Does anyone else feel like we’ve hit the point of quarantine where a n y t h i n g out of your daily “routine” is the most exciting thing ever? The bars I paid visits to this week are all about service with a side of fun, which they’ve since adapted to "The COVID Times" while staying true to their identities.
At the core of these two different bars is the same fighting spirit, and an openness to collaboration. We’re by no means out of the woods yet, but my hope is that the f&b industry emerges on the other side with stronger bonds than ever; spearheaded by local gems like these who understand that despite the individualistic values this country tries to drill into us, we’re better together.
Opened in July 2019, Shine Distillery has now operated longer during the pandemic than it had in regular times. To keep their doors open, the distillery has learned how to dance the pandemic pivot; first drawing attention for producing their own hand sanitizer early on in the first shutdown, and most recently for delighting customers waiting for curbside orders with lip-syncing drag queens.
Along with their sizable cocktails to-go menu, Shine is also selling cocktail kits and bottles of their house made liquors for those more inclined to DIY. Bar manager AJ Searock explains that the cocktail menu is a highly collaborative effort between himself, the other bar staff, and the kitchen. “We have a cool situation here where all of our base spirits are all our own, so I kind of build around that… what expresses the best things in those,” he says.
Shine is indeed a diamond in the rough. In a city chock full of brewpubs and local distillers, somehow the two concepts had yet to be merged. To the best of owner Jon Poteet’s extensive research, Shine is the only bar and grill with an in-house distillery in the state, and only the ninth in the nation.
The distillery is committed to giving local purveyors that they partner with their due shine as well. Brands like Honeybee Lemonade Syrups and Portland Syrups make appearances in their drinks and cocktail kits, and Shine also collaborated with Blue Star Donuts to produce a yuzu and lavender gin. Gluten-free Muse Cheesecakes by cheesecake artiste Kiana Lee make up the dessert menu.
Cocktails are made-to-order; be advised that they are sealed with an ice cube inside the plastic packet. This keeps your drink cold and ready to drink once you reach your destination, but you may want to specify “no ice” on your order if you’re planning on enjoying your cocktail a little later.
The effervescent Pink 75 (Shine Pink Hibiscus gin, Prosecco, lemon, simple syrup) puts a pretty twist on the classic French 75. Originally intended to pair with Shine’s brunch menu, the floral burst of bubbly is equally suitable as a post-drag show digestif or for a celebratory night at home, even if that celebration is putting on “real” clothes for the first time in months.
The brilliant Drag Thru idea came to Poteet on his commute as he noted the slew of bustling fast food drive-thrus that dotted his drive to and from SE Portland. He thought to himself, “We’re not known for having a drive-thru, and I don’t do a two-minute burrito, so what can I do to keep people entertained while they’re waiting?” The LGBTQIA+ bar previously hosted Drag Bingo nights, so the new pivot was right on brand.
Valentine’s Day weekend is your last chance to catch the queens for dinner and a show for a while. Their premiere 11-week Drag Thru run is coming to an end, but keep an eye on Shine’s socials as the event will return to slay another day in future one-offs.
Shine Distillery & Grill, 4232 N Williams, (503) 825-1010, shinedistillerygrill.com
On first glance, one might make the mistake of pigeonholing Wedge/Head as a mere pinball bar. What a mistake that would be. The kitchen makes their own chicken nuggets and chicken patties from scratch, a far cry from the Frankennuggets McD’s tries to tout as real white meat. Inventive specials hit the menu weekly, running the gamut from homemade grilled wild mushroom tamales to fish tacos on homemade flour tortillas.
After co-owner Alan Robertson’s wife KaCee Solis-Robertson was laid-off as a result of the pandemic, she began helping out at Wedge/Head. She also pulled in her project Little Hands/Stiff Drinks, hoping to streamline the bar’s cocktail menu. Little Hands is Solis-Robertson’s first solo venture, after spending years at some of Portland’s most venerated establishments like Bar Casa Vale, Clyde Common, and Freeland Spirits.
Three cocktails make up the foundation of the menu: the vodka-based Sleep Witch, bourbon-based Erotic Friend Fiction, and The Cha Cha, a housemade vegan horchata fortified with mezcal. The names are Solis-Robertson’s nod to the show Bob’s Burgers; she jokingly remarks that she feels like she’s in the real life version of Bob’s at burger-slinging Wedge/Head.
Sleep Witch is a moniker this superstitious insomniac deeply identifies with (ask me about the time I cast a binding spell on the Cheeto ex-pres), so as much as I enjoy some good horchata, I knew which of the three was the one for me. Tea forward and sparkling, the cocktail drinks very much like a kombucha, lulling you into the belief that you’re actually being healthy.
Solis-Robertson values supporting NW brands; the Sleep Witch utilizes Dogwood Distilling vodka infused with Tea Hunter Company’s Blue Valentine blend. The result is a bewitching purple potion that gets its striking hue from a reaction between fresh lemon and butterfly pea flowers in the tea.
Drinks are sealed in 16-ounce cans, making ‘em doubles and prompting me to coin a new adage: “Little hands make tallboys.” The bar is fiercely independent, fervently rejecting the use of third party apps. Patrons can still order online for pickup, and a $30 minimum kicks in their delivery service, carried out by Robertson himself.
Wedge/Head is using their quasi downtime to fine tune their indoor pods for when dine-in service is allowed once again. From installing call buttons and HEPA filters to enclosing seating, the bar aims to make the experience as contactless as humanly possible. Following a Voicebox-esque format, Wedge/Head’s assorted pods are designed to accommodate groups of varying sizes and have an hourly rental fee.
In the meantime, bored Portlanders can get a bit of Wedge/Head at home—the bar is renting out whole ass pinball machines so you can work on your high score… suck it, sourdough starter!
Wedge/Head, 3728 NE Sandy, (503) 477-7637, wedgeheadpdx.com