500 NE MLK, 232-9977
Spirit of '77 is a dangerous place. Not dangerous as in losing a bar brawl, getting jabbed by an errant dart, or choking to death on a chicken pot pie, but dangerous in concept. Truth be told, sports bar are not supposed to be like this, and to be honest, it's kind of scary.
Birthed by those behind the Ace Hotel, Clyde Commons, and Olympic Provisions, Spirit of '77 pays homage to the magical year that the Blazers captured their lone championship, led by a ginger hippie (Bill Walton) and an under-the-basket intimidator (Maurice Lucas). But unlike other sports bars that attempt to break free of the standard wings-'n'-television template—see the thankfully defunct "Ultra Sports Lounge" The Agency—Spirit of '77 succeeds, and does so with style. Tastefully designed, right down to the crisp typography, baseball card menus, and Blazer pinwheel logo knockoff shirts, Spirit of '77 is the sports bar evolved. It has all your standard fare, from gigantic televisions to free pop-a-shot basketball, but the devil here is in the details. These include a vast, uncluttered space (formerly American Cowgirls, but thankfully no longer smelling like Axe body spray), indoor bicycle parking, row seating for better TV viewing, and a menu that even features breakfast for the early riser addicted to 10 am games—their pancake breakfast sandwich is the McGriddle without the shame. As the first hoopster—yes, hoopster—bar in Portland, it looks like Spirit of '77 just put all other sports bars in town on notice. EZRA ACE CARAEFF
2338 NE Alberta, 208-3483
"These are the least authentic tacos in town," announces the bartender at Cruzroom as soon as my friend and I sit down at the bar. We adjust our expectations. These days, tacos are a medium, a blank canvas (we have Koi Fusion's Korean tacos to thank for this), and Cruzroom makes liberal use of the influences available to them—Mexican, Asian, Southern U.S. These tacos are stuffed with twice-fried potatoes topped with bacon; Thai lemongrass chicken and peanut butter slaw; shrimp ceviche and fried fennel. And they're good. They're all good. They're not transformative tacos—they're not going to reprogram your Platonic ideal of a taco to include coconut milk—but they're also not going to offend your ideas about what a taco should be, unless you're a real asshole sort of taco-purist. The only problem we encountered was one of filling-to-tortilla ratio; the tortillas are too small. They're overstuffed, and forks are required. We can all probably agree that tacos should not require a fork.
The bar, which dominates the room, is stocked with homemade infusions like ancho chili vodka and blackberry bourbon. The cocktails overreach a bit—a hot toddy with green tea honey sounded great, but the tea and lemon flavors combined to give it an unwelcome astringency; better was a cocktail of sage–topped huckleberry vodka muddled with blueberries, though even that could've done without its too-sweet kick of orange brandy.
But while the cocktail menu could use some refinement, what's really outstanding at Cruzroom is the quality of the service, which offers the exact antithesis of the too-hip-to-work attitude that newcomers to Portland love to complain about. The owners are super, duper nice. Somewhere along the line one of them had the brainflash that if you make customers feel welcome in your establishment, they'll turn into repeat customers. It's the little things, it really is. ALISON HALLETT
3342 SE Belmont, 546-0892
I love Hall of Records. Or, I should say, I love the idea of Hall of Records. It's such a fantastic concept (a combination bar/record store/sandwich shop), and one that is so closely in line with my own personal addictions (beer/records/sandwiches), that I'm inclined to be very forgiving of the actual experience. So it pains me to say that Hall of Records doesn't quite live up to the paradise it occupies in my mind. As a bar, it's somewhat antiseptic. As a record store, it caters to a specific niche (pricey, used soul-jazz) and doesn't venture beyond it. As a sandwich joint, it's serviceable but lacks any true knockout options. All my encounters at Hall of Records left me wanting just a little more—either to hang out in a more bar-like, convivial atmosphere, or to finish a sandwich that did more just than fill my belly, or to find a record I wanted badly enough to take home with me.
It's a little awkward browsing through the records, too. There's not a ton of inventory to choose from, and the bins are tidily situated in a small corner of the space, so that if someone else is thumbing through the used vinyl, you feel obligated to wait until they're done. And since their stock is so expensive, you're more likely to put your pint down at the bar instead of risk spilling it on that $40 slab of rare vinyl. So yes, I'm glad Hall of Records exists, but it's not the home-away-from-home I was hoping for. NED LANNAMANN