High Spirits

The Observatory

An 82nd St neighborhood lounge that brings an unexpected dose of class to an otherwise seedy area.

By Teresa Mahoney June 17, 2010 Published in the July 2010 issue of Portland Monthly

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JUST OFF SE 82ND AVENUE, with its used car lots and “adult entertainment” venues, the Observatory sits like a hidden jewel in the center of Montavilla. Thanks to a growing Stark Street renaissance that began with the Academy Theater’s 2006 face-lift, followed by the opening of the now-hallowed Southern eatery Country Cat Dinnerhouse & Bar, this neighborhood lounge is beginning to lure the type of urbanite you’d expect to find at any N Mississippi Avenue hot spot. With its baroque interior—gilded mirrors, church pew seating, ornate chandeliers—the celestial-themed bar offers an oasis for a sophisticated afternoon happy hour or a late-night indulgence.

If you’re after more than atmosphere, order up the Tom Kah cocktail. But be warned: a blend of house-infused Thai bird chili vodka, cilantro-lemongrass simple syrup, fresh lime, and crème of coconut endows this spicy cocktail with all the fire of an asteroid. If you choose to forgo the Pepto-worthy burn, opt for a crisp Sparkling Elderflower Punch on the rocks instead, made with Lambrusco wine, St. Germain liqueur, citrus, and soda—it’s a tart, fruity refresher that entertains the tongue like a feather tickler.

With a rotating selection of domestic beer on hand for a dollar and bites like oregano fry bread with basil crème fraiche for $2, happy hour here is a worthy venture. Heartier dishes, like the chicken-fried chicken with sweet potato hash, will stir up memories of Nana’s home cooking. To be sure, the Observatory rewards exploring a new frontier.

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