Holiday Guide 2023

Come One, Come All to the Mercury’s HOLIDAY SPECTACULAR!

Welcome the carnage of the holidays with our annual guide—also in print at more than 500 locations citywide!

For the Rest of Us

Six things to do on Thanksgiving and Christmas other than be with your family.

Gifts for Those Who Love to Eat!

Everyone likes food, and here are some local shops that should be on every culinary gift giver’s list.

Finding Family In Unexpected Places

How a spontaneous Thanksgiving gathering gave birth to a new tradition.

The Coziest Cafe Beverages to Warm Up With This Holiday Season

Where to warm up with the yummiest local hot drinks.

The Great Santa Debate

Should you confess to your kids about Santa? The pros and cons of the biggest lie of the holiday season.

The Holiday Brisket Roundup

Where to find Portland’s finest, most tender brisket for your Jewish celebrations.

The Terrorism Trap

In 2010, a young Portlander attempted to detonate a bomb at the annual Portland Christmas tree lighting. Was he a burgeoning terrorist or just a disturbed kid entrapped by the FBI?

The (White) Elephant In the Room

Sometimes a white elephant gift exchange goes awry. Other times, you end up with a portable bidet that can put out fires.

Clocking In for Christmas

Dispatches from job sites that don’t shut down for the holidays.

Your Guide to 2023 Holiday Events in Portland

The Muppet Christmas Carol in Concert, The Jinkx & DeLa Holiday Show, and More

Depending on your profession, you get approximately 11 federal holidays per calendar year. And ever since I was old enough to be bored, I knew I didn’t want to spend them with my family. It also helps that my family are the scattering type; they don’t want to see me either. We hang out when flights are cheaper.

There’s a whole other world that exists while the dominant culture is deftly slicing into turkey (or Tofurky). Instead of tagging along to someone else’s family party—where you will still somehow get trapped in a conversation with an older relative about the dangers of [INSERT DRUG], or listening to a friend of a friend list their food allergies at a friendsgiving, you could be doing ANYTHING ELSE. JUST DO ANYTHING ELSE.

I’ve been doing anything else for most of my adult life, and I’m something of a pro at it. Here are my six top picks for holiday feast day alternatives. You can actually still enjoy most of these ideas, even if you go to a holiday party. It’s my gift to you.

Go to the Movies

This is the original alternative holiday passtime. If you look carefully, in J. L. G. Ferris’ famous painting “The First Thanksgiving 1621” you can see, on the far left, some people standing in line for movie tickets. The best place in Portland to see a movie on a holiday is the Laurelhurst Theater because they revel in it. The co-owner Woody Wheeler told the Mercury he was hopeful Laurelhurst will have just completed a remodel of its two largest auditoriums, “brand new seats, tables, flooring, paint, soundfold fabric, the works!” In addition to being open for a full schedule of shows on Thanksgiving, Laurelhurst will also be open all day on the following day—because anyone with common sense takes that Friday off too. Expect a full schedule on Christmas as well. One weird holiday secret is that most hotels have to be open in some capacity—for their guests—therefore, we guarantee McMenamins theaters will have at least a shortened schedule playing, if not a full. This is true for the Bagdad Theater as well.

Dinner Someone Else Made

Most people experience feast holidays by enjoying dinner that someone else made, but the practice of ordering takeout or dining in at a precious, open restaurant is the second best known alt holiday tradition. For me and mine, the mood isn’t merry until a stressed out dad has yelled at our gaggle of found family for being too rowdy at Republic Cafe. Then we tip-toe next door to Ming Lounge for a taste of the hard stuff. Forewarning, the bathroom is comically bad. If you don’t want to dine in a dive, Hot Pot City has a history of serving up an expanded shellfish menu on special days, and while it’s good to eat hot pot with others, this restaurant also provides solo pots, located around a bar. Sichuan Taste, next to the Rialto Room, is a new open-on-the-holidays contender, but they made a strong showing in 2022. Out in the suburbs, Szechuan Garden is another delicious favorite. 

It’s not mandatory to exclusively eat Chinese food on the holy alt holidays, either. You’ll find plenty of fine places serving up traditional turkey and mashed potato meals—just look for restaurants attached to hotels. Jake’s Grill, in the Sentinel Hotel, is probably the best-known example (reservations recommended), but we also think Bullard Tavern in the Woodlark has had an aggressively delicious year so far, thanks to their February addition of chef Joel Lui-Kwan to oversee the menus of both their restaurant and cocktail bar, Abigail Hail. Gracie’s in Hotel Deluxe is another solid standby.

Sing Karaoke

If this isn’t already your tradition, it’s likely completely off your radar. The Alibi Tiki Lounge is open every damn day. Karaoke there starts at 8 pm every damn day. Pro Tip: You’ll find that all bars owned by Marcus Archambeault and Warren Boothby are open every damn day (more on that later). If you’re shaking off a food hangover, singing for a crowd is a great way to wake up the senses—which one may promptly dull with a Mai Tai. Stop thumping the table, vegans! Baby Ketten is another spot with “privit roomz and publik karokee” on holidays.

Eat Sweets

During the holidays, plenty of places want you to order ahead to secure sweets. But not your true love, your old standby: The Pix O’Matic 24-hour vending machine. Personal story: One year I was super depressed, and didn’t know what to bring to a friendsgiving, so I just bought, like, four things from the Pix O’Matic. Everyone loved it because pastry chef Cheryl Wakerhauser is incredible at making mousse, tiramisu, and macarons!

Dive Bar

The best dive to drink at, when you’re dipping out on a holiday, is the one in your own neighborhood. There isn’t enough room to get into all the fine, tiny dives that say they’re open seven days a week and really mean it. However, like we noted in the karaoke portion, we have noticed a certain throughline of rehabbed Portland dives that are proudly open and ready to throw some whiskey in a glass for you every day of the year: Sandy Hut, the Vern, Lay Low, Double Barrel, Gold Dust Meridian, and Holman’s. “We ask the staff if they want to open normal hours… or just do one night shift,” dive empire co-owner Warren Boothby told the Mercury. He said all will be open at the very least from 6 pm-2:30 am. [UPDATE: This column went to press before staff voted on holiday hours, and they all asked to start at 6 pm this year (instead of 5 pm), except for Double Barrel, which will be open at 2 pm. We regret the time inaccuracy in the print edition. -eds]

Fancy Bar

At the intersection of holiday in a hotel and holiday in a bar, you will find Sippin’ Santa at the Marriott’s Courtyard City Center—which a press release calls “the tropical sister offshoot of the famed Miracle pop-up bar.” In our city, Miracle currently happens at Deadshot (cocktail creator Greg Boehm licenses his holiday drink recipes to just one bar per city), but mixologist Jeff Berry (once called a “cocktail archeologist” by the Washington Post) decided he had some fancy mixed drink recipes that he too wanted to put in kitschy glassware. For our purposes, the important thing about Sippin’ Santa is that it’s open on Thanksgiving and Christmas, at the lessened hours of 7 am-1 pm. Reservations recommended. Prayers up for your tummy, obecause a Santa wearing sunglasses on your cup does not dull the power of aged Demerara rum.