Merry Time

Merry Time

There’s a bar I’ve really fallen for. She’s beautiful, confident and an expert in her field. Though Michelin guides tend to give me a terrible case of the eye rolls, I’ve always secretly appreciated their 3-star standard: “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey.” Which, in my opinion, is the most economical way to describe The Port of Call in Mystic.

I’m not normally attracted to fancy places. I’ve learned the hard way not to trust shiny things. “A cocktail bar that would play in Brooklyn or Bangalore, Chicago or Shanghai” sounds nauseatingly like something I’d read in an in-flight magazine, but this time it’s me writing it. But also not just me. Owned and operated by the same group that runs its noted neighbor, Oyster Club, The Port of Call was named one of the best bars in America by Esquire in 2022. And this year, chef Renee Touponce was nominated for a James Beard Award.

sponsored by

International Festival of Arts & Ideas

The bold, globally inspired food alone would make this establishment worth that “special journey.” The Squid Ink Empanadas ($14), made with Stonington-sourced cephalopods, were delicious and comforting, and the Hawaiian Pork Musubi ($14) only left me wanting more wasabi foam for the last bites of pork roll and sticky rice. The Thai-inspired Fish of the Day wasn’t shy with nouc cham caviar and housemade fish sauce. The talent in the kitchen delivers a meal I’d put up against any in the region.

Let’s not forget the cocktails. The Organic Woodland Matter ($14) is an umami Manhattan that combines rye, vermouth, mushrooms and bitters, and the refreshing La Jardinerx pairs an olive-oil-washed reposado with “fluffy pineapple” and a wild blend of herbs. The artists behind the bar aren’t afraid of Benedictine, bitters, sherry or shrubs and clearly believe drinking can be a culinary experience. If I had to recommend just one of their 16 cocktails, I couldn’t. Try them all.

The interior design is anchored by the horseshoe bar that dominates the modestly scaled space, whose polished wood and elegant fixtures thrive in warm afternoon light. As the menu explains, “The bar top in The Port of Call is made from the exterior hull planking of the whale ship, Charles W. Morgan…Original old-growth yellow pine was likely about 400 years old when it was harvested in 1841, then spent an additional 180 years under water, on the bottom of the vessel, traveling more than one million miles around the world.” It really begs the question: Why aren’t more bar tops ship’s hulls?

The Port of Call can feel too good to be true, like a mirage on the horizon set to evaporate any moment. But rather than question its future, I’m going to enjoy its present and make as many journeys as I can.

Written and photographed by Chris Renton.

More Stories