I stopped into Montavilla’s The Observatory on the first truly warm spring day in Portland. The sidewalk tables lining SE Stark were packed with Ray-Banned twenty-somethings sporting genuine smiles, as if—for the first time in months—drinking booze was a celebration and not a means of assuaging their Seasonal Affective Disorder. The sun wasn’t confined to the street, either—a large skylight lit up our seats, the cool blue walls, and the bottles behind the bar inside as we perused the 8-item happy hour menu. While sipping the amazing Bloody Morimoto (wasabi vodka, housemade Sriracha-soy Bloody Mary mix, rimmed with wasabi salt – one of the best Mary variations in town) I was struck by the number of large parties filling up the chic space. Groups of up to nine people easily filled tables and pulled up extra chairs, an anomaly in most stylish bars in town.
The happy hour prices are fast-food low given the plentiful portions—we filled the bar with food and drinks for less than the price of a trip to a first-run movie (not that anyone goes to those anymore). The crowd favorite was the chicken-liver pâté plate ($5)—a large cup of smooth pâté with a thin layer of clarified butter, served with onion apple jam, pear mustard, pickled onions, cornichons, bread and crackers. The sweet jams were reminiscent of spiced summer desserts, a perfect accompaniment to the sunshine on our backs.
Though the signature Oregano fry bread sticks ($2) were a bit too salty, all sins were forgiven with a few dunks into the generous serving of Tomato and Red Pepper Bisque ($2). The only truly forgettable dish was the Caeser salad ($3), with a rather bland dressing missing the creamy bite of the best versions of the dish.
The perfectly-seasoned Garlic Parmesan Rosemary Fries ($2) and Ginger Sake Mussels ($5) were also gobbled up with gusto, the latter an interesting take on the seafood dish found most places in town. The Observatory obviously has some spice lovers on the kitchen team (and bartending staff) but nothing overpowered our palate or felt too heavy for the sunny afternoon.
After trying most of the menu, we ventured through a winding hallway to grab a beer at the Observatory’s back-end bar Over and Out. Happy hour draft beers are only $3, and make for easy sipping while losing terribly at Big Buck Safari. This under-the-radar spot is destined to become Montavilla’s new poster child – mashing up pinball machines and pool tables with the full Observatory menu, it’s the perfect spot for pleasing the dive-bar lovers, fancy-cocktail sippers, and veggie-burger crowd alike. Happy hour deals apply at both spots, so you can choose your own adventure depending on your mood.
Happy hours: 3-6 pm every day, 10-close Sunday through Thursday
Address: 8115 SE Stark St.