IN THIS TOWN, I'm not sure how wine is the booze that maintains the most unapproachable vibe—I've felt out-snooted by some hops-swilling beardo guy far more often than someone sniffing at the legs of a Pinot.
In Portland, it's the brewpub that steals the show—what with entire pedal-party tours devoted to their existence and slavish devotion from local bloggers. Don't get me wrong: Our microbrew culture is rightly celebrated. But it sure is nice to see the variety straying to local varietals.
Coopers Hall is the next tipple forward in an evolution toward accessible oenophilia. It's a massive converted auto body shop with gorgeous dark woods, sleek metals, and hanging bare lights. It's unpretentious—it's got 44 wines, beers, and ciders, but they're all on tap. No cork snorting here. Servers crack jokes and then recommend their favorites without using phrases like "woody, yet refined." Rather, the wine list, featuring nine house blends and dozens of guest taps, describes the Lumos Wine Co.'s Pinot Gris ($9 for a glass) like this: "Some Pinot Gris can be like elevator music, you can ignore it. This one will grab your attention."
There's a reason the atmosphere is dialed in: This is a venture from Kurt Huffman's ChefStable (think: Roe, OX, Grassa, Lardo—the list goes on). The menu, headed up by former Ración sous chef Roscoe Roberson, hits the right note between refined and standard brewpub fare. Sure, there's a cheese plate ($15 and well apportioned, with a tasty quince paste), but there's also a Muenster cheeseburger ($10) that arrived cooked slightly over, but was saved by the juicy Alicante wine-braised onions. (Lest we think things become too approachable, during one visit a coworker asked for ranch dressing with an order of fries ($5), only to have the server ask him to repeat the request in disbelief before saying, "Well... we have aioli?")
Bread and schmaltz ($3) is a great meat-buttery deal, with two large slices of baguette and a generous ramekin of rendered chicken fat. The pulled pork sandwich ($10) is dripping and glorious, with an apricot and chamomile jam and arugula cutting the richness in all the right ways. The rotisserie chicken is juicy and welcome as an addition to salads ($4 extra), as well as on a sandwich ($12) whose bread wasn't up to the task of holding in its goodness. Really, just share the whole bird ($21) and a chicory salad ($9).
Perhaps the best move Coopers Hall has made is to allow you to order two-ounce pours for anywhere from $2 to $9. It's paradise for the indecisive. I'd never order Chardonnay, but when the in-house Willamette Valley version promises to "defy your expectations," $3 isn't such a gamble to learn that it's really drinkable and bright. Another fun sample pour is the house Alicante Bouschet, a grape popular in the time of Prohibition (stick with the sample for $2—it's great with onions, but not worth drinking heavily on its own).
Guest taps lean heavily on the West Coast, with a few French pours, and include other urban wineries that aren't on many lists by the glass—for example, Portland's Fausse Piste, made not far from where you're sitting. Wine also makes its way onto the cocktail list, where I was more than happy to down a version of a Negroni made with white wine ($8) that was recommended by my server.
With dozens of seats and a wide-open, airy feeling, it's hard to imagine not wanting to linger over your Nebbiolo. But should the urge to drink remotely call, there's an ample to-go list with refillable wines running from $8 to $28. Touché, growler nerds.
Sun-Thurs, 4-10 pm; Fri-Sat, 4 pm-midnight. Reservations for large parties.