Best Bars to Become an Expert
YOU’RE DRINKING Scorpion ($8): Mescal in a bottle with a scorpion
Tequila worth drinking doesn’t belong in a shot glass. This agave spirit deserves something more elegant, like stemware. Which is why Trébol’s 90-plus tequilas come in sherry glasses—and with a side of advice. Tony Pepe, the affable beverage manager and bartender, dishes on the merits of his blancos, reposados, anejos, and mescals while guiding patrons on their self-directed tour through Jalisco, the Mexican state where tequila was invented. (Or take a formal lesson with a Trébol tequila tasting class.) If you don’t like tequila straight, there’s also an exhaustive margarita list. And to stave off the siesta, Trébol offers three-quarter-ounce tasters (for half the price of a regular shot) and a plate of warm corn tortillas to help fortify your tequila tour.
YOU’RE DRINKING Love & Squalor 2008 ($14), a warm pinot noir from Amity
Sommelier Timothy Nishimoto takes the concept of a “flight” personally. In his Pearl District wine bar, he arranges triptychs of wines by his own travels. A recent summer sojourn through Germany, for instance, inspired the “Weissburgunder Wonders,” a trio of outstanding pinot blancs. Three Australian Rieslings, “Fear Not the Riesling,” represent a travelogue of his October tour down under. But worldliness should not mean pretentiousness. Nishimoto’s wines are as approachable as the setting: comfy leather chairs, soft lighting, and a crowd of young, bejeaned regulars. “The wine list is user-friendly,” says the Pink Martini singer. “Some grapes you’ve heard of and some you haven’t.” But they’re all fruits you can afford—glasses start at $6, a fact that will send even the most recession-weary wine lover’s spirits soaring.
Produce Row Café
YOU’RE DRINKING The Pale Rider ($9): Blanton’s with Terminal Gravity IPA
“Whether you have a beer background or a whiskey background,” says Produce Row owner Alan Davis, “this is where they all get along.” When Davis, a bourbon man in a beer town, gutted and completely overhauled this longtime Central Eastside watering hole (the one-time site of the original McMenamins) in June with olive-green booths, mahogany wall panels, and a new covered patio, he also wanted to bring his love for snake poison to Portland’s beerphiles. Enter the Row’s whiskey-beer pairings. A can of PBR and shot of Jack this is not. From the bar’s collection of more than 50 whiskeys, Davis sets up a carefully curated bourbon (served neat) with a seven-ounce glass of snob-worthy microbrew to bring out the nuanced flavors of both. Exhibit A: “The Redford,” which couples the complex Woodford Reserve with Laurelwood’s smooth and smoky Free Range Red. Now that’s what we call playing nice.
The Secret Society Lounge
YOU’RE DRINKING St. George ($11): A goldish absinthe from a Bay Area distiller largely responsible for the drink’s rebirth
When the US lifted its ban on absinthe three years ago, the Secret Society Lounge quickly resurrected the drink—and the culture of Bohemian mystique in which absinthe once thrived in late-19th-century Paris. Indeed, it’s easy to imagine storied connoisseurs Van Gogh or Oscar Wilde calling on the drink known as “the green fairy” at this upstairs nook, where dim lights, heavy bookshelves, and a deep-red ceiling frame a lively scene—usually tightly packed. Squeeze in at the bar and mull over your seven absinthe choices (one of the largest selections in the city), including the bold Pernod, the spicy Pacifique, and the sweeter Trillium. Then make way for the louche, an ornate drip fountain that dissolves a sugar cube into your glass and slowly turns the green liquid cloudy. Hallucinatory? No. Mesmerizing? Mais oui.