Workers hard at it to “button up” the framing and roof so that the rest of the winter can be devoted to interior details of the future Portage Tap House in Oquossoc

It all pretty much started last winter when the always popular, yet distinctly tired after all these years, Sarge’s Pub and Grub launched a serious remodeling followed by an opening in June that showcased an expanded dining area, kitchen, an outside summer venue upstairs for drinks, meals and views of the handsome and historic Rangeley Inn as well as Haley Pond, and a bank of seven HD flat-screen TVs along the wall behind the carefully preserved long and winding birds-eye maple bar. And below the TV screens was a new bank of 12 taps featuring the usual American lagers that have been around for decades, but mostly finely crafted microbrews from around Maine, New England and across the country.

New owner/operators of the future Furbish Brewhouse and Eats are (L to R), Kenny Haley, Beth Smith and Chip Smith…taken in one of the future dining areas facing Rangeley Lake

The handsomely remodeled and expanded “Sarge’s” was met with near-unanimous approval from both old and new clientele. Clearly, Craig Sargent and family were onto something. There is a wave of change that has been coming across the country and in particular the state of Maine….and it was centered on the growing popularity of locally brewed beers and ales offering a wide variety of rich tastes to satisfy what seems to be just about everyone.

Then came Randy Belanger’s 45th Parallel Restaurant. Ever since Randy, a very skilled chef and entrepreneur, moved his restaurant to Oquossoc, he knew that the restaurant’s popularity was going to need a serious expansion. His observation of what was needed most over the past couple of years led to getting his plans on paper well over a year ago. His planning has resulted in a months-long remodeling and expansion followed by a much anticipated reopening a few days before Thanksgiving.

What Randy saw as being needed most was a three-fold expansion of his very small, but popular, bar….complete with even more taps featuring, you guessed it, a well-considered and expanded selection of domestic microbrews. And in the food department, his culinary skills created a fairly consistent flock of patrons waiting for a table in his almost non-existent waiting area. That area has been expanded, heated, and essentially separated from his dining area…but conveniently close to the bar and all those draft beer/ale choices.

His signature dining room has been expanded slightly, with an eye towards preserving the quality of its menu. A table for four has been added, as well as a gas-fired fireplace for ambiance….however, the kitchen size is just about where he wants it to be as he works his magic for very satisfied customers.

Then we move to the two recent ground-breaking activities that have caught the attention of critical observers in the hearts of both downtown Rangeley and Oquossoc.

The stately former home, built in 1912, by successful Rangeley businessman Harry A. Furbish near the corner of Routes 4 and 16 overlooking the home’s garden and the expansive Town Park on Rangeley Lake, given to the town and its residents decades ago, has lived its recent decades as a nice, comfortable, but not always completely booked, bed and breakfast. M&H workers have been infusing the lovely old home with a good measure of excitement and re-purposing construction.

I had the opportunity to explore the existing structure and future plans a couple of weeks ago for the soon to be Furbish Brewhouse and Eats with its new owners and operators Ken and Amber Haley and Chip and Beth Smith. This will be the Rangeley Region’s first (we assume, since there is little official record of what was going on in town during the prohibition years) micro-brewery. Selected rooms upstairs and down will be for dining….primarily dining on the planned signature pizzas from its wood-fired oven to be washed down with in-house brewed beers and ales.

Pre-snowstorm photo of construction of a new foundation for the Furbish home’s sunroom, and the foundation/frost wall for a new commercial kitchen space in the back.

The future “brewmaster” will be Chip Smith. He has become a very serious student of the craft, stating that the brewery will be a small 3-barrel operation turning out 350-400 kegs/year. 85% of the kegs will be poured on the premises with 15% going to other local and Franklin County restaurants and/or bars. Plans are for 4-5 main beers/ales to be sold year-round, and 4 “seasonal” offerings. They will also sell refillable “growlers” filled with their local labels.

Even though some radical changes and re-purposing are coming to the stately old home, the new owners are clearly working hard to preserve the historic charm of the 106 year-old home. Historic photographs will adorn the walls, among other signature, and distinctly Rangeley Region, appointments. Watch for a Memorial Day opening, if not before. In the meantime, there will be plenty of construction-watching to be had from the sidewalk.

Last, but certainly not least, is the future home of the Portage Tap House fronting on Carry Road in Oquossoc. The name is an homage to the ancient Native American canoe portage (carry) route from what is now Haines Landing on Mooselookmeguntic Lake, and the western shores of Rangeley Lake a mile or so away. Today, the route remains a key portage on the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, the increasingly popular route for through-paddlers on that 740-mile native waterway from the heart of the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York to Fort Kent, Maine.

The principals in this venture are Paul and Laura Reynolds as well as Mike and Colleen Koob….locally known Oquossoc residents. A brief phone conversation with Paul clarified a few questions I had. As I had assumed, (if not hoped), the interior decor will highlight historic canoes and canoe adventures and adventurers,…native American as well as early area paddlers and fishermen…among other artifacts of this upcountry appreciation and recreational focus. It will also feature a wood-fired pizza oven to satisfy the appetites of those through-paddlers and others….as well as a selection of Maine-brewed craft beers and ales.

Whether you are personally an aficionado of finely crafted beers and ales, or not….you have to agree that these entrepreneurs will be adding to the abundant special offerings of the Rangeley Region for locals and year-round visitors and outdoor sports enthusiasts alike. Watch for a springtime opening of this new establishment as well.

And here’s hoping that this added richness will help convince potential ski operation entrepreneurs that Saddleback Ski Area has a terrific “ski town” a few miles downhill ready to complement a re-opening of some of the best ski terrain in all of New England!

We need to write, otherwise nobody will know who we are.

Garrison Kiellor

Per usual, your thoughts and comments are very much welcome. Jot them down on a 3”x5” card and skip it inside the log door on our mudroom on the rockbound west shore of Gull Pond….or simply fire off an email or text to [email protected]