BELFAST—When the dimly lit basement bar on 84 Main Street in Belfast opens at 4 p.m., there’s likely going to be mellow music on the Bluetooth system or on the turntable at the end of the bar, where customers are encouraged to take in their own vinyl. Maybe there will be a few folks at the bar chatting, reading a book, or drawing in a sketchbook. In the corner, people might be playing one of the board games lining the shelves. Or sipping on a glass of red, scrolling on a phone.
Whatever people want to do, it’s the atmosphere that Sophia’s owners Steve Garrand and Luke Olson intentionally created, wanting to run a place, that they themselves would like to hang out in. The art on the walls all comes from friends. Besides themselves, they only employ one other bartender. The vibe certainly appeals to someone who just wants a quiet hideaway for a few hours and doesn’t want to be distracted by blaring sports on the TV or loud groups.
Garrand, a boatbuilder, and Olson, who manages an art studio, decided to take on Sophia’s a second business venture, but only if it could be done with simplicity. For that reason, they only have a beer and wine license and offer a variety of quality beers, wines, apertifs, and beverages that can be opened with a corkscrew or bottle opener. For snacks, the idea is to be pared down, such as pickled eggs and Moroccan sardines — something that is hearty, filling, and cheap, and can be put on a plate in a few seconds.
“I grew up working in the restaurant business as a kid, washing dishes and a line cook, and always thought having my own place would be cool,” said Olson. He said the small space, formerly the cider bar Perennial, informed that decision because it didn’t feel overwhelming.
Sophia is the mother of Faith, Hope, and Charity.
“It’s a beautiful name, an ancient name,” said Olson.
They’ve done no advertising, preferring word of mouth and a limited platform on Instagram to drive traffic. Even after opening in August, Garrand said locals have mostly been drawn to their basement bar.
“We’re still a work in progress,” said Garrand. “We’re trying to let the customers come in and shape the place.”
“The community response has been overwhelming,” said Olson. “People like that it’s cozy, welcoming, and kind.”
Sophia is open 4 to 9 p.m. Thursday through Monday.
Stay tuned to their Instagram handle for special events and updates @sophiaisabar
Kay Stephens can be reached at email@example.com
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