The Portland Dive Bar Preservation Society
"THIS PLACE has been under different names—same vibe all the way through, though," says Justyn Reese, a bartender at the Ship Ahoy Tavern who styles himself as "the Reverend." When asked about its current name, Reese offers two competing theories. The first is that the bar used to be popular with sailors. The second is that it's called that simply because of the nautical decorations. "I hope it's the first one," the Reverend says.
There are indeed plenty of model ships, lighthouses, and that type of thing bedecking the walls of the neighborhood bar. It's enough to give the place character without crossing over into kitsch. According to the Reverend, many of the ships and other bits of nautical ephemera were gifted to the bar by regulars.
The central elevated counter snakes along the main room in a rectangular shape. Three television screens glow down onto patrons. As I sit at the bar, the TVs are showing women's college basketball, a nature documentary, and Caddyshack.
Ship Ahoy is an easy bar to be alone in, which is important for bars of a certain kind. To my left, an old man sips a drink while reading the closed captions of the nature documentary. A few other folks hunch over their phones along the bar, but the place is animated. The four-top tables are all occupied, and the murmur of conversation is good and thick with the background music. The bartender jokes with one of the guys at the bar who looks lost in thought. "Wake up, motherfucker!" The customer shakes awake and laughs. They seem to know each other. The bartender calls a few other patrons by name, and it's not odd to see regular customers get hugs with their first drink when they come in.
Ship Ahoy is a neighborhood place, the kind you hang out in after work on a weekday. It's not momentous or gigantic, but that's why it's good. It's the type of neighborhood bar where one can just be, whether gazing into a TV screen or standing at a pinball machine.
Other than $1 Miller tallboys on Thursday nights, Ship Ahoy's drink offerings are fairly standard in terms of price and selection. The beer taps offer a respectable selection of just over a half-dozen craft beers and ciders, along with some snack food like pretzels and frozen pizza. The staff lets you bring in some outside food, though, such as fare from the neighboring C-Bar and a nearby Mexican restaurant.
Well-appointed food or fancy mixology isn't why you go to Ship Ahoy, though. This is the type of spot where beloved, departed regulars have their picture on the wall. According to Reese, the oldest regular has been coming in steadily since World War II. It's easy to see why. Like the best dive bars, Ship Ahoy is a place where living happens.