DESTINATION BARS SOUTH OF WEST BURNSIDE
The Waterfront Zone
by Joe Streckert
You're done. You've spent eight hours in a work cube, hunched over a laptop. Well, not exactly eight hours. The day started with a meeting that you were only barely conscious during, and at one point your boss called you into his office. At lunch you stepped out for 30 minutes of release and got a burrito. You tried a cart you'd never been to or heard of. You thought maybe you would discover a good burrito no one knew about. You didn't. It was just another shitty street burrito. During the afternoon, you accomplished about a quarter of what you did in the morning. You wasted time. You ignored your work. You looked at other people's beautiful lives on Facebook, and exhaled loudly enough that all your coworkers could hear you. As you walked out of your office, you imagined Sisyphus at the apex of his eternal mountain, watching the boulder tumble into the depths. It's a weekday, you're off work, you're downtown, and you need a drink.
232 SW Ankeny
Valentine's is like going down to your cool friend's basement, where he's set up his own little bar. "Check this out!" he says. "It's ginger bourbon! Yeah? Try it with lime juice!" You sip it, and damn if it isn't amazing. "Oh, and I made up a cocktail," adds your cool friend with a basement. "I call it the Valentino. It's got peppadew in it. Try it!" You try it. It's wonderful. Everything in your cool friend's basement is wonderful. Everything there speaks to fun, experimentation, and sideways thinking. You feel, for a moment, comforted to know such smart, interesting people. Valentine's is just like that, except it's a real bar, and it's not in a basement.
426 SW Washington
If someone were to make a Broadway musical about the Open Road and America, that Broadway musical would look a lot like Kelly's Olympian. The neon, the road signs, the decorative motorcycles all scream "theme bar," but Kelly's Olympian manages to avoid the inauthenticity the décor would imply. One of the oldest eateries in Portland (it opened in 1902), Kelly's has the gravitas of a place that's been around for over a century. The food is... well... bar food, but the drinks are on the deep side, the tap list is long, and much of the clientele could probably tell you a thing or two about motorcycles. It's not quite a grim and gritty biker bar—but it's not faking anything, either.
214 SW Broadway
Saucebox is a bar that has a Buddha statue surrounded by candles. When you see the Buddha statue (it's by the bathroom) you might think, "Oh god, really? Asian-inspired food, cocktails, and décor are one thing. Subtlety is good. But did you have to go full Buddha statue?" Well, Saucebox earns their Buddha statue surrounded by candles. They earn it with drinks like their "Best" cocktail, a mojito-like concoction that makes the most of the mint leaves that float within it. They earn it with cocktails of the day, like cucumber margaritas playfully garnished with bright flowers. They earn that Buddha statue by letting you drink out of a pineapple. Accept the Buddha statue. Bow your head in benediction, and drink your drink.
932 SW 3rd
The Lotus boasts a storied history. Opening in the midst of Prohibition, the bar was once a card room dominated by gamblers, bootleggers, and Roaring '20s crowds. Nowadays, the bar has softened a bit. There's no bathtub gin, and no one's going to get in a fight over a lost hand of poker, but a bit of that history hangs around. A gigantic and gorgeous wooden bar dominates the main area, and the backstory of that particular piece of furniture is helpfully printed on the menus. The food and drink are all fairly straightforward, but for a small glimpse into Portland's past, the Lotus is worth it.
525 SW Morrison
Above the streets and sidewalks of Portland is Departure, a place of bright lights, slick surfaces, and wonderful cocktails. Departure is easy to overlook. It is culturally, aesthetically, and elevation-ally removed from our city of wood-and-brick brewpubs, but that's also exactly what makes it so good. The cocktails (many with Asian-fusion notes) play with sweetness, spice, herbs, and sauces, and the quality of the drinks more than back up the high-end image of the bar. If anything, the drinks make the stark, upscale atmosphere seem like mere prelude to the actual show that's happening in your glass. Above Portland, sipping a sake cocktail and gazing across the cityscape, Departure does feel like another, higher world.
The Jack London Bar
529 SW 4th
The basement of the Rialto Poolroom hides one of the best little event spaces in Portland. The Jack London Bar is a colorful, cozy space that hosts a plethora of happenings. Wildly varying events like history lectures (where I'm often a contributor), comedy, and Comics Underground (co-curated by the Merc's own Erik Henriksen and Alison Hallett) transpire beneath the Rialto. One night someone might talk about early vegetarians, and on another, some dude might lecture about bees. One quibble: The Jack London only has two taps. The spirits are as good as ever, but if you want beer options you'll have to settle for bottles.
Paddy's Bar and Grill
65 SW Yamhill
Being an Irish bar downtown, Paddy's immediately invites comparisons to Kells. So, let's just get this out of the way. Paddy's is better than Kells. The food, drinks, and service are all better, and you don't have to deal with the inevitable crowd that Kells draws. The food is textbook Irish pub fare, and the classic cocktails such as the Manhattan and old-fashioned are the Platonic ideals. Paddy's suggests that you are eating the definitive Reuben, and sipping definitive whiskey. As an added bonus, this Irish bar is located near Mill Ends Park, the world's smallest park and noted leprechaun preserve. If you're downtown and want blarney, your choice is clear.
223 SW Yamhill
The Yamhill Pub is a glorious shit crater. It's a hole, a mess, a fucking dive. The walls and floors and sundry surfaces are more graffiti-ed than not, and the pub certainly came by every squiggle honestly. Plastic cups do for the dirt-cheap well drinks, and the very idea of ordering any kind of cocktail seems vastly inappropriate. The only thing that clashes with the Yamhill's perfect image of a dive is the surprisingly decent collection of taps. Even in the midst of punk squalor, Portlanders still demand a decent IPA. The Yamhill Pub is amazing. It's perfect. Never go there. You'll ruin it.
The Keller Auditorium Zone
by Alison Hallett
The Keller Auditorium is rich people territory. Not your N Mississippi or SE Division rich person, who bikes on weekends and pretends to like dive bars; no, for the purposes of this illustration, your Keller Auditorium richie represents Portland old money, descending from the West Hills only when the opera beckons. Should you find yourself in the vicinity of the Keller, needing a pre-show drink—when Book of Mormon returns to Portland this summer, for example—your options are largely limited to the fancier end of the bar spectrum, but remember: This is Portland. We brush our hair when we feel like it. Don't let those rich old people intimidate you, and don't be embarrassed to ask for the cheapest beer on the menu.
1408 SW 6th
The bar at Nel Centro is technically a hotel bar—it's inside the Hotel Modera—but it's well lit, well appointed, and not typically overrun by lonely looking business trippers. Ignore the fancy dining room and head for the big square bar, where glasses of house wine will set you back a reasonable $7—or better yet, time your visit for their generous happy hour, when wine and wells are $5, drafts are $4, and the food menu includes $3 french fries, $7 pizza, and $6 sandwiches.
1331 SW Broadway
Tucked away upstairs in the historic Ladd Carriage House, above the restaurant Raven and Rose, the Rookery feels like an upscale clubhouse, all wood floors and high ceilings and leather couches. Their happy hour (Tues-Fri 4-6 pm) offers affordable snacks in the pickles-olives-crackers vein, $5 beers, and $7 wine, but it'd be a shame to climb all the way up there and not have at least one cocktail from bar manager David Shenaut's impressive drink menu, which combines a historian's interest in classic cocktails with a near-scientific attention to detail.
1220 SW 1st
I've actually never ventured beyond the bar at longtime Portland institution Veritable Quandary. I know there's a dining room back there somewhere, but the bar area is just so cozy—warm lighting, bottles stacked against an exposed brick wall, a bare-chested ship's figurehead presiding over it all from her post above the door. Plus, there's a bar menu served from 3 pm until midnight, featuring snack-y options like fried cashews ($5) and bacon-wrapped dates ($6), alongside burgers and a pizza of the day. The only downside: The bar is tiny, and it fills up fast.
835 SW 2nd
It's baffling that there aren't more places downtown like Lúc Lác, given the newish Vietnamese restaurant's incredible popularity. On the surface, there's nothing particularly remarkable about Lúc Lác's formula for success—cheap food, late hours, a full bar—but there aren't many other restaurants in the area that even bother to stay open after 6 pm. The food isn't gonna blow your mind, but it's solid and fresh, and the happy hour prices are fantastic; and while the counter-style service can make for awkwardness when ordering, it's worth it for $2 happy-hour sugar cane shrimp and a $6 "dealer's choice" cocktail from their ambitious cocktail menu, which features unusual ingredients like lychee, condensed milk, and tapioca pearls.
200 SW Market
It took three visits during posted business hours before we found Bistro Marquee actually open (do restaurants close for Presidents Day?), but once inside we found a solid little happy hour, featuring Southern-influenced bar food from former Screen Door head chef Rick Widmayer. The small bar is comfortably offset from the more-formal dining room, and the bar staff is friendly; proximity to the Keller ensures that this place will be packed on show nights, and quiet (or closed!) otherwise.
The Portland State Zone
by Denis C. Theriault
This day has been such a disaster. First, it was the hangover that wouldn't go away, not with coffee, not with Advil, not even with that skunky shit that Pete grows in his walk-in closet. Then, when you finally got down to Portland State for the only class you're taking right now—the one on American labor... the only class you need to graduate—your professor had bad news. Your tuition check bounced. You'd been withdrawn. With nowhere else to go, you walked over to the library to close your eyes and put your head down on a desk (because it still fucking hurts). And you fell asleep. And you missed the start of your shift at the Pita Pit. Again. And Jimmy, your teenaged boss, told you that it was your last chance two times ago. So he finally fired you, but politely. GodDAMN do you need a drink! Alcohol's the source of your troubles, sure. But right now? It's also the answer! Here's where to go!
622 SW Columbia
Mummy's is a mysterious and venerable place. It bides its time in a relative urban wasteland across the street from the incredibly shrinking Oregonian. But please don't let that stop you from enjoying a tipple, or quiet and romantic dinner in one of downtown's most interesting drinking spots. True to its name, Mummy's is filled with Egyptian artifacts much like you'd find in an actual crypt. (Yes, it also serves Pyramid beer.) But it's not a schtick. When he's not slinging Middle-Eastern staples or mixing up a surprising variety of tiki-inspired blended cocktails, longtime owner Gabriel Mounir is perfectly willing to sidle up to the rail and tell you everything you ever wanted to know about his homeland. And yours.
1717 SW Park
Drinking at Rogue Hall—a helpful, PSU-based outpost of Oregon's formidable and ubiquitous Rogue Ales—is akin to drinking in a gift shop. Yes, there's a bar and a restaurant, but the main idea of the place seems to be getting tourists (or visiting college parents) buzzed and full enough that they break down and buy some maple-bacon swill or maybe a sweatshirt for the people back home. Mall-approved dance music plays endlessly. And a wall of brightly lit paraphernalia uncomfortably dominates what's otherwise a cozy attempt (board games! A fire!) at creating a decent place to visit with friends. If you can get past the advertising, one of the 20 or so Rogue beers on tap should suit you fine. And the pleasant barkeeps, at least, are there because they know about alcohol.
Market Street Pub
1526 SW 10th
You don't go to McMenamins for the food (consistent, if unimpressive, aside from the happy-hour french fries). Or the beer (Ruby Ale tastes, to me, like fruity grass). You go because it's a safe bet your out-of-town parents won't hate it, and because it's nice to spend some time in a meticulously restored historic building—the chain's stock in trade. Unfortunately, the Market Pub is maybe the most charmless McMenamins outlet in all of Oregon... which means there really isn't much of a good reason to go there. Instead of rambling across the first floor of a creaky old Victorian, the Market Pub is a tunnel of wooden booths built into the bottom of an orange-brick apartment tower that went up sometime in the 1980s.
The Cheerful Tortoise
1939 SW 6th
Presiding over a busy intersection in what feels like the epicenter of Portland State's urban campus, it's plainly obvious the Cheerful Tortoise doesn't have to try very hard. It's self-styled as a comfy neighborhood sports bar—and, yes, TVs and Timbers and Blazers paraphernalia loom everywhere—where you can catch a game while choosing from a "menu" of various foodstuffs including soup and pizza and sandwiches. But the strong cocktails, bright lighting, lady bartenders in referee uniforms, and persistent vomit crust in the men's room tell the rest of the story. The Tortoise feels just like a joint where dim young men can unthinkingly gather in packs and get shit-faced.
Suki's Bar and Grill
2401 SW 4th
Suki's represents the best of so many drinking worlds. Like the seediest juke joints in these United States, it's plopped under a low-rent, side-of-the-freeway motel—in this case, a Travelodge off the 405, parking lot included. And it keeps up appearances once you get inside. The lighting is soft and muddy. The horseshoe-style bar is dressed in red formica and soft vinyl bumpers. The bar sprawls into alcoves dotted with cracked-vinyl booths. But best of all? The food's decent-looking. And so's the beer selection. Cheap tallboys vie for space with a delightful list of local microbrews. There's even some of the best karaoke in town!
The Museum Zone
by Erik Henriksen
Culture! Let us speak of arts and lectures, of cinema and theatre, of letters and dance! For these are the eloquent inventions that nourish our minds and heal our souls; these are the venerable expressions that place us upon a higher plane than that of the sweating, defecating beasts! Culture! It is the very thing that makes us... human. Alas, sometimes culture is fucking terrible. As proud of yourself as you might be for putting on fancy pants and paying an ungodly amount of money to see a ponderously dull-witted play or the latest subtitled wankfest, there's always a chance it could all backfire, leaving you bored and angry. Hours later, you'll finally escape the theater, only to wander Portland's rain-slicked streets, wanting—needing—nothing more than a drink. For it is then that you realize it is not culture but drinking that makes us... human.
820 SW 10th
A steady, reliable stalwart that's been around for almost a century, the well-loved, well-trafficked VC is within easy walking distance of the Schnitz, the Keller, the Fox Tower, and the Central Library, boasting a solid section of booze and beer, plenty of cozy booths, and a decent, if pricey, menu. Surprisingly enough, the best way to hit the often-crowded VC is when you've got a few people with you: While the wait staff tenaciously forbids all but larger groups from sitting at the best table—the big one near the windows—they'll let you take it over if you have a few friends with you. Then you've got attentive table service, a view of the library and the streetcar, and a comfortable spot to talk about whatever play or movie you all just saw.
ArtBar & Bistro
1111 SW Broadway
Given the unpredictable quality of Portland's theater productions, it's a genius move to have a bar located on the first floor of Antoinette Hatfield Hall, home of the Newmark Theatre and next door to the Schnitz. I'm pretty sure all of Portland's theaters should make it this easy to slam down a drink before a play, and clearly, I'm not the only one: Really, the only good reason to hit the ArtBar is if you're seeing a show at the Newmark, the Schnitz, or the Winningstad, and then everybody who's seeing something is in line. ArtBar has a small menu and a few tables, but it's better to just barge your way to the front of the bar line and get something quick from the beer or wine lists. Or the beer and wine lists, depending on how much culture you're about to experience.
The Heathman Restaurant and Bar
1001 SW Broadway
There aren't many places in Portland where a well-dressed sugar daddy can feel truly at home with his latest sweet young strumpet on his arm, but the Heathman Hotel bar is one of them. Nestled just below one of Portland's fanciest hotels—and right next to one of Portland's fanciest hotel restaurants—you can tell the Heathman's bar is high class because there's attentive, gracious service (another nearly impossible thing to find in Portland). True, getting overwhelmed by proletarian rage is a possibility, but try ducking into the bar on a weekday night. Time it right, and you'll find a subdued, amiable place to enjoy a quiet beer... even if the bartender insists on pouring it into a glass for you.
309 SW Broadway
Rich mahogany. Okay, it isn't mahogany that makes the stately lobby and bar of the Benson Hotel look so fancy—it's actually the even fancier Circassian walnut, brought over from Russia—but rich Circassian walnut doesn't quite have the same ring. Still, if you're looking to feel high class for once, being surrounded by beautifully carved Circassian walnut and glittering Austrian crystal chandeliers does the goddamn trick. The Benson looks fancy enough on the outside that it keeps most people away, but even 99 percenters can settle in at one of the relatively private tables, order something on the rocks, and eavesdrop on people whose lives, unlike ours, haven't turned out to be massive disappointments. And once we're done feeling fancy, Mary's Club is practically next door, where there's a whole different type of wood.
725 SW 10th
You don't see maroon a lot these days, probably because it's all in MoMo. Crammed with everyone from downtown working stiffs to nervous first dates to earnest bros doing their best to brodown, MoMo—in addition to being very, very maroon—boasts an always-crowded patio that's great for smokers in the winter, and great for everybody else in the summer. For introverts and misanthropes, the biggest selling points of the otherwise pretty standard bar are its booths, lined up along the wall: Long and spacious, they're separated by ridiculously tall dividers, providing a comforting feeling of almost cave-like seclusion. If caves were maroon.
750 SW Alder
Next to the Westin hotel—you know, that place where you see fucking Maseratis parked—is the Daily Grill, the Portland installment of the hotel restaurant chain. But surprise! This particular Daily Grill—small and almost hidden—is actually one of downtown's better-kept secrets, thanks to friendly, fast bartenders and a varied menu that offers everything from a hummus plate to filet mignon. Also varied: the actual space. There are dark tables, good for grabbing a quick drink with a friend or date, or there's usually basketball on if you want to sidle up to the bar, or, around the other side of the bar, there's a counter with embedded iPads (okay!) and a loungier area for quiet conversation. What the Daily Grill might lack in personality—you'll never forget you're sitting in a chain restaurant—it makes up for by being an easy and surprisingly pleasant spot to grab a quick drink, relax for a bit, or Google how to hotwire Maseratis.
The Providence Park Zone
by MJ Skegg
Tumbling out of Providence Park (used to the new name yet?) with the sound of Timber Joey's chainsaw still ringing in your ears, you need to negotiate the 20,000 or so flailing people and find a place to sit—and, more importantly, to drink. Unfortunately you're not in the best part of town when it comes to bars, sandwiched in that odd no man's land between downtown proper and the exotic delights of NW 23rd. But not to worry, it's not all just dive bars and PBR. You have options.
The Bitter End
1981 W Burnside
With its recent makeover (it still smells new), the Bitter End has ditched its dark 'n' divey look for a light, expansive gastropub feel. The layout has improved, and the TVs broadcasting all manner of sports are still there, but they don't dominate the space, and the kitchen is open and larger, which is reflected in the extensive menu. Beer is the focus, here—23 rotating taps (nearly all Oregon brews), and just as many by the bottle. No doubt it will still be full of green and gold on a Timbers game day, but it offers an upscale alternative to a divey stretch of Burnside.
729 SW 15th
Nestled in the Hotel deLuxe, the Driftwood is small and barely lit, but with a mid-century charm that brings to mind cigarette cases and pocket squares (this being Portland though, there will always be some oaf in a Ducks shirt). If you're playing at being this type of grownup, you should have cocktails, and Driftwood specializes in champagne varieties, while also doing a nice line of Manhattans. Or you may want to try one of the spirit samplers with local gins or whiskeys ($14). If you need sustenance, a shared pan of the forest mushrooms is a must. And with a happy hour that only pauses between 6:30-9:30 pm, you can live the high life on a budget.
Goose Hollow Inn
1927 SW Jefferson
The Goose Hollow Inn is a Portland institution, its walls covered with city photos and memorabilia. Opened in 1967 by Bud Clark, former mayor of Portland, it's always prided itself on being a bar for conversation, making it the perfect spot for putting the world to rights. It's cozy, friendly, and full of regulars. In winter, it almost feels like being tucked up in a chalet, and it boasts one of the most popular decks in town during the summer. There are around a dozen beers on tap (including local brews from Breakside, Deschutes, and Double Mountain), and the bar menu includes an extravagant Reuben and roast beef sandwiches.
2165 W Burnside
Duck off Burnside through a nondescript door and suddenly you're in a different world—the bar at the RingSide, your very own intimate, but casual den. Of course, you can order one of the magnificent (and pricey) steaks from the restaurant menu. But that's not why you're here. You're interested in that wall of bottles beautifully stacked behind the bar, and the distinguished man in a tux calmly fixing the drinks, who will never be stumped by any possible cocktail request you dream up. Wines by the glass are also first rate and there's an extensive whiskey and scotch list. If you are feeling hungry, hit up the steak bites from the happy hour menu (9:30 pm-close)—a steal at $2.95.
1650 W Burnside
Despite being in the same vicinity, the Commodore manages to avoid much of the rowdiness found in the likes of the Marathon Taverna and Matador. Inside it's spacious, if bare bones—there are a couple of pool tables and pinball machines—and it has never managed to regain the atmosphere of its original incarnation on Morrison, despite having some of the same furniture. But it's friendly enough, covers the bases with beer (Pyramid, Hopworks, Mirror Pond, Deschutes) and offers some surprises—for instance, the delicious Dogwood Union gin from Forest Grove is available. The prices are good, and the pours are generous.
The Crystal Zone
by Ned Lannamann
Oh, great. Floater is playing the Crystal Ballroom again, and your amiable, aimless stoner buddy from high school is driving up from Eugene to make a night of it. Sure, it's always nice to see him (you wish you could say the same about Floater). But once again, the onus is on you to put together a gentlemen's evening on the town. Your buddy doesn't care about the West End's hot new boutiques, or the perfect, steaming bowls at Boxer Ramen, and you sure as shit can't talk him into a hearty pre-func browse session at Powell's again. (Let's not mention the unfortunate incident at Mary's Club that had you both barred for life.) Nope, the only course of action is booze, and plenty of it.
1215 SW Alder
The sister bar of the upscale Grüner restaurant, Kask is a cramped but cozy joint that connects on all fronts. A fine selection of booze and an excellent list of house cocktails are the reasons to drop in—the Buddy Swap and the Bicycles and Baskets are both worthy choices—and their small selection of beer, wine, and nibbles are nothing to turn your nose up at. At no point will you feel like you're getting a bargain, and the service is friendly but not entirely speedy, but otherwise the handsome, homey Kask is as good as downtown hobnobbing gets without veering into the realm of unbearable snobbery.
Pépé le Moko
407 SW 10th
The newly opened cellar speakeasy beneath Clyde Common has quickly amassed a buzz—largely because it's been in the works for more than a year and a half—and now that it's arrived, Pépé le Moko really, really wants your money. The secretive, cavern-like ambience is definitely worth checking out, and the cocktails, a small selection of reinvented mid-century pariahs (amaretto sour, Long Island iced tea, grasshopper) do not skimp on sweetness or guzzle-ability. But the prices are, quite frankly, outrageous, and your liquor comes in stingy single-ounce pours, which is unheard of. (Double-ounce pours are also available—at twice the cost.) Bring the company card, or your deepest-pocketed friend.
1321 SW Washington
Now this is more like it. Scooter's is an unpretentious, inexpensive dive that you can bring your ma to. (Actually, wait—she's already there. Hi, Ma!) As the West End becomes increasingly well heeled, Scooter's may very well be the neighborhood's last holdout for cheap beer, two-ingredient cocktails, and trashy good times. In other words: good, hard-working, decent American values. Their pièce de résistance is the famous Jell-O shot, but you can get your mixed drink in a pint glass, you can get your beer in a tallboy, and you can get absolutely schnockered for mere dollars before you teeter around the corner for a show at the Crystal Ballroom. God bless you, Scooter's. Never change.
1332 W Burnside
The ground floor of McMenamins' Crystal Ballroom may get overrun on weekends with the "woooo!" crowd, but here's a hot tip: Ringlers boasts one of the finest whiskey selections in town, and nobody knows about it—sometimes, not even the bartenders. They're sitting atop rare bottles of Hirsch and Black Maple Hill that are just gathering dust (we scored a pour of Black Maple Hill's 23-year rye for $23, an absolute steal; don't worry, most pours are much cheaper), and there are some surprisingly decent McMenamins house beers that go beyond the Hammerhead/Ruby varieties. Yes, we're saying it: Ringlers is a totally solid choice. Just pick the right time to visit—actually, one of the best times is when you're shut out of a sold-out show upstairs, as they'll pipe a soundboard mix right down into the bar.
213 SW Broadway
Bailey's Taproom isn't just the best beer bar downtown, it's become one of the best places to get a pint in all of Portland. Boasting a staggering, quickly rotating selection of 24 excellent and/or über-rare beers—at terrific prices, mind you—Bailey's is inviting and unpretentious. Well, except for the high-tech digital tap board, which allows you to see how full each of the kegs are. (The website also has the info, allowing you to plan your visit around a particular pint.) Want to bring in outside food? Bailey's lets you. You can even order Mexican food from Santeria across the street, and they'll deliver it to your table. If you're downtown and need a good beer, there's nowhere else.
1331 SW Washington
In the age of gimmicky buzz bars, Cassidy's is suddenly that rarest of things: an unpretentious, upscale joint that welcomes all comers. While their dinners are totally fine, Cassidy's is best as a late-night place to cozy up with some chatty friends, a few drinks, and a late-night snack. It's something Portland's theater community has taken to heart—this is where you'll find the city's actors unwinding after their evening performances—as well as servers from Portland's other establishments, taking advantage of Cassidy's late last call and cushy, club room atmosphere.
Multnomah Whiskey Library
1124 SW Alder
The Multnomah Whiskey Library caters exclusively to very, very rich idiots, requiring a $500 annual membership simply for the ability to make a reservation. Sure, mere mortals can walk up and put their names on the waiting list—as we did—but good fucking luck, asshole. We were told that we'd receive a call when a seat in the leathery, wood-paneled room became available, but more than four hours passed without so much as a courtesy notification that no spaces would be free that night. (It should be mentioned that the Mercury's preliminary inquiry email to determine a good time to visit for the purposes of this drinking issue received no response.) Since there are far, far better places to get a drink in the area, and since the neighboring Ringlers boasts a shocking amount of rare, untouched whiskey behind its bar, there is absolutely no reason for you to attempt a visit, unless you're trying to quit drinking. As for us, we're still waiting for our table.
DESTINATION BARS NORTH OF WEST BURNSIDE
The Greyhound Zone
by Dirk Vanderhart
You should have taken the train. The train is spacious and peaceful. There is a little room where you can buy booze and hot chocolate. Instead, you thought you'd save 20 bucks and ride the bus back from Spokane. People get decapitated by their fellow passengers on buses. Bus drivers fall asleep. Overworked bus engines shudder, and then explode. But those are rarities. More often, an interstate bus is a place where thousands of tiny tragedies occur. Your incontinent seatmate and his incontinent ferret are examples. So is the traffic jam near Pasco that put you in their company for hours longer than planned. Now, with the flashing "Go by Train" sign announcing your mistake to the hills and a stench lingering in your nostrils, you're in one of Portland's most rundown neighborhoods in need of the strong stuff. Here's where you go.
Pints Brewing Company
412 NW 5th
Cozy, dim, and nondescript in a part of town with little foot traffic, Pints feels like a discovery when you wander in off the street. It's a solid (if standard) brewpub, with a pub-fare menu to complement the 10 or so tasty beers brewed in house. The bar's owners claim Pints is the first brewery to call Portland's oldest neighborhood home since the mid-19th century, and the location makes all the difference. Pints adds a welcome breadth to Old Town's nightclub-heavy offerings, and should be high on your list if you're in the area and in need of a drink. One caution: The bar closes at 11 pm most nights.
217 NW 4th
There was a period in the summer of 2013 when one Mercury employee swore by Magic Gardens' club sandwich, and frequently took his lunches at the Gardens' long, dank bar. It made sense. In a city riddled with divey strip clubs, Magic Gardens feels, more than any other, like a dive bar that just happens to have strippers. Go for cheap whiskey, for an apparently tasty sandwich, for the aging lady behind the bar to ask if you had a nice Valentine's Day—any of the reasons you'd go to the dive around the corner from your house. Regardless of your motives, though, don't forget to tip the women working on the stage. It's a goddamn strip club, after all.
The Embers Avenue
110 NW Broadway
The bar at Embers has goldfish in it. Live goldfish, swimming away beneath your cocktail. Some are lightning quick. Some don't move, and you hope they're sleeping. They don't have names, the bartender frankly explains, that "would be too much." How often do they die? "Often." As for the handwritten beer tap marked "Embers Escape Lager," the barkeep warns sternly: "Don't do it." People come to dance, or for the drag shows in the back bar, but the no-bullshit service, cheap drinks, and free popcorn up front are reason enough to warm your hands, and liver, at Embers.
The Fox and Hounds
217 NW 2nd
The Fox and Hounds feels like a bar your gay grandfather might frequent. It's brightly lit, with old paintings of fox hunts and booths that bring a Shari's to mind. These are by no means bad attributes. The Fox and Hounds has carved out a vital niche in the heart of Old Town's thumping nightclubbery: It is sanctuary, vital respite, needed calm. The drinks are legendary in their strength, the regulars are friendly, and the weekend brunch is delicious and generally wait-free. Plus there's pool.
Davis Street Tavern
135 NW 5th
Where Old Town goes to get classy. Outside Davis Street's enormous old windows, MAX trains rumble and assorted muttering neighborhood denizens shuffle by, but inside it's classic Portland upscale—bring your wallet and be prepared to use it. The bartender calls Davis Street "a destination spot," and it's true the place can get packed out on weekends. Your best bet is to find a slow night early in the week, when your party can get the spacious bar top largely to itself, sample some of the excellent house cocktails (the "Natural Progression" is great, if you like Fernet Branca) and enjoy the dim quietude. Careful, though: If it's too quiet Davis Street won't hesitate to close up shop early.
Old Town Pizza
226 NW Davis
Old Town Pizza gets kicked around sometimes for being a tourist den, and it's by no means slinging the best pizzas in town. But the bar actually holds many delights for the committed drinker. Old Town's brewed its own beers for years now, and they're delicious. Sample the Ol' Joe—a coffee-infused ale that packs a wallop—and try and resist the urge to fill up a growler for $15 (bottle included, $10 after that). Even better, Old Town has happy hour pricing from 9 pm-midnight every single night, meaning cheap drinks and slices when many joints are charging a cover. Tough to argue with.
The Pearl District Zone
by Marjorie Skinner
You decide to get some culture. You head out to the oldest of Portland art walks, that traditional, and traditionally moneyed, beast that is First Thursday in the Pearl. You follow the crowds to several galleries. One features photographs of sunlight hitting glass, also known as glare. They are priced at $3,000 each. You drink one glass of red wine and eat three cubes of cheese, four crackers, and two grapes while pretending to be interested. You move on. The next gallery features Native American-inspired pottery made by a man named Oscar Sullivan who lives in Arch Cape. A woman wearing a Burberry scarf loudly considers buying one. You skip the wine and move on. The third gallery features still-life paintings. One of them is literally of a bowl of fruit. They are out of wine, so you eat three pieces of salami and realize you would rather just pay for a drink, but know that you are deep in douchebag country (and on foot, because life is too short to look for parking on First Thursday). Where to?
Low Brow Lounge
1036 NW Hoyt
It is a minor miracle that the Low Brow has been allowed to continue to exist despite the furious upscaling of everything that surrounds it. It has long held the title as "the only good bar in the Pearl," among those who will probably never live in said neighborhood, and as such is probably viewed as a token concession to Portland dive bar "weirdness" that authenticates the experience of living in a renovated warehouse condo. That's what you call a win-win! The place is kept so dark that you have to take a moment to adjust your eyes, and the drink prices basically can't be beat within a half-mile radius. The only question is how much longer it will last.
1105 NW Marshall
Via Delizia's interior is astonishing, it's like dining alfresco in Tuscany, complete with a giant indoor tree. It is like the Disney ride of wine bars and is kind of awesomely dorky. It sort of walks the line between restaurant and café (they prefer "bistro"), and while you can order a full meal or just pop in for some gelato, it's also an intimate spot to have a perfectly reasonably priced glass of wine ($5 for the house variety, with only a few glasses that tip over the $10 mark). The only real drawback is that they close early... then again, what are you still doing out in condo-land at that hour?
BridgePort Brewing Company
1313 NW Marshall
So obvious it's not. This giant brewpub is basically split into three bars within a beautifully maintained old-school brewery block building. It's the closest thing the Pearl District has to a casual neighborhood gathering spot, and as such, it's generally bustling with activity. At first glance it always looks too crowded and therefore too loud, but the sheer enormity of the space saves the day. You can almost always find two seats together at the upstairs bar in particular, and the ceilings are so damn high that they magically dissipate the din just enough to hear your companion. They also serve the kind of large-portioned grub that always sounds delicious after a few (quesadillas, pizza)... plus a somewhat puzzlingly decent selection of vegan food.
231 NW 11th
Somehow flying just under the radar of the Northwest restaurant hype, the Parish is a New Orleans-style restaurant and bar complete with turtle soup on the menu. It's beautifully appointed with all the faded French glory of the Crescent City, and the Parish serves their oyster shooters half a dozen different ways—all of which involve alcohol. They even make their own in-house hot sauce, which you can pick up at six bucks a bottle right there at the bar. Though the cocktail menu is as fancy as the next, the bar staff is unfussy and approachable, and food prices for the most part steer well clear of the $20 mark—downright cheap eats compared to the rest of the neighborhood.
Life of Riley
300 NW 10th
Life of Riley is something of a neighborhood anomaly, and if you're bored, a fun game is to guess what the patrons' stories are. It's easy to read the pretty woman in her mid-40s and puffy Patagonia jacket upstairs as someone from the crunchier end of the Pearl District social spectrum (maybe she works at Ecotrust), but the younger, rowdier downstairs scene—all loud music, billiards, and shuffleboard—is harder to read. They're not arty enough to be PNCA students, and too old to live with their parents (right???). I like to think they're perpetually visiting their uncles in the West Hills, coming down to slum it with Riley's unpretentious drinks and atmosphere (um hello, they have pigs in a blanket on the menu... +1).
Teardrop Cocktail Lounge
1015 NW Everett
It'd be hard to spend the entire night at Teardrop; it's not the place you go to knock back beers or get a chardonnay buzz. It's craft cocktails or GTFO, and in that department they're one of the best—a nerd's paradise of elixirs and bitters and spirits set aflame. It can get cramped on weekend nights, but it's worth fighting for if you appreciate the lore and artistry that goes into your (around $10) cocktail. Of course, should you have the funds and the lack of obligations to sleep off a mixture of alcohols the following day, feel free to work your way through the impressive and varied cocktail list; it's like a drinkable tour through time and around the world.
The Wrong Side of the Pearl Zone
by Courtney Ferguson
I don't like going near Nob Hill or the Pearl any more than you do, buster—but allowances must sometimes be made for rich friends. You know, the ones who live by NW 21st and wouldn't be caught dead in Southeast. Shrug... sometimes they spring for dinner. Besides, there's good stuff in that nook of the city—Cinema 21, Mission Theater, happy hours at hoity-toity places, quality bra shopping.
The sole key to hanging out with the richies is to have one invigorating spirit before your endeavor, followed by one to four cool-down drinks, as needed. Have to go to the Pearl? Great! Stop by the "wrong" side of I-405 to Yur's, Slabtown, Joe's Cellar, or Paymaster Lounge. Shopping on NW 23rd got you down? Guzzle a whiskey drink at the Fireside or hole up in the hidden confines of Uptown Billiards Club. And best of all, not only can you imbibe while watching a classic Godard film at Cinema 21, you can aperitif and digestif at Dark Horse Pub and Wimpy's, respectively.
You may not be rich and you may not be good looking (who am I kidding, you're gorgeous!), but you can damn sure find a good place to drink.
1332 NW 21st
Welcome to the Roadhouse from Twin Peaks. With wood paneling hugging furtive booths and a large horse-shoe-shaped bar, Joe's Cellar is a delightful old-man dive, with pool, video crack, and a small stage. Much like in the TV show, at Joe's, one is liable to spot burly lumberjacks (with half a dozen wiener dogs in their trucks), strange music on the hi-fi (disco, in this case), and hotties in plaid and leather from the nearby salons being ogled by truck drivers from industrial climes. No daylight shall ever sully the interior with foul brightness, but that's how this neighborhood joint likes it—dark and full of cheerily sinister weirdness.
Yur's Bar and Grill
717 NW 16th
Yur's is not particularly memorable in that it's a neighborhood dive bar of prototypical designation, but also because one's memory tends to gray out after a couple of their robust boozy pours. Boisterous barflies gather alongside off-duty cab drivers and neighborhood kids in this spacious watering hole to swap tales and make the most of happy hour's waning minutes. There's a little bit of a "drink while the drinking's good" feel to the joint, but it's the perfect place to have some fortifying shots before a show at the Mission Theater or to bolster oneself for tent shopping at REI. Yur's is filling up growlers, too, so you can take a bit of the saloon back home with you.
1020 NW 17th
This bar is a magical wonderland of weird and awesome. Weird: Their interstitial TV room feels like a cinder-block bunker for delinquent drunks. Awesome: Once you travel through the cozy, beer sign-festooned main bar, the well-aired drunkard finds oneself in a wondrous patio, large and pretty and fully covered, complete with pool table and (working) heat lamps above every table. It's like a hipster Garden of Eden. Throw some decent queso at the occasion and the Paymaster is a shiny rough in the diamond (Pearl?). Make sure to check out the vending machine of whimsy by the bathroom!
1033 NW 16th
Slabtown is a charmingly grungy bar and music venue that has seen more rock 'n' roll, played more pinball, and honored more drunks than seems humanly possible. But beneath that grizzled exterior is a big softhearted sweetie, with regular poetry slam nights, all-ages shows, an extensive falafel menu, and a large midway-esque game room beyond the stage. It's a place to drink among your people in an oasis from the Pearl District, while maybe watching an impromptu shopping-cart race under the freeway across the street.
Uptown Billiards Club
120 NW 23rd
I went to a fancy-dress party at this upscale billiards hall and felt very much like Mrs. Peacock was going to do me in with a wrench at any moment. Uptown Billiards Club is a romantically lit place with ample bookshelves, rows of pool tables, and rich wood everywhere—the living embodiment of a game of Clue. The bar has a secret speakeasy feel with little outside signage in the heart of Nob Hill and a steep hike up to the second story, but once there, the staff is full of friendly endearments, the food is good, and it's fun to pretend you're a curious guest at an eccentric billionaire's mansion. (Why so many pool tables, Mr. Boddy?)
801 NW 23rd
The former home of Music Millennium's Northwest location and current locale of two roaring fireplaces, the Fireside feels fancy. But don't let that stop you from bellying up to the lovely windowed bar at the front of the restaurant. The bartenders are on the ball, the happy hour is affordable, and the fire is so delightful. Maybe a little more oriented to the ladies-who-lunch crowd, the Fireside is nonetheless a great spot to sit down and tip a shaken concoction into your mouth—an upscale but unpretentious option amid all the slightly clinical/touristy offerings in the 'hood.
Dark Horse Pub/Wimpy's
519 NW 21st
This connected bar combo is the perfect one-two punch for a movie excursion. Meet some pals at the newly renovated Dark Horse Pub (formerly O'Brien's), quaff some beer, and then watch a French flick at the always-excellent Cinema 21. Dark Horse is a nice addition to the street—still in its freshly unwrapped infancy, but quiet and good for a pre-movie bevy. After the film, get your rowdy Cahiers du Cinéma talk on at dive mainstay Wimpy's, where the cheap booze flows like the Seine. It's a nice red-lit den of iniquity, where it's perfectly acceptable to pretend you're drinking with Truffaut in a hidden hovel in Paris.
The Industrial Northwest Zone
by Wm. Steven Humphrey
It's Friday night, and once again, you've given yourself a concussion due to a possibly misdiagnosed case of postural hypotension (AKA standing up too fast, fainting, and smacking your head on the bumper of a Prius). Your head tightly bandaged, you step out of the Legacy Good Samaritan emergency room on NW 23rd, and are immediately bombarded by the sound of bucket drummers and thick-headed bridge 'n' tunnel types screaming racist generalizations about "the toothless whores of North Portland." Okay. You need this world to just stop for a moment. You need a good, stiff drink. And you need it fast.
Nob Hill Bar and Grill
937 NW 23rd
If you're hoping to avoid the questionable denizens of NW 23rd on a weekend night (I'm looking at you, fair-weather suburbanites), you're not going to get much more real than Nob Hill. It was here long before you were a gleam in the milkman's eye, and to this day still specializes in good greasy cheeseburgers and tots, a solid beer collection, and liquor drinks poured with an eye toward strength. A popular happy hour features $3 wells, Monday taco night (yessss), and the atmosphere is both convivial and rambunctious without being douchey. (Looking at you again, fancy creeps.)
Southland Whiskey Kitchen
1422 NW 23rd
Sometimes you just need a face-full of barbecue and a Southern Punch. Though the Dixie-land flair of the food at Southland Whiskey Kitchen—featuring fried chicken, ribs, biscuits, and gumbo—may not be the best you'll have in Portland, when you pair it with their shockingly extensive wall of bourbons (56 strong), it most certainly gets the job done. I'm a fan of their "Southern Classics" cocktails, especially the aforementioned Southern Punch and Whiskey Smash, but their wine and scotch list is nothing to sneeze about either. While it may not be a quiet place to reflect on the many mistakes of your life, the Southland Whiskey Kitchen is hard to top when you need to pair collard greens with a shot of WhistlePig rye.
1610 NW 23rd
Shuttering its beloved Southeast location, St. Jack has come roaring back with a much larger venue on NW 23rd—and an accompanying bar to match its critically lauded restaurant. The fancy new digs are a nice match for the bustle of the avenue, and a great place to get a high-quality drink away from the lotharios and lothariettes that can often populate the establishment across the street. Cocktails like Cameron's Kick (made with Jameson, Chivas, lemon, orgeat, nutmeg) show off the skills and theatricality of bartenders who know how to shake and muddle, while producing a fresh, lively, fruity drink that abhors girlishness. Rest assured, one will pay for this quality, and the din of the restaurant will overwhelm quiet convos—but if you want to impress a date or your palate, St. Jack's is a solid go-to choice.
1620 NW 23rd
For beer lovers, the Lompoc Tavern is a magnet. The kind that can lift old, junked cars and toss them onto other old, junked cars. And while their homemade brews achieve legendary status—IN YOUR MOUTH—it would be foolhardy to short shrift their equally delicious cocktails and pub menu. Their truffle fries and heaping nachos are some of your friends' faves, but please do try their mole pork soft tacos, which are topped with jalapeno citrus slaw, cotija cheese, and toasted pumpkin seeds. Dear god, they're delicious. Toss in near constant soccer games on the screen, $3 Bloody Mary and Mimosa Sundays, and Lompoc consistently proves itself to be a great meeting place to drink and feast for you and your pals—who are notoriously hard to please.
2788 NW Thurman
This longtime neighborhood pub sports everything a dive-bar aficionado requires: strong drinks, cheap happy hour specials ($3 wells!), an easy balance of hipsters and old-timers, "sports" on the big screen—when I was there, MMA was being featured instead of the Winter Olympics... priorities and all—satisfying pub grub and pizza slices, '80s music on the jukebox, AND FREE POOL. You can either plop down alongside the curved bar, or cram your pals into any of the spacious booths that sprawl throughout the establishment. Don't forget to drink and laugh heartily. Crackerjack's was dropped from the heavens for exactly this.
Rae's Lakeview Lounge
1900 NW 27th
Tucked back at the base of the West Hills, underneath the glow of the Montgomery Park sign, sits Rae's Lakeview Lounge—which is nowhere near a lake (anymore... it dried up a long time ago), but that's a minor detail when you're inside one of the best all-around bars in Northwest Portland. Simultaneously cozy and expansive, Rae's hits the sweet spot between dive and fancy. It's aggressively unpretentious, its huge tables are a boon for late-night gabfests, and their daily food specials are a lip-smacking marvel. (Chicken and dumplings, prime rib, and "Frogs Leg Fridays"? Yes, please.) But take a gander at their impressive and lengthy spirits list that swings wildly between low- and high-brow, and their cocktails which show a true bent for the creative; their version of the Old Fashioned (amusingly named the "Keyser Söze") and the lip-numbingly delicious Rae's Manhattan are the casual drunkard's holy grail. But if you're with a crowd, and serious about having fun when you drink, do not pass up the "Thunder Bowls," which are three varying styles of 61-ounce cocktail bowls that are suitable... nay, required... to share.