I’ve been trying to figure out what season it is. I know it’s spring, officially, and will be for a month or so yet. But the sun only shines sporadically, through rainstorms and midday misting fog, and never long enough for the light to reach the bone.
This angst isn’t existential—I just can’t decide what to drink. At least in the winter I can count on a warming whiskey cocktail and in the summer, something light and pink like an Aperol spritz. But in this non-season of oddly pretty, unfriendly weather, what do you reach for?
Desperately needing clarity, I’d usually consult the clearest of all oracles: gin. But right now, vodka beckons from Southeast Ankeny’s Rue in the form of a Lagunita. I’m a sucker for clear cocktails—there’s something satisfying about a full glass that almost appears to be empty. And in this tall, skinny tumbler of crushed ice, vodka is at its best, almost a negative element, lightening the body that could otherwise be weighed down by brown-spicy velvet falernum and dry enough to not let génépy mire the drink in piney mulled wine lushness. It’s drinkable and enigmatic, like those odd raindrops that seem to fall from a blue Portland sky on a mid-May day ($11, $9 during happy hour).
Convinced it’ll stay sunny for a moment, I may as well order a pink drink, and Rue is rolling out a tequila negroni—the Antonio Margheriti—that tastes as optimistic as I feel: Tequila hums to life like a cranked up e-bike, draped in the all-season bittersweet cool of Campari (Campari is the grin gripping an unlit, unfiltered cigarette on the face of an Italian in expensive sunglasses), lost in a pink cloud of strawberry-rhubarb infused Dolin Blanc vermouth. With splashes of both Aperol and absinthe, it balances serious booze with frivolous fruit and shines pink even under cloud cover ($10).
As long as I’m nearing twee territory with my pink beverage, I might as well commit fully and jump over to Victoria on North Albina. The clouds are irrelevant at Victoria, which has an endless summer vibe courtesy of the throng of LA-pretty bar-goers that seem to only exist here—like they might evaporate out of their wide-brimmed hats and expensive graphic tees the moment they step off the property.
The twee-ness comes from the cocktail list, where every drink is named after something from The Princess Bride. The bartender tells me they’re running out of references. I suggest switching to The Neverending Story—I can play this nostalgia game too, after all—while I sip on one of these too-rare combos: a Not Lefthanded, applejack and amaro knit together with bittersweet cacao and primed with pineapple; or an Ancient Booer of bourbon and rooty, herbal aquavit complemented by Chinese bitters and a tea syrup—a dynamic sipper with a smooth cucumber backbone (both $11).
By now I’m at Nightcap ready to believe my bartender when he tells me the spring menu’s gone because the season “might as well be over.” There’s a sultry, summery date-night vibe to Nightcap, the evening operation in the Trinket space on Southeast Cesar Chavez. From a fuzzily romantic Sleeping Beauty—pear brandy and CioCiaro amaro canoodling under a heavy down comforter of Carpano Antica ($10)—to a playful but brilliant brandy-spiked horchata, the Xata Toddy, which is available hot or cold depending on how the date’s going ($8), Nightcap has you covered for those nights that feel summery but are still cold enough to require some light to medium snuggling.
We aren’t quite to paloma season, but that hasn’t stopped me from delighting in Chalino’s paloma, a roasty little mezcal keeping the heat on in an otherwise surefire cooler of tequila, grapefruit, and soda ($10). Chalino’s top dog, however, is a flavor bomb of a michelada: a can of Tecate with a huge glass mug of hot sauce, bitters, a lot of lime, and a silty bottom of beef stock (with an optional addition of mezcal for the true overachiever). It’s a process: Stir it up, sip on it, top it off with more Tecate, and repeat until inevitably ordering another ($12).
Ultimately, this is an exercise less in defining the season than in outlasting the rain. But as long as the men and women behind the bars keep mixing up these perfect pastimes, I think we’ll survive this pre-summer “season.”