BANGOR, Maine — The first few weeks of a restaurant or bar being open always features a bit of trial and error. For Melissa Smith, owner of Happy Endings Martini, Tapas & Dessert Bar in downtown Bangor, there were several surprises in the first month that she was open.
Smith, also a longtime co-owner of the Penobscot Pourhouse on Main Street, assumed that people would want options for drinks other than just martinis and cocktails. Though the extensive menu of handcrafted libations was the primary focus of Smith and her bar staff, she knew she wanted beer and wine for those customers not interested in liquor.
Boy, she was wrong.
“You know, I thought that people would want to have beer and wine in addition to martinis, but I was really surprised — people really love the martinis and the cocktails. I can’t sell a beer here to save my life,” said Smith. “I think people are just really excited that there’s a place that’s all about martinis and cocktails.”
The region has experienced a beer boom in the past few years, with 11 microbreweries now open in Greater Bangor. Though the popularity of craft beer doesn’t appear to be abating any time soon, the cocktail hasn’t gotten as much love.
Until now, that is. Happy Endings opened in late September at 32 Main St. The night spot features classic martinis, infused vodka cocktails, margaritas and dessert martinis, as well as lots of constantly changing seasonal drink specials — during warmer October weather, sangria was a special, and for Halloween, spooky martinis were served. When paired with selections from their menu including savory, tapas-style small plates and decadent desserts, the things served at Happy Endings make a, well, happy ending to any night out in downtown Bangor.
Smith’s restaurant has a cheeky name, to be sure. But rather than take the innuendo around the name “Happy Endings” even further, Smith decided to go in the opposite direction, gearing it toward the kind of happy ending you’d find in a fairy tale.
To that end, all her drinks are named after fairy tales and fantastic stories, such as the Hansel and Gretel (a chocolate and marshmallow martini with a crushed graham cracker rim), the Ruby Slipper (vodka and limoncello with strawberries and mint) and the Maleficent (blueberry vodka, Frangelico and blueberry puree).
“I didn’t want to go too far with the sort of naughty side of it, so I wanted to do something that was really fun and memorable,” said Smith. “I want this place to be comfortable and intimate and romantic. I want everyone to feel welcome here, and that it’s a kind of special occasion place. It’s not just a bar in Bangor. It’s special.”
Another crowd favorite is the Happy Snowman, combining marshmallow fluff vodka and whipped cream vodka with creme de cacao and Godiva white chocolate liqueur, topped with ice cream.
“It tastes like a whoopie pie,” said Smith.
More traditional cocktails are also served, from cosmopolitans to a classic gin or vodka martini, and Smith’s bar staff has worked with local distillery Northern Maine Distilling Company and its vodka brand Twenty 2 to create a number of infused vodkas for specialty drinks, with flavors including strawberry, chocolate and peanut butter displayed prominently above the bar.
Aside from the drinks, the food at Happy Endings is also “special occasion” food. There’s an ever-changing array of desserts served every night, such as peanut butter pie, creme brulee, apple crisp, cheesecakes, ice cream-filled cream puffs, flourless chocolate torte and many more, all overseen by Smith, as various ingredients come into season.
On the savory side, Smith had another surprise in the first few weeks of business when she discovered that the fondue ended up being the most popular thing on the menu.
“People really responded to the fondue. It’s by far our most popular offering, both sweet and savory,” said Smith. “It’s kind of retro, but it’s also kind of new for the area. We’re looking into offering a special fondue night, and offering some new flavors, like a creamy-style one, and a Thai peanut one, all with different things to dip.”
Other menu items include flatbreads and salads, charcuterie and cheese, changing soups and bisques and seafood dishes. Smith developed the menu with Tim Lewis, also the chef at The Tarratine on Park Street, with an eye for fast, fresh and crowd-pleasing treats. Brad Sherwood is now the kitchen manager and has brought his own take to the savory options on the menu.
“I tell him what I have in my head, and somehow, he puts it on a plate,” said Smith.
It’s hard to believe that the building that houses Happy Endings was most recently a home goods boutique, and before that, a video rental store — the transformation of the property has been significant, utilizing the space in a way that highlights how surprisingly roomy it is. The alcove in which the entrance is housed gives it a bit of a speakeasy vibe — it’s just a little bit hidden, like a place you’d unexpectedly stumble upon.
“We kept taking walls down, and as we kept going we realized that this building really had more space than we thought,” said Smith. “It’s a little funky. People sometimes don’t realize where the entrance is.”
When Happy Endings first was announced back in August, Smith said she was hoping to capture a later evening crowd that wanted to cap off their night with a cocktail and a sweet or savory treat — go to one of downtown Bangor’s many restaurants, and then finish up at her place. So far, she said, that’s been the case.
“People are coming in later. They’re making this place their last stop. It’s where we want people to end up,” she said. “You know, a happy ending.”
Happy Endings is open from 3 p.m. to midnight Mondays through Thursdays; 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. Fridays, noon to 1 a.m. Saturdays and noon to 11 p.m. Sundays. For information, like Happy Endings Martini, Tapas & Dessert Bar on Facebook.