Bartender Katrine Tawfik pours a fresh bubble tea cocktail.
Bartender Katrine Tawfik pours a fresh bubble tea cocktail. Janey Wong

Buddies since middle school, Brian Jiang and Neil Chan opened Buddy’s Lounge in 2018, only to spend most of last year shut down. Chan cut his teeth working for his family’s restaurant, the iconic Hung Far Low, and when Jiang grew tired of his banking day job of over a decade, they decided to merge their talents. Jiang’s tea know-how came from his ownership of an undisclosed bubble tea franchise in town. Fun game if you have a discerning palette: try out the tea at Buddy’s and hazard a guess!

The sports bar was recently victimized along with a string of other Jade District businesses, becoming part of the worrying wave of hate crimes against Asian-Americans. The low visibility of AAPIs (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) in the media contributes to the racism we face, and while local news outlets did cover the vandalism, I found out from Chan and Jiang that the perpetrator had been caught.

The duo recently completed an outdoor structure themselves which now occupies a few parking spaces in front of the bar. Their landlord and other businesses in Harrison Square were supportive, knowing what it takes to survive in the current economy. In return, patrons of Buddy’s are welcome to bring over food from any of the restaurants in the plaza while enjoying a drink on the patio.

I always get a classic milk tea whenever I try a new bubble tea place out as this is a pretty good indicator of how good it is. The tea and boba are both solid, the latter having a good chewy texture. At Buddy’s, I kept it pretty standard and went for the Hokkaido Whiskey with Boba, which adds caramel flavor.

I’m probably in an extremely slim minority here, but the whiskey and bubble tea don’t go together. As I sip, it just seems to me like there’s something missing. The two components taste disjointed, not achieving the cohesion of a well-crafted cocktail. I find myself wishing the whiskey would get out of the way of my otherwise tasty bubble tea. Mind you, I’m generally not a fan of dessert mashups either (cake pops, gag me) unless they’re done REALLY well. I like it when things stay in their lane.

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A rather sad box of nachos (read: some beef crumbles, unmelted cheese, and a side of hot sauce packets) is the mandatory food item that Buddy’s slings alongside their boozy boba. Granted the bar has very limited kitchen space and let’s be honest, the food isn’t what you’re there for, so just think of it as an alternative to the requisite bowl of peanuts that used to sit on some bar tops.

This writer’s opinion aside, the boozy boba formula does appeal to most. Chan and Jiang saw high demand in the first few weeks of their new project and were able to rehire former employees and even a couple new ones. Portland is often a late adopter of the hot food trends in bigger cities, and Buddy’s has definitely filled a hole in the market. Please do support this and other BIPOC businesses!

Buddy’s Lounge, 8220 SE Harrison Suite #125, (971) 288-5186, buddys-lounge.business.site