SEARSPORT, Maine — A new Searsport bar and restaurant with a quirky name is serving tacos, elevated bar snacks and creative cocktails in a historic brick building on Main Street.
Hey Sailor! is the brainchild of Kirk Linder and Charlie Zorich, the restaurateurs behind The Hichborn in Stockton Springs. Their new venture feels very different from the elegant, fine dining they’ve become known for.
“We intentionally made this not The Hichborn,” Zorich, the chef, said. “We built the bar that we would like to hang out at on our days off.”
The couple has been working to create Hey Sailor! for more than two years now. They bought the Searsport building in November 2019 without expecting to launch into anything there very quickly. But March 2020 changed that approach to their new property.
“When the pandemic hit, we went into worst case scenario, which was OK, the Hichborn may never open again, because we just didn’t know,” Zorich said. “So we have this new space that’s on Route 1, with high visibility. We can throw a kitchen in here and start doing take-out out of the window, literally.”
But as they took a closer look at the building, they realized that it needed a lot of work. So they buckled down, blacking out the windows to build a sense of mystery among the curious.
“The building had multiple layers of bad choices upon bad choices,” said Linder, whose background is in design and construction. “Things that were failing were covered over with something new.”
The men ripped out six layers of flooring to get to the original hardwood underneath, replaced a complicated heating system with heat pumps and much more.
“It was pretty cathartic, just having something to focus on and work on during the pandemic,” Zorich said. “We were here everyday, just digging into stuff.”
Eventually, they had a clean slate for their new restaurant.
They decided on a 1970s-mod style for the new restaurant, which Linder describes as a “gastro dive bar,” inspired by a facade that had been tacked on to the building during that era. A nautical theme runs throughout the space and the menu, a nod to Searsport’s seafaring heritage. The end result is striking, with a groovy orange-and-blue mural on the back wall and a curvilinear poured concrete bar that looks like a ship running the length of the restaurant. Orange bar stools evoke life preservers.
“It needed to have a water vibe, with the shape of the bar and the veneer on the face of the bar,” Linder said. “It’s all very intentional.“
The cocktail menu features drinks organized by global ports of call including a rum-focused Mai Tai from the South Pacific, a Sazerac made with rye from the Gulf South and a Singapore Sling from the Asian Pacific. The New England port of call features the Searsport Switchel, made with local rum, ginger, apple cider vinegar and maple syrup, and Under the Apple Tree, made with bourbon, apple, cider, cinnamon and egg white. A diverse selection of local and other brews and wines from around the world round out the drink list.
The food is globally influenced, they said, with the inspiration coming from their years on the Pacific coast.
“I spent 25 years in kitchens on the West Coast, working with some really talented Mexican chefs, and what drives the taco-Mexican side of the menu is all recipes I’ve had in my pocket for years,” Zorich said. “It’s food we love, and food we love to eat.”
There is also posole rojo, made with pork and chile broth and hominy, and served with cabbage, avocado, radish, onions, cilantro and jalapenos on the side. Their enchiladas are made with a special 27-ingredient mole recipe that is made over two days.
“I think we do it justice,” Zorich said. “I would never call it authentic, but it’s food the way we love and know it.”
The rest of the menu is what they call inspired bar snacks, like oysters, Thai street food offerings such as satay wings and mussels in coconut green curry sauce, fried smelt, fritters, calamari and empanadas.
Zorich and Linder said that a lot of the ideas and recipes come courtesy of their kitchen and bar staff.
“We have a really great crew,” Zorich said. “The goal is to have it be a really collaborative kitchen.”
That’s especially important because when they reopen The Hichborn this spring, they will need to divide their time and energies between the two restaurants. Zorich and Linder are gratified that Hey Sailor!, which they plan to keep open all year, is already building up a fan base among locals and others. Down the road, they hope to expand into the former Grasshopper Shop building next door, which they purchased a couple of months ago.
“People have been extremely excited. Very warm and welcoming,” Zorich said. “It’s had this jovial party vibe ever since we opened.”
They were glad to add another option where local folks can dine. It’s been a good run for creative eateries in Searsport, with the opening last fall of Rio’s Spiked Cafe on Route 1 near the Belfast town line. That European-style tapas bar offers an inventive menu with many Romanian specialties and more.
“Everybody’s so focused on the tourists,” Zorich said. “The people who live here are pretty food savvy. And the more good options there are for people, the better off the whole community is. It’s a beautiful city with a fantastic waterfront. There’s so much good about Searsport.”