When we go out to see art, we go for the art. We love to see it, interact with it, be changed by it. But second best to the art is the talking about the art. Like food, wine, or a big bag of candy—art is better when shared.
This year's Spring Arts Preview contains profiles of art and performance shows you'll want to go out to see and discuss, and an even more vast list of upcoming events we're excited about. So in the spirit of treating the whole arts-goer, Wm. Steven Humphrey and I compiled a list of our favorite spots to grab a drink or dish before or after an arts event.
Many of these venues have snack bars inside, so you may imbibe with sophistication during the show. This list is about meeting an hour before, to get all the gossip out of our systems preshow. Or really needing to know what Carla thought about that striking female antihero afterward.
There’s always a lot to see at Portland'5—the multi-venue downtown spot which includes the Schnitzer, Keller, Winningstad, Newmark, and Brunish auditoriums—as well the Portland Art Museum, both of which unfailingly inspire a lot of OPINIONS. Naturally the best way of expressing those loud thoughts are over drinks with friends, preferably within a quick walking distance (as “thoughts” often skitter away if not shared in a timely fashion). But if one has had enough “hoity” or “toity” for one evening, a sure bet for after-show drinks is always the Virginia Cafe (820 SW 10th) where you can get drinks of the high (semi-fancy cocktails) and low (can of PBR) variety, as well as tasty grub such as hamburgers, Reubens, and my personal unhealthy fave, popcorn shrimp and fries. Too lowbrow? While they’re currently closed for a kitchen remodel, later this spring you’ll be able to scoot over to The Nines’ rooftop restaurant/bar Departure (525 SW Morrison), where a gorgeous view goes down as well as their house craft cocktails, sake, and a pan-Asian menu of delicious snacks. Or if one wants to split it down the middle, there’s also Beastro (1455 SW Broadway)—from former Seattle Seahawk Marshawn Lynch—which, despite its sporty demeanor also has a rather delicate menu of Korean delights and cocktails… that is, if you avoid the ones named after Lynch (Beast Mode Margarita) and stick with the seasonal menu, currently featuring a far more subtle Japanese Old Fashioned and Korean Hot Toddy. WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY
Powell’s City of Books (1005 W Burnside)
The ongoing, semi-nightly reading series at Powell's chain of bookstores is the single greatest fixative for Portland's literature-loving community. Nowhere else draws such a consistent flow of readers from across genres. The curation welcomes a wide variety of events, packing the downtown City of Books' third floor Pearl Room with everything from First Thursday gallery shows to touring author chats to former president Jimmy Carter dutifully signing 1600 books in one sitting. But they don’t let you drink booze there! When it's time to interrogate the mannerisms of your favorite literary force or trade the ceramic turtles everyone found on their chairs at a Lydia Yuknavitch reading, our dive recommendation is a short trek up SW 10th to Momo (725 SW 10th). The patio may rumble at a dim roar, but there's a surprisingly large floorplan for a downtown dive with plenty of booths and tables for groups. The menu is cheese-based to insulate your stomach against spirits. (Pro tip: Pay with cash or order rounds and cash out. The line gets pretty long here.) We usually obey busy coffee house rules and stick to a simple Rainier—though the swift and magnanimous staff can quickly whip up a toddy or two. For your fancier friends, Teardrop Lounge (1015 NW Everett) is just two blocks in the other direction from Powell's, and it's one of the city's best spots for an exquisitely crafted cocktail. The menus change seasonally and though the food comes in bites there's always a strong pickle game. Furthermore, Teardrop staff are down to earth—they just came to shake and twist magic into a glass, and are happy to tell you all about it. This lounge also has a side room for spillover, but sometimes Crybaby is booked for private events. SUZETTE SMITH
The Armory (128 NW 11th)
Almost everything we've ever seen at the Armory has required afterward discussion. Portland Center Stage is perpetually bringing new and exciting voices across their main stage or hosting them in the subterranean (much more versatile) Ellyn Bye Studio. The snack situation in the Armory lobby has been inconsistent since even before pandemic. For a hot minute there was an honor system cookie wall—BRING THAT BACK, PLEASE—but with two shows going in or coming out, often around the same time, the Armory lobby cafe quickly becomes chaotic. So you'll want to meet up nearby—we recommend one of Collin Nicholas' two excellent neighboring bars: Pink Rabbit (232 NW 12th) is the buzzy butterfly-stomach hotspot, Fool and Horses (226 NW 12th Ave) is its slightly more sophisticated vibe sister. It's probably the blush lighting, but the Pink Rabbit just has first date feel—so why not extend a good theater-going date there? The wonton nachos are superbly delicious but not heavy, especially when shared. There's a responsible tap list, but fucking of course, fucking clearly you are ordering the Fast Car cocktail, named for the Tracy Chapman song and our nation's true anthem. You'll find Fool and Horses even more in line with catching a show because it's more of a dinner and conversation spot. That crusted mahi mahi will set you back (worth it), but the confit taro and potato appetizer is significantly cheaper and just as filling. The drink menu is wholeheartedly taking you into bee pollen infused bourbon situations, but you're in good hands. Looking for the drink with the big ice cube? That's the Cash and Curry. SS
Shaking the Tree (823 SE Grant)
One of the most thoughtful and constantly inventive theater spaces in the city, Shaking the Tree always produces works that must be discussed afterward… check out the description of their upcoming performance/installation Forbidden Fruit if you don’t believe me. And though it may reside in the Central Eastside deadzone, there are a number of impressive drinkeries in the neighborhood as well, including the amazing Cuban-influenced Palomar (959 SE Division), where you should definitely try the Old Fashioned or Caribbean Coffee, Ground Breaker Brewing and Gastropub (2030 SE 7th), home of deliciously brewed and prepared GLUTEN-FREE (!) beer and food, Deadshot (2133 SE 11th), which features high-caliber creative cocktails in a warm surrounding, or if you need to get down and dirty, the Funhouse Lounge (2432 SE 11th) that has the well cocktails and cheap beers your critical brain requires to properly dissect works of art. WSH
Aladdin Theater (3017 SE Milwaukie)
After a sterling night of comedy or music courtesy of the always reliable Aladdin Theater, one can always try to squeeze in drinks at the Aladdin’s very own Lamp bar or slip down the block to the Bear Paw Inn (3237 SE Milwaukie) for a beer or tequila shot… or three. However if those are venues are too packed tight, continue south a few blocks to the Brooklyn Park Pub (3400 SE Milwaukie) for a sports bar vibe and a truly impressive selection of whiskey. You could also roll the dice and go north, crossing the tracks, and drinking up at the delicious Double Dragon (1235 SE Division), where one can cram their face with insanely tasty banh mi, burgers, and ramen, along with cleverly named cocktails such as the Ginger Margarita and the Burnt Reynolds (bonded bourbon, Jamaican rum, lemon, smoked honey) which is especially delicious hot during this chilly time of year. WSH
Alberta Abbey (126 NE Alberta)
A lesser known venue, the eccentric Alberta Abbey is a renovated church where you might catch a Kickstand Comedy show or Poison Waters bingo. For instance, early in March, they're hosting a night dedicated to the music of Twin Peaks. The Abbey's a stage for passion projects, and some of those passions might just align with your own. We have found the snack and beverage situation to be inconsistent and would not suggest showing up hungry unless you're going to an event that expressly states it will have food. About four blocks away is Vendetta (4306 N Williams), a low key patio pub that's somewhat sparse on food (the street tacos are solid) but has plenty of space for chatty groups—which is why the drink line sometimes gets clogged with complicated drink orders. Buy a round, and close your tab, or risk 30-person deep tab-closing purgatory. On a nice night, a slightly longer walk could lead you to Victoria (4835 N Albina), a quietly Princess Bride-themed bar (just check the drink names) with an enormous, atmospheric outdoor patio that's perfect for your many art-loving friends. The food on offer is a cut above, with plenty of options for vegans. In the summer, with a cauliflower wrap and bubbly Fire Swamp cocktail in hand, you may feel like you're in a fantasy story. SS
Portland Institute of Contemporary Art (15 NE Hancock)
Always grinding what art is and can be, Portland Institute of Contemporary Art (PICA) headquarters in North Portland is the main site of the annual Time Based Arts Festival, which happens in the fall. However, there's generally always something cool and weird happening at PICA, as the institute programs installations, exhibitions, and performances by boundary-pushing artists all year round—such as the recently opened sound art show, Remembering to Remember. PICA's headquarters is appropriate for such a community-focused organization: a neighborhood, surrounded by houses and industry. However there are actually quite a few of our favorite food and drink spots nearby. The Cartside PDX Food Carts (1825 N Williams) are within sight, and the pod's food and beer options are robust: Ko Sisters Korean Soul Food, MidCity Smashburger, and Cartside Taphouse. All that goodness closes at 8 pm, so depending on what you're seeing, it might be a before show option only. For afterward, we recommend Billy Ray's (2216 NE Martin Luther King) for their swift, cash-only service. It's a dive for drinking—not cooking. But Thai MLK's cart is right out front. Pro tip: Billy Ray's has a roomy but popular patio, but the big upstairs game room is often empty and perfect for groups. SS
Oregon Contemporary (8371 N Interstate)
Formerly known as Disjecta, Oregon Contemporary (OC) is a beloved arts center catering to a wide range of fascinating artistic programs, as well as being home to the annual Portland Biennial. This busy arts hub also shares space with the Flock dance studio and Carnation gallery—so, yeah. Lots to see and think about here! And for post-arts meet-ups, it depends on the mood of your clique: Early risers can venture over to Parkside (2135 N Willis) which closes at 10 pm, but has what you need in terms of inventive bar snacks, craft beers, and cocktails stirred with house-made syrups. Your rowdy pals will always find fun at the Kenton Club (2025 N Kilpatrick) which features boisterous bands and DJs on the weekends, along with classic bar food, canned beer, and stiff-as-fuck drinks. Or if you possess a more delicate palate, you can sidle up the street for a late dinner and/or cocktails at Swift and Union (8103 N Denver) which also closes on the early side, but boasts a handsome burger/sandwich menu as well as an impressively curated lineup of cocktails (if impressing your art snob friends is a priority). WSH