The Arbor Lodge New Seasons, my go-to grocery store, recently opened an evening beer-and-wine bar in its dining area. This adds to its already perplexing program of live music and DJs, an unnecessary move to introduce more passive bodies to its already famously cramped floor plans. It’s one of those touches of well-meaning chaos that makes New Seasons the most Portland of Portland grocery stores.
Wine and beer tastings in grocery stores are fairly standard, but the full sit-down bar has been a tradition at least since the growler craze of the mid-2000s, when grocery stores caught wind of draft beer profit margins. Now, from the major chains to the neighborhood markets, the surreal world of casual supermarket drinking is never far down the road.
Fred Meyer is a longstanding pillar of the drinking and shopping community, earning rave reviews from such luminaries as the Mercury’s own Wm. Steven Humphrey, when I pitched this column: “My Fred Meyer has a beer/wine bar that makes me want to murder the earth.” Personally, I’ve always been morbidly curious about the bar tucked far in the back of the Hawthorne and 39th store. An artificially low ceiling and two TVs make a futile attempt to escape the fluorescent-lit warehouse of the rest of the store, but it’s a nice gesture, and (combined with very personable bartenders) it may explain why there are almost always one or two people sitting at the bar, rarely with a cart or basket, enjoying one of dozens of beers and wines available.
This strange, half-assed simulacra of social drinking doesn’t stop at Fred Meyer, either. Market of Choice on Southeast Belmont has an undeniable airport-bar vibe—down to offering half-pours of beer, which make having a drink at the grocery store feel like a rushed option between idle tasting and full-blown “I can’t even run an errand without two full beers” alcoholism.
New Seasons, on the other hand, doesn’t even try to make their bars feel like traditional bars at all. From the tiny tasting bar at Slabtown to the dinner-and-a-show café at Arbor Lodge, New Seasons always feels like some tech startup’s cafeteria that outlasted the company it served. (Probably a viable restaurant business model in 2019, to be honest.)
But of course, there’s one glaring issue with all of these options: It’s not actually drinking while you shop. Because you can’t take your beverage into the aisles, all you can do is drink and watch the shoppers.
There are a few free-roaming shop and sip options. One—P’s & Q’s Market on Northeast Dekum—even has a full liquor license, so you can have your Bloody Mary while getting your cereal and milk. Of course, realistically you’re at P’s & Q’s for a meal and just realized you need flour or onions at home, so you’ll be okay sacrificing a wide grocery selection for a wide drink selection.
P’s & Q’s is home to one of the finest micheladas in town, though it is given a run for its money by the michelada at Barrio, the bar in the Portland Mercado on Southeast Foster. Barrio’s patio and the Mercado’s various food carts are its typical selling point, but I’ll tell you right now: Nothing sells Kaah Market’s chile-tamarind candies and housemade salsas like browsing them with a bright red mix of beer, tomato juice, and spices in hand.
But there’s only one store with the warmth and hospitality to pull off a truly nice bar, and naturally it comes from a beloved Portland restaurant family. World Foods, owned by the folks behind Montavilla’s Ya Hala, houses a bar that feels intentional, rather than like an afterthought or a money grab. From vintage-ish signage for the featured Wayfinder beer, to both chalkboard and letterboard menus, to bartenders who rattle off details about the beer and wine with genuine interest, to the great housemade snacks. But take your wine and walk the aisles, because ironically, it all adds up to a space that encourages you to forget you’re at a grocery store.