FALL IS HERE. Not the one with bright leaves loop-de-looping around pedestrian shoulders, but our fall—the fall of water, inches at a time, and somehow as black in the gray "daylight" as it is at night. Time for hooding up and hunching over, because umbrellas are for fair-weather friends and summertime drinks.
That's why I say, "Down with the gin and tonics, the caipirinhas, most of the swizzles and sours." Stop using citrus and clear spirits to fool me into a sunny disposition; make me a Stone Fence. It's the fall cocktail: rye whiskey, bitters, and apple cider. It's a cold drink that still warms you up, like a boilermaker, except it rubs some color into your cheeks instead of socking you in the jaw.
2005 SE 11th
The best Stone Fence in this city is at Fenrir ($10). It might be the coziness of the old Southeast Portland house or the warmth that barman Tyler Hauptman conveys when he talks drinks, but I think it's the Queener Farm apples, mulled in-house with cinnamon. The rye is rye (spicy, sharp, kinda ragged) and the bitters are bitters (subtle, just off the tongue), but the cider makes it.
Another killer take on a classic at Fenrir is the old fashioned ($9): aquavit and honey with bitters and orange peel. The honey mellows the typically earthed-in dry spice of the aquavit into something soft and hand-holding like fine-ground cinnamon. Coming this winter: a hot buttered rum with an allspice-infused version of the house butter, described to me by a stranger as "dangerously delicious."
401 NE 28th
Maybe Fenrir's intimacy isn't your thing. Or you like beer, or your friends do. Trade the Norse nod of Fenrir for the hearty Hallo! at Prost's classier sister, Stammtisch. You might still see some bros grunting about how they need to hit the gym and just press it out, brah, press it out—but Stammtisch feels more like the German bar Prost should be, down to the rather rainproof German cocktails.
While dudes chug beer from a boot at Prost, the Stammtisch crowd sips the more delicate Glasschuh ($9), a cocktail named after Cinderella's famous footwear. Made with gin, obstler (fruit brandy, apple-pear), lemon, and sweetened with a Riesling syrup, the floral and sour Glasschuh is an outlier on this list, but the apple and pear have an autumnal briskness and the grapey-sweet Riesling syrup warms it nicely.
Don't sleep on the Mailied ($8), either—a taller drink with vodka, apfelkorn (an apple liqueur), lemon, and the Portland bartender's favorite digestive aid, Underberg bitters. The little bottles of Underberg hang on belts behind the bar and bring a fuzzy bristle to the Mailied that belies the misnomer of its May Day name, cribbed from a Goethe poem.
Mediterranean Exploration Company
333 NW 13th
But what about those rained-in Pearl District nights spent watching expensive overcoats and shiny shoes splash between luxury sedans, luxury SUVs, and luxury sports cars on NW 13th? How about Mediterranean Exploration Company, whose name wins no points for brevity, but offers a front-row seat to the splendors of the Pearl?
The fall pick here is the Valentino ($11)—a kind of Mediterranean Manhattan of bourbon, Martini and Rossi Gran Lusso (a super fancy "grand luxury" vermouth), and Metaxa, a Greek liquor that's much more than the "brandy" it's described as on the menu. Infused with herbs and flowers and sweetened with muscat, Metaxa is the lede buried in MEC's cocktail menu. It's good company for people-watching. (And eavesdropping—women at the table next to us were spouting lines apparently excised from Sex and the City scripts: "Martinis!? I feel like I'm 25 again!" one squeaked.)
801 NW 23rd
A little further west, the new and improved Fireside was positively hopping on a rain-dumping midweek night. With good reason: to accompany a dessert of s'mores, there's probably no better cocktail than a White Russian sporting a Lebowski-inspired name—Ties the Room Together ($9)—which uses not vodka (heresy!), but Liquor 44 (a coffee- and orange-spiked rum), coffee liqueur, cream, and a good amount of salted praline on top. (Yes, it resembles a certain salty, caramel-y Starbucks beverage I spent a handful of seasons making by the bucketful; it's also delicious enough to make me forget that experience.)
And not an umbrella in sight. Damn the rain and damn the barely remembered myth of sunshine—forget the fall and raise a glass.