Where to drink right now in Portland

One of the Pacific Northwest’s great drinking cities is popping with new bars and wild cocktails, from the mustard-licked to slushified—plus … disco balls!

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Old Portland favourites and on-point new bars are rocking some Canadian-friendly values, and prices (drinks from USD$12-16 are typical, but no tax!). Because Oregon bars must serve food, delicious bites from bar snacks to elevated meals complement your cocktails. Always on the cutting edge of alternative, plenty of Portland places feature mocktails as refreshing and inventive as their boozy siblings, too.

The Bar Stars

The Terra Firma, created by Pacific Standard Co-Owner Jeffrey Morganthaler, is a twist on the classic old-school favorite Vieux Carre. instagram.com/pacificstandardpdx photo
Pacific Standard

You wouldn’t necessarily expect to find the head judge of the San Francisco World Spirits Competition behind the bar, but there he is on a Wednesday night, in the living-room style lobby of the Kex Hotel Portland (an Icelandic brand that’s chicly revamped a 1912 apartment building into a hip, affordable stay). Award-winning bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler, who made Clyde Common at Ace Hotel famous, tops the Terra Firma (Japanese whisky, Laird’s apple brandy, vermouth and Benedictine plus bitters) with a fat plank of citrus zest made with a cheese slicer. The Rosé Negroni is a favourite and the bar food, like local mussels in cream, is delicious. Head up to the roof bar to try Morgenthaler’s canned cocktails, made in collaboration with Ninkasi Brewing Company.


Elegant cocktails and mocktails abound as Sousòl. SousolBar.com photo

Chef Gregory Gourdet won fans on Top Chef for Caribbean-inflected cuisine and his personal aura of sober zen. Now that he’s won two James Beard Awards for Portland restaurant Kann it’s a tough reservation, so head down to Sousòl, a tropical-ish bar where excellent mocktails also feature. The menu has chef’s spicy, juicy bites like elevated salt cod fritters and Jamaican-style beef patties, but also elegant cocktails with agave spirits, rum and Haitian clairin alongside tropical fruit and flavours from nuts and spices to tamarind and coconut. The Djon Djon Djin balances the south Asian spirit arrack with rye, brandy and Haitian black mushrooms. And yes, chef is in the house pretty much every night.


The Mixology Labs

Who is Jack Nance? is Deadshot’s most famous house drink. Facebook.com/DeadshotPDX photo

It might look like a pub-ish local, but a glance at Deadshot’s gadget-laden cocktail lab and menu confirms its ambitions. Ingredients ilke acidifed citrus, toasted rice, chile and spices like galangal, za’atar and turmeric lend zip. The most famous house drink is Who is Jack Nance?, a bourbon, lemon, sesame, sherry plus egg yolk and mustard drink that’s as weird, obscure and memorable as the quirky Eraserhead actor. Braver palates should try the Casper’s Ghost, where bitter melon meets mezcal.

The Twins combines two quintessential summer flavours: tomato and watermelon. Instagram.com/VoyseyPDX photo

Loyal Legion has long been a pubby Portland stalwart, and now basement bar Voysey (look for neon lights above the red-glowing staircase at the back) creates a hushed, intimate speakeasy-style option for those in the know. Under the light of a disco ball sparkling on a cabinet of vintage glassware, choose from zodiac-inspired sips: The Twins faces off tequila and sotol, tomato and watermelon, coriander and lime for a refreshing opposites-attract drink.

The Cash and Curry cocktail at Fools and Horses. Instagram.com/foolsandhorses photo
Fools & Horses and Dirty Pretty

The elegant Western-inspired northwest saloon and a new hippie-chic beaded-curtain East Burnside spot have excellence in common, from the same hospitality team. Fools & Horses is full of elevated touches, from gorgeous glassware and embossed ice to drinks like a Baller Martini made luxe with a bump of caviar. Dirty Pretty wows with one of the best cocktails in town: a Vibe Check broth-tail gin, vermouth and creamy coconut glass-rinsed with phó for intensely savoury ginger, lemongrass and basil oil aromatics. Don’t miss the pretty back patio in summer.


The Masterclasses

Multnomah Whiskey Library’s library wall of rare spirits. Facebook.com/whiskeylibrary photo
Multnomah Whiskey Library

Under new ownership, this whisky-lover’s dream has the same library wall of rare booze, but the leather-clad private club has a newly accessible spirit (a new member’s only lounge makes it easier to drink in the street-level Green Room or score a seat in the Library itself). The addictively buttery, lemon-herb popcorn, once an off-menu secret, is now available by the big bowl. Barkeeps will wheel a cart over to your booth for at-table preparations of collab drinks conceived with local mixology pals, or from a Scholar’s List starring vintage spirits: Little Italy combines Michter’s 10 Rye with vermouths, 1970s-era Cynar and chocolate bitters.

The Namesake cocktail pairs well with oysters + granitas. Facebook.com/scotchlodge photo
Scotch Lodge

In the Scotch-stakes, this bar rivals the best with more than 2,000 bottles, on a list that comes as loose sheets in a dossier folder—because studying it is serious business. A Glencairn glass outline appears on everything from the discreet exterior sign to the emblem embossed on clear king cubes. The Namesake cocktail (peated Scotch, vermouth, amaro, cherry liqueur and bitters) is a must-drink with juicy-sweet oysters topped with rainbow-coloured, cocktail-flavoured granitas, from Garibaldi to Tokyo Tea.

Rum Club’s Pedro Martinez cocktail. Charlene Rooke photo
Rum Club

It calls itself “a craft cocktail bar with a rum problem.” Fans of high-hogo bottles like The Funk or Rum Fire will feast on the eye candy of a stunning back bar heaving with rhum Agricole and other treasures of the Caribbean. Rum Club has its own bottlings as well, and the Pedro Martinez mixes its Rich blend with vermouth, maraschino, falernum and citrus to reinvent a classic cocktail.


The Neighbourhood Hangs

The Wheeler’s Bane at Bible Club. Facebook.com/bibleclubpdx photo
Bible Club

On the long trip down to the Sellwood ’hood, you’ll wonder: is the juice worth the squeeze? The answer is yes, from the second you enter this speakeasy-style bar (in a cute yellow house; look for the sign for Revival, the more casual live-music patio bar, next door), which is tin-ceilinged and packed with antiques and quirky ephemera. The Wheeler’s Bane cocktail, made with bourbon and no less than five bitters and amari, comes with a theatrical crown of smoke. Hallelujah!

The Perpetua cocktail at Expatriate. Charlene Rooke photo

Ten out of 10 Portland bartends surveyed recommended Expatriate, a dark and collegial hangout in northeast Portland (and not a bad place to stop enroute to or from PDX). The menu speaks of attaché-case globe-trotting, serving Asian-inflected bar bites (though there’s a killer classic American burger) and cocktail names dripping with intrigue, like Coyote (bourbon, rhubarb aperitif, sherry and vermouth) and Lantern (like a gin martini eclipsed by mole bitters and coffee liqueur). The back bar boasts not just mega bottles but vintage vinyl, with a DJ spinning vintage funk and soul.


The Pretty People Places

It’s the Utah, Gimme Two! cocktail at Bar Love. Facebook.com/heylovepdx
Hey Love

It’s a disco and selfie frenzie at the much-lauded bar in the Jupiter Next hotel. The zany ’70s-inspired plant-heavy, disco-ball décor and music turns into a wild dance party most nights. Tasty bar food served in vintage china and drinks with slush, sprinkles, colourful glass rims and garnishes will light up your mood, and your Instagram.

A Pineapple Gin and Tonic (left) and Cleopatra at Palomar. Charlene Rooke photo

Cuban-inflected colours of banana yellow, flamingo pink and palm green grace a lofty bar with a menu that dips south for inspo. Choose from shaken, stirred, blended or bubbly sections, with bartender-wink offerings like a gin and piña (pineapple) shot for $5 or the option to add an absinthe kiss to any cocktail for $0.25. Refreshing combos like a Cleopatra (white port and tonic with tropical fruit) are ideal sips while scooping ceviche with plantain chips.

The eponymous cocktail at Pink Rabbit. Instagram.com/pinkrabbitbar photo
Pink Rabbit

From the pink neon sign to hot drinks juiced with tropical fruit, rum and tequila, you’ll have a sexy, steamy evening here. The eponymous house shot is a tequila, watermelon, coconut orgeat and lime flavour bomb.

Facebook.com/FortunePDX photo

This elegant (and entirely vegan) fortune-cookie of a bar in the luxe Sentinel hotel cracks open into a club scene on weekends (with a fortune teller on Friday nights!). Have a quiet afternoon sip on a house watermelon-infused chilled tequila, and nosh on an entirely plant-based menu of bar food faves, from burgers, fries and cheese sticks to a vegan charcuterie board.

—by Charlene Rooke

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