The bar at State Lunch is well stocked and well used. Photos by Angie Bryan

State Lunch in Augusta has a new fan. Spoiler alert: It’s me. I don’t say this often, but it’s absolutely worth the drive from Portland to Augusta to experience it for yourself.

You get a good feeling as soon as you walk into State Lunch and see its gorgeous décor: dark teal charcoal paint, black ceiling, brick wall behind the bar, funky art and light fixtures, and – most importantly – a bar that clearly means business, with all sorts of glassware and supplies ready to be called to action. My drinking companion and I sat down on the comfortable wooden barstools, with backs and foot rails, and took a look at the cocktail menu.

Owner Shawn McLaughlin, who was there during our visit, said that he wanted the cocktail menu to be fun and playful. He does a complete overhaul of the menu every season, changing the overall theme each time. His first cocktail menu had a Willy Wonka theme, his second was “The Wizard of Oz,” and the theme during our visit was Nicolas Cage, with every drink named after one of his movies. As a fun add-on, a Nicolas Cage movie was discreetly playing on a TV screen above where we were sitting.

The Face Off and City of Angels are two of the drinks on State Lunch’s current cocktail menu, which has a Nicolas Cage theme.

I ordered the $13 Face Off, a twist on a whiskey sour featuring bourbon, blackberry, peach, simple syrup, egg white and Luxardo Limoncello. Be still my beating liver. Every single sip from start to finish was an incredible flavor explosion. My friend chose the $12 City of Angels, a cross between a mojito and a French 75, containing rum, mint, simple syrup, champagne and an absolutely spectacular garnish.

Clearly, this was the kind of establishment where we were going to want to try more than one drink each. Our next round consisted of the $13 Gone In 60 Seconds, a twist on the Last Word, made with gin, green chartreuse, lavender, lime, cucumber and egg white. We managed to make it last longer than a minute, but it was a challenge. We also tried (and by “tried,” I mean “drank all of”) the $12 Mandy: vodka, blueberry lavender shrub, lemon, and egg white.

Each of the four cocktails came in a different style of glassware, each was perfectly balanced in terms of flavors, and each one was a home run. I haven’t enjoyed exploring a cocktail menu that much in ages.

State Lunch got off to a potentially rocky start, opening at the end of February 2020 – not the best timing given that the pandemic hit Maine in earnest only three weeks later. Once allowed to reopen, McLaughlin wanted State Lunch to serve as a refuge, providing a sense of normalcy to people, and the community has been very supportive; there is often a wait list, even on a Wednesday night.

McLaughlin’s passion for creating a wonderful customer experience is evident.

“People remember how you make them feel,” he said.  “You can change someone’s day in two seconds.”

With that in mind, he picked every song on the playlist himself and goes out of his way to make every customer feel special. If someone comes in on a Friday night, for example, he assumes it’s the one evening a month they get out, and does everything he can to make it worth their time and money.

My only disagreement with McLaughlin came when he talked about how his cocktails could hold their own against the cocktail menu at any other restaurant. No, Shawn, they don’t just hold their own. They’re far superior. Claim it.

Retired diplomat Angie Bryan writes about Maine’s cocktail bars while making as many puns as her editor allows.


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