The beer bar and restaurant we know today as The Great Lost Bear was founded in 1979 by Dave Evans, Weslie Evans and Chip MacConnell. Now after more than four decades in business, ownership of The Bear is being handed off to the next generation. Longtime managers Michael Dickson, Mary Dickson and Andrew Pillsbury signed paperwork Monday and became the new owners of the iconic Forest Ave establishment.
The Great Lost Bear launched in the pre-craft beer era in Maine. Geary’s was Maine’s first modern craft brewery and it sold its first beer in 1986. Gritty’s opened in 1988, and Shipyard and Allagash didn’t launch until the middle of the next decade. A very early beer list at the Bear consisted of Heineken, Saint Pauli Girl, Molson, Bass, Ballantine, Michelob, Miller Lite, Guiness, Miller and Budwiser and few draft beers. Now clocking in at ~70 taps of craft beer, the original Great Lost Bear draft line consisted of just four taps.
As the local brewing industry has developed, The Great Lost Bear has been a witness and essential supporter of the Maine craft beer industry. Here are some thoughts from Allagash founder Rob Tod,
The folks at the Great Lost Bear were the first to take a chance and put my beer, Allagash White, on tap. And since then, they’ve been institutional in supporting and expanding the popularity of the beer scene here in Maine. I’m glad to see that I’ll be able to enjoy a pint at the Bear for many years to come.
Weslie and Dave Evans moved to Portland from North Conway where they worked in the restaurant industry—Dave as a cook and Weslie in the front of house. When they decided to launch their own business they moved to Portland and eventually found a location on Forest Ave in what had been the Bottoms Up rock club. At the time the back half of the building was home to Nappi’s Bakery. The Evans’s and MacConnell leased their half of the building for $800/month.
Dave Evans was the first chef of the restaurant and over the years the menu has grown from a four page list to the behemoth it is today. While a lot has changed over the years, there a few dishes—and Weslie Evans’ wonderful illustrations and lettering—that have been constants including the French Onion Gratinee, Spinach Salad, and the I’ve Never Haddock Like This. The vegetarian section (Carnivore’s Beware!) made it’s appearance in 1981.
See below for a look at the cover art (cropped to fit) of GLB menus from the very early days through the version in use today. You’ll notice the first in the series uses the name The Grizzly Bear which was the original name of the business. It was changed, after a legal challenge from an pre-existing West coast operation called Grizzly Bear Pizza in 1981 to the new (and much better) moniker we use today.
Best of luck to the new owners as they steer The Great Lost Bear forward in the years to come.