5 Great Places To Drink in Portland, OR
Think beer, cocktails, coffee and pinot noir!
In a post published last week, unemphatically titled 5 Great Places to Eat In Portland, Oregon, I emphatically wrote about the incredible restaurant scene I found on a recent trip to PDX (that's Portland, Oregon, for you outsiders). To paraphrase: Pok Pok, Le Pigeon, Castagna and Jory are not to be missed. But what I failed to mention in detail was an equally interesting drinking scene. There’s cocktail bars, brewpubs by the dozen and a coffee scene that New Yorkers can only dream about. Here’s a list of five of my favorites:
- Beaker & Flask
The great connector in the cocktail scene, Lindsay Johnson of Lush Life Productions, tipped me to this place a few months before my visit. Lindsay does not mess around with recommendations — you should tweet her people. B&F was near the top of her list. We had finished dinner at Le Pigeon and twisted our way down Sandy Blvd. to the former office supply store — designed with ample seating, high ceilings and curvy lines that evoke the suburbs, mid-century. Portland transplant Kevin Ludwig is the man behind the 2-year-old project. He originally hails from Michigan and tips his hat to the Mitten State with a drink mixed with Faygo Rock and Rye (the original party pop!). The Cannonball Run (rye whiskey, lime, Canton Ginger, Vermouth di Torino and Rock & Rye) is the sum of its parts—smooth, slightly sweet and balanced to point of the rye disappearing into the shadows of a slightly bitter endnote. Well, disappearing until 4 drinks in you realize you drained a hip’s flask worth of brown. Over Thanksgiving Ludwig did a Stuck in Lodi — with rye, Gewurztraminer syrup (shit!), cynar and Peychaud’s bitters. If you’re ever been stuck in the Detroit area for the holidays, you can appreciate Ludwig’s joke. His Devil in the Boot is a Blood and Sand variation with blended and single-malt Scotch, Cynar and orange liquor. The 12-drink list also ranges into rum, vodka and pisco territory. Alas, no time to sample it all all. And I could write lines and lines about the food turned out by chef Ben Bettinger. A June list of specials posted on Facebook reads like a greatest hits of the summer: Fried pork terrine with pickled squash, roasted marrow on toast with salsa verde, CORN is Back with poblano aioli.
- McMenamins Kennedy School bars
McMenamins started as a chain of brew pubs and has branched out to into historical hotels where imaginative architects have taken municipal structures (warehouse, schools) and transformed them into shabbier-than-chic guest rooms. I stayed at a convered elementary school on the edge of the Northeast and Concordia neighborhoods. And while the rooms were beyond our expectations — clean and spacious and under $150/night— the various bars and on-site brewery were the most interesting thing going on. With indoor and outdoor seating, the Cypress Room bar was the most versatile. The multi-level Boiler Room has a blasting jukebox (Nirvana was playing when we first walked in, which was weird) and shuffleboard. There’s a cigar lounge (Detention Bar) and cozy cocktail den (Honors Bar) too. The cocktails were all over the place. A sweet pear sidecar was mixed with local brandy. A Dew Drop is done with Penney’s Gin — distilled at McMenamins Edgefield distillery — cucumber, cilantro and lime. Beers, crafted onsite, range from the robust IPA (Hammerhead) to lighter Cascade Head and Bagdad Ale. 5736 NE 33rd Ave., Portland, OR 97211, 503.249.3983
- Stumptown/Caffe Vita
Yeah yeah yeah, plenty has been written about Stumptown taking over the world. I hit the café in the Ace Hotel NYC often — I think less about the brand’s expansion plans and more about how deep my love is for an afternoon macchiato. Stumptown coffee makes bad days good and good days great. But what my local Stumptown branch doesn’t offer is ice coffee in a very cute little glass container [ed note. They just started this week!]. I found this at their Ace Hotel flagship. Same old cold-brewed magic — slightly nutty/kick-you-in-the-nuts brilliance. More randomly I stumbled upon Caffe Vita while walking down Alberta St. The Seattle micro-roaster opened in Portland a couple years ago and services many of the area restaurants. The café is tricked out with a dormant Probat roaster—which a manager said will soon roasting on-site. The iced coffee was smoooooth. We went back twice for that. The Ace Hotel 1022 SW Stark St. Portland, OR 97253, 503.224.9060; 2909 Northeast Alberta St. Portland, OR 97211, 503.954.2171
- Whiskey Soda Lounge
Pok Pok’s Andy Ricker is a sharp dude. We’ve spilled some words already about Pok Pok and Ping and will continue about this Division St. cocktail lounge that pairs drinks with what the chef-owner describes as aahaan kap klaem — the drinking food of Thailand. And like David Chang’s recent transformation of Momofuku Milk Bar into a Bar bar, Whiskey Soda Lounge does serve as a waiting room for the busting-at-the-seams Pok Pok across the street. But I liked the spot for the drinks alone. They serve a bia wun, which translates to “jelly beer,” which is sort of a hoppier Slurpee. The cocktails split between classics like the Southside fizz and Sazarec with refreshing, SE-Asian drinks like a plum vodka Collins and a whiskey sour shaped with tamarind and palm sugar. And whoever thought of spiking Vietnamese iced coffee with brandy? Like, whoa. 3131 SE Division St., Portland, OR 97202 503.232.0102
The reputation of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir is strong — just take a look at your favorite restaurant wine list. You’ll likely find Oregon reds — and maybe a white or rosé. The key to the success is a colder climate — chillier than California and closer to the famous Burgundy region in France. We spent a day touring the region, visiting Adelsheim, Anne Amie, ArborBrook and Archery Summit. No idea why they all begin with A. It’s not like we started in the wine phone book and worked our way down. Highlights included scenes like this and beautifully balanced Pinots. We also saw cats, dogs and some horses. You don’t see many ponies in South Brooklyn these days.
What are some of your favorite drinking spots in The Rose City? Hit the comments to talk up your fave hefeweizen, shot and a beer, or whatever.