu is small, but mighty in creativity and execution. They make everything right behind the bar. We tried the Book and Bar Cobb, a large fresh salad with hard boiled eggs, incredibly flavorful and moist roasted chicken, ripe avocado, kalamata olives and smoked bacon in a creamy buttermilk dressing ($10). It’s a perfectly balanced and substantial salad. There is a section of “pressed sandwiches,” like panini but thankfully, more like grilled cheeses in texture. Panini can be too hard for the ingredients, but here, all the fresh veggies or meats shine through in flavor and texture. My pesto and parmesan pressed sandwich was buttery, crisp and soft enough with slices of roasted eggplant and peppers with snappy parmesan cheese and an earthy pesto sauce ($7). Other choices include a brie and quince with tart Granny Smith apple slices and one with fresh turkey and cranberry chutney.

There are specials so ask (on two visits, I was not automatically told about them). Cary makes some great cured salmon with aioli and capers and a duck confit that is tender and robust. A dish of Spanish almonds has a dash of rosemary and sea salt and makes a great snack with the soft, freshly baked bread ($4). A Spanish tortilla, served at room temperature is like a small frittata, here layered with a tangy Iberico cheese, thin potatoes and eggs with a creamy Romesco sauce and garlicky aioli ($6).

I did not try the charcuterie plate, but saw one go by and will. The serrano ham and artisan sausage is served with that soft, fresh bread again and chutney ($12). A polenta triangle with caponata of eggplant, celery, olives and capers is both sweet and tangy and the polenta is full of the flavor of sunny corn ($6).

Be sure to try the olive oil cake with lemon curd $5). The cake is moist and aromatic with a hint of olive flavor while the lemon curd gives it a lot of spark. Then linger while you enjoy that big photography book you picked out, catching up on Ginsberg’s Howl, or just chatting with your friends. It’s that kind of place, with good food, a glass of wine or beer and smart talk, you can get your brain back again.

Rachel Forrest is a former restaurant owner who lives in Exeter. Her column appears Thursdays in Go&Do. Her restaurant review column, Dining Out, appears Thursdays in Spotlight magazine. She can be reached by e-mail at rachel.forrest@dowjones.com.


Dining Out: Portsmouth Book and Bar

40 Pleasant St., Portsmouth, 427-9197, https://www.facebook.com/PortsmouthBookAndBar/

Hours: From 10 a.m. daily


Food. *** and a half. Creative, casual and vibrant.

Service *** and a half. The ordering is a bit awkward but the staff is great.

Atmosphere *** and a half. A novel idea in Portsmouth. Get surrounded by books.

Overall *** and a half. A new dining and relaxing model in town. Good food and and fun vibe.