Pristine shellfish, hand-brewed beer, and a view of the bay
Written + Photographed by Jonathan Levitt
In old-time London, pirates were put to death on the gallows at Execution Dock. The hangman’s landing was just off the banks of the River Thames, just beyond the low-tide line. Once dead, the bodies were cut down, tied to a stake, and left as a warning to other pirates, left floating and lying in the mud until at least three tides had ebbed and flowed over their heads.
In Belfast, Three Tides is a pirate ship of a beer bar, a cocktail bar, an oyster bar, and a brewery. It used to be a lobster pound too. Three fishermen fished for the restaurant, for the picnic table eating, for take-out, and for real seaweed- and wood-burning lobster bakes. Those days are gone, but the 200-gallon live tank stayed, and so the lobsters are still the snappiest. Right on the shore, Three Tides fills a shingled old boat barn sitting way up on pilings and looking out over the tugboats and the sailboats and the old lobster dock—out to the islands of Penobscot Bay, and up the Passagassawakeag River.
Nine years ago, owners David and Sarah Carlson moved back to Maine from Wyoming to open the pub of their dreams. David is from New Sweden. He studied art at the University of Maine in Orono and then worked for years in the movie business as a set carpenter, key grip, and producer. He got his start building sets during the filming of Stephen King’s Graveyard Shift in Brewer.
“I did it for ten years and then hung it up,” he says. “It was too much time on the road and not enough time with my honey.” His honey, Sarah, grew up in Winthrop, and taught kindergarten. In Wyoming, she worked at the Mint Bar, a cowboy hangout in Sheridan, a place where David says, “Even the women chew tobacco and spit on the floor.”
Back in Belfast, they rented the boat barn and bought the building next door—formerly the city’s granary. They raised the building up and out of the flood zone and dressed it up with mismatched lampshades, warm wood, corrugated aluminum, and poured concrete. It all feels just right—kind of like a movie set.
An undulating concrete bar takes up most of the dining room. Sit there looking out at the harbor, drinking beer and eating all-you-can-eat hard-boiled eggs with Tabasco sauce, or go outside onto the awning-shaded and lantern-lit deck, or down to the patio, with a bocce court and a rusty iron giant of a fireplace, which David feeds late into the night with long lengths of junk wood.
Inside or out, order pristine shellfish: Pemaquid oysters (delivered by the harvesters), mussels, and steamed lobster. The lobster is steamed in saltwater. “Boiling lobster makes no sense,” says David. “There’s already enough water in a lobster plus it’s a waste of energy. And the oysters, Pemaquid oysters are the best in the world. They taste like the ocean.”
To drink, sample as many of brewer Dan McGovern’s quirky, esoteric beers as you can handle: the Illegal Ale-ien, Cornholio, or Pemaquid Oyster Stout—they’re all clean and strong and balanced—brewed by hand in the old granary with a view of the ocean.
If you’re lucky, if you come on the right night, Three Tides may feel like a party. Especially in the summer when the sun is setting golden on the harbor, and the place is packed with that particular Belfast mix of rock-and-rollers, organic farmers, tugboat captains, tourists, and artists—dancing, flirting, drinking the night away, and staying out until three tides have passed over their heads, so to speak.
40 Marshall Wharf | Belfast | 207.338.1707 |