Prohibition ended in 1933, and they’re still celebrating its demise in Long Beach with the opening of the city’s first distillery, Portuguese Bend Craft Distillery. The name comes from the section of the Palos Verdes coast that was a favored landing spot for smugglers during the dry days that began with the 1919 Volstead Act.
The casual restaurant adds fun to the history lesson with authentic black-and-white photos from the era and a wooden boat suspended from the ceiling replicating the ones used by smugglers who bravely quenched Southern Californians’ thirst for booze during the ’20s.
The distillery, visible through a glass wall at the restaurant’s entrance, produces Portuguese Bend Smoke Bay Gin and Dona Rosa Gin, along with two vodkas (including one premium). Rum will be coming in the future, and if it tastes half as good as their rum-scented candle smells, it will be a hit. By the way, they have a catalog of cool gifts that includes candles, hats, shirts, and a gorgeous copper flask.
The menu covers appetizers, burgers, sandwiches, entrees, desserts, beers and of course cocktails using their spirits in cleverly named concoctions. The generous portion of Crispy Chicken Wings comes with choice of sauces, both hot and sweet with sides of blue cheese, ranch or the house secret sauce. The delicious and definitely dinner sized Fig and Blue salad includes baby arugula, toasted pine nuts, blue cheese, bacon, and dried Black Mission figs in honey-mustard dressing.
A true test of a casual dining restaurant is their burger and fries, and Portuguese Bend gets a big A+ on that exam. Grilled medium rare as requested, it was juicy in its tasty bun, with the right proportion of toppings. The fries were crisp and plentiful. The Nashville Hot Chicken Sandy was spicy — we were warned — and crisp, with creamy slaw for contrast. Signature dishes include Southern Fried Chicken and Nashville Shrimp and Grits. There’s a kids menu and a Milk Shakes and Desserts list that includes a Drugstore Sundae and Georgia Crisp Apple Pie a la Mode, continuing the nostalgic and Southern vibe.
Guests can stop by the expansive bar area with bottle-lined back walls for a taste of Portuguese Bend Distillery gin and vodka, and many will take home a bottle for home-mixed cocktails. The atmosphere is light, with outdoor seating and inside tables and booths in a comfortably divided area. Service is friendly and efficient, and servers are genuinely anxious to please and to tell guests about Portuguese Bend’s menu and spirits. The distillery is set on a lively corner of the Promenade, a great addition to an already appealing Long Beach neighborhood.
Portuguese Bend Craft Distillery, 300 The Promenade North, Long Beach; (562) 435-4411, portuguesebenddistilling.com.