The best thing about Portland is that wherever you live, your favorite bar is probably in your neighborhood. But exploration is always a good idea... especially in a city where cocktails are world class. Here are a few places to try:
Clyde Common (1014 SW Stark) and Pepe le Moko (407 SW 10th)—If you’re a cocktail geek, there’s a chance you moved to Portland solely to worship at the feet of Jeffrey Morgenthaler, author of the invaluable The Bar Book and mastermind of the bar programs at Clyde Common and Clyde’s subterranean sister Pepe le Moko. At Clyde, Morgenthaler’s famous barrel-aged cocktails dazzle, but downstairs, striking a balance between seedy (no windows) and stately ($$$), the star of the show is, implausibly, a $14 Grasshopper. Pepe’s boozy chocolate-mint shake is rounded out with Fernet Branca and pours a beautiful 1950s-kitchenette-backsplash green. Don’t overthink it.
Tiki’s Dark Side
Rum Club (720 SE Sandy)—Meanwhile, across town, some of the best cocktails in the city are coming out of the unassuming wedge of a half-assed Tiki bar, the Rum Club. Once a sort of waiting bar for the now-defunct Beaker & Flask, Rum Club outlived its sister spot and continues to turn out the finest cocktails in town. It’s true Portland royalty, wearing a crown of paper umbrellas, ribbons of orange peel, and swizzlestick tree branches.
Tiki’s Bright Side
Hale Pele (2733 NE Broadway)—Blair Reynolds, purveyor of the BG Reynolds line of fine Tiki syrups and mixers, is also the publican at Portland’s most all-in Tiki lounge and rum drinkery, Hale Pele. Though technically above ground, Hale Pele will finally explain why your uncle’s basement was off-limits to you as a child, despite looking like the most fun mini golf course ever. Sip on a Tiki classic like a Mai Tai, dare yourself to hit the per-customer limit of two Zombie Punches, or check out the suite of Hale Pele originals, all while basking in the flash and glow of flaming cocktails, the whir of a fleet of blenders, and the rumbling boom of a volcano in the back corner.
Goof-Offs and Roustabouts
Bit House Saloon (727 SE Grand)—The pages-long cocktail menu at Bit House includes classics, blendies, swizzles, toddies, and even draft cocktails, yet what Bit House seems to specialize in is the novelty cocktail. It’s not unlikely that you’ll see a smoke gun behind the bar, or a sous-vide machine, or a contingent of Campari gummy bears. From an “umami bomb” black-sesame-orgeat cocktail the color of dried lava, to a michelada with ceviche on top, the cocktail menu always features fun—often actually funny—cocktails, and yet they’re preposterously delicious.
Wrapped up Beautifully
La Moule (2500 SE Clinton)—La moule is French for mussel, and they do a mean bowl of mussels at Belgian-tinged Southeast Portland hotspot La Moule, but the bar side of the operation is just as enticing, thanks to the cocktail superstar in the ownership—Tommy Klus, whose Scotch Lodge cocktail (smoky, bitter, even slightly fruity) is the finest thing to come out of Portland since the ’77 Blazers. All surrounded by the prettiest bivalve-themed wallpaper on the West Coast.
The Other Best Cocktail Ever
Solo Club (2110 NW Raleigh)—Neighbors lamented the loss of longtime Northwest 23rd Ave restaurant Besaw’s when it was forced out by rapid condo development. But all’s well, for in the end, we have the Solo Club, sister bar to the relocated and expanded Besaw’s, just a few blocks from the original location. Solo Club specializes in “coolers,” combos of soda, beer, bubbly wine or sometimes spirits with a wide array of bitters, vermouths, and a beloved Italian style of digestivo and aperitivo called amaro—the Portland favorite of which is fernet. Fernet Branca is the king of fernet, but (lucky us) Solo Club offers many others.
Live the Shanghai underground life at Expatriate (5424 NE 30th).
Marvel at the marble and concrete minimalism of Rue (1005 SE Ankeny).
Enjoy the cocktailing show—don’t worry, no “flair” here—at Teardrop Lounge (1015 NW Everett).
If you absolutely must sing a song with your Tiki drink, head to karaoke at the Alibi (4024 N Interstate).
See the record for most Princess Bride-themed cocktails broken at Victoria (4835 N Albina).
Drink cocktails from pre-prohibition glassware and bar equipment at Bible Club (6716 SE 16th).