Mon-Sat 5-6:30 pm 820 N Russell
I don't like fancy bars. Strike that. I do like fancy bars, it's fancy drink prices I don't like. And fancy customers chortling over their fancy jewelry, and fancy barkeeps who treat you like you just rolled in out of the sewer because you're not wearing Hermès. While the 820 Lounge doesn't have the most warm and welcoming barkeep in Portland (that honor of course belongs to the Sandy Hut), the dark, sultry bar is still an object of my persistent affection.
A pioneer in the "Mississippi Renaissance" (aka the oldest story in the world), the 820 Lounge, started by the owners of the neighboring Mint, offers high end drinks, great food, and swanky ambiance; all three of which are best enjoyed during their fantastic Happy Hour. The 820's Happy Hour lasts about 15 minutes (okay, an hour and a half), so make sure your car is warming up at ten to five, so you can run out of work, dive into the driver's seat of your Tercel, and drive like a maniac in order to afford yourself enough time for three rounds of $4 drinks.
While the 820's exhaustive cocktail menu is abbreviated during bargain shopping, you still have 20 drinks to choose from, including the orgasmic "O," (A Mojito with orange rum), the aptly named "Fresh" (vodka with sour apple, lemon lime juice, and mint sprigs in a huge sugared martini glass), or the zingy "Splash" (gold tequila with mandarin puree and lemon lime juice with a float of Amaretto), all made bold and frothy by skilled cocktail chefs. The drinks at the 820 are probably the best in town, which is why I recommend getting there early and tipping back a few at almost half their regular price.
In addition to the titillating libations, 820 offers a limited, yet utterly satisfying happy hour food menu. Considering I tried everything they have, I can safely say that all the food is very tasty and cheap. The Calamari Salad ($5) comes piled with fiery sautéed calamari, the spicy coating tasting of beloved (if a bit trendy) chipotle. The Lamb Burger, served with crisp sweet potato fries, is fragrant, luscious, and juicy; a welcome modification on the standard beef patty, especially in light of mad cow.
Although the daily soup was described as a creamy tomato with swordfish (sounds awesome), it arrived to us, disappointingly, as a bowl of gazpacho. A curious choice considering the season, the gazpacho's light nature was made substantial with sizable chunks of fresh avocado, cilantro leaves, and a thick chunky tomato base. In the end, the soup's only downside, besides not being what I ordered, was the over-abundance of raw onion. The Spicy Caesar Salad ($3), while simple, served as a great dish for sharing because the kitchen serves the romaine lettuce in whole leaves you can eat with your fingers; and the slow burn of the creamy dressing made the salad all that more addictive.
The Paragon, Club 21, and the Sandy Hut will always hold the key to my heart, but by God, never my stomach. The 820, a smoke free establishment, offers fine cocktails and dining at a small price, and whether you leave with a date or not, a pleasantly early evening to bed.