January sucks. And it’s largely thanks to “Sober January.”
Half my friends quit drinking for the month of January, spouting some self-care bullshit about “hitting reset” on their health, as though not having a glass of Fernet at the end of the night will somehow slow death’s relentless march.
But now this nonsense is over, and just in time. Luckily for you temporary teetotalers, I’ve been selflessly drinking new drinks at new bars all month so that, like a friend who never left your hometown, I can guide you down new pathways toward your old habits.
Exhibit One: West. This very difficult-to-Google bar in the old Wildwood space on Northwest 21st looks neatly cut from the pages of Kinfolk—all neutral colors, glistening plants, and a sort of raked-clay textured wall behind the bar, so that the whole thing feels like some ASMR video frozen in time.
The place is aggressively subtle, a paradox maintained on the cocktail list. Cocktails without gimmicks dominate the menu (including two hot drinks for this chilly winter), but the highballs section takes the simplest of drinks—liquor and a mixer—and, without aggressively gussying them up, tilts them just enough to stand out, with sweet, bright, savory, and even umami house sodas.
Rye whiskey and a darkly warming spiced apple soda keep autumn alive in the Heirloom & Rye, and the Toki & Savory somehow makes a suspiciously heavy-sounding salted plum and maitake mushroom soda (spiked with Suntory’s Toki blend of Japanese whisky) sippable and thirst-quenching.
Meanwhile, down in Chinatown, the rooftop of the new Hoxton hotel is dedicated to Tope, a taco bar that does not care for subtlety—see, for instance, a “nacho Caesar” salad and a cocktail list of vaguely Mexican-influenced drinks with funny names.
The Arrested Development-referencing Mr. Manager (rum and amaro with Bluth-approved banana liqueur, naturally) and the Anyway, Here’s Wonderwall (a tall gin and vodka soda with vermouth, sherry, aloe, and lemon oil) were tempting, but as a sucker for bad puns and root veggies, I couldn’t resist the Carrot on My Wayward Son.
Between carrot, sweet potato, and egg white, the drink has a silky softness that lets the bottom gently fall out under mezcal—which can be an especially hard-to-control spirit in a cocktail—while acid and heat from lime and mole bitters keep it from going too far into earthy blandness. Giving something so balanced and thoughtful such a dumb name makes me love this bar.
Ten floors down is the unnamed speakeasy bar in the Hoxton’s basement. Itâ€™s gorgeously old-fashioned with deep horseshoe booths, intimate tables, and a tiny menu of classic cocktails done very well. But donâ€™t overthink it: Get a gimlet.
And because Portland apparently needed another bar paying tribute to the band the National, Pink Rabbit has opened on Northwest 12th. The cocktails (all named for the band’s lyrics) include a scotch-and-sparkling-red-wine cocktail and a rose-flavored gin fizz—but the standout was the Sucker’s Luck, an Old Tom gin cocktail with sherry and Batavia Arak, served on a big rock and almost black with palo santo charcoal.
If you’re reading this on January 31, the final day in your month of sobriety, good for you. See you in February, suckers.