Happy Hour

Pearl Dives

From Low Brow to lo mein

By John Chandler February 8, 2011

I like to think of myself as a man of humble ambitions and modest goals. The idea that desire leads to suffering is not only one of the major tenets of Buddhism, but it’s common knowledge as far as I’m concerned. Unfortunately, in a frantic consumer-based society, moderation is a virtue that’s easily jettisoned in the face of possibility. After all, I’m as human as the next nitwit.

So what’s all this got to do with Happy Hour, Perfesser?

Just this: Most of the time I’m content with settling down at one establishment, partaking of a fistful of fries and a brew or two. I query my companions, steal a few bites from a neglected sandwich, and pass around a signature cocktail. Then it’s time to gather my notes and head for home declaring, "mission accomplished." There are occasions, however, when my (forbidden) desire to extend Happy Hour frolic leads to a change of venue. I blame the fabled wanderlust that epitomizes the true Oregonian. Hell, let’s try the grass in that other pasture.

Portland’s highly polished Pearl District isn’t exactly an oasis for the budget-conscious imbiber, but if you can manage your wits, you shouldn’t have to sign over the deed to the family farm to pay off your bar tab. When in a restless mood, begin your excursion at the Low Brow Lounge (1036 NW Hoyt), which despite the name, isn’t particularly divey. True, it’s darker than a coal mine at midnight (resulting in shock and surprise upon leaving only to discover that it’s still daylight), and there is a wall apparently constructed out of old Jagermeister bottles. But unlike most dives, the darkness here isn’t meant to camouflage torn upholstery and greasy menus. It’s a clean, orderly joint with seven taps ($3 during Happy Hour, except for Guinness), 18 beers in the bottle, and more than 30 menu items priced under $8. Hell, the only thing on the menu that’s over 10 bucks is the Macho Grande ($12), a behemoth platter of nachos (chili beans, black beans, and chicken) that could satisfy an armada of shipwreck survivors.

Pups & Tots!

Happy Hour itself runs from 4-7 with a dollar off pints and wells. Whoopee. However, when you can land an Alaskan ale battered cod sandwich with fries or tots for $7, or a pizza-stuffed pretzel for $3, complaints are few and far between. To my mind, there is no better Happy Hour snack in town than the Low Brow’s basket of Pups & Tots ($5). Usually served mouth-blisteringly hot right out of the fryer, the marriage of salty stumps and mini corn dogs with a subtly sweet exterior crust (and goopy pools of ketchup and mustard), never fails to get the hunger monkey off my back. The Pearl might be a high-rent district, but you wouldn’t know it at the Low Brow.

Take the Ginger Cure at Seres.

And yet even as I joyfully buried my snout in the searing pile of deep-fried starch, I could tell that this would be a day that something more was needed. I need additional spice; flavor; nuance. I needed Chinese food. As luck would have it, one of my amigos directed my attention to the nearby Seres Restaurant and Bar (1105 NW Lovejoy), a newish bistro specializing in organic Chinese food. They also specialize in kicking ass at Happy Hour, which takes place between 3-7 daily.

In sunny contrast to Low Brow’s relaxing gloom, Seres shines like new silverware, with blond woods, lofty ceilings, and the Pearl District’s omnipresent minimalist industrial-modern charm. For Happy Hour grazing, head to the bustling bar off to the right of the main entrance.

Cantonese fried chicken and pork-fried rice. All gluten-free!

• They have eight (!) gluten-free items on the Happy Hour menu (20 total). I’m not sure how this came to pass, but I have several friends (including my beloved fiancee) with gluten intolerance. Well, to these comrades I bring glad tidings. The crispy, fried chicken Cantonese style ($7) is smashing. I happened to have a gluten-free friend in tow and she agreed, praising the small pucks of cluck that were cunningly fried in a light rice flour.

• The chicken is the spendiest dish on the HH menu, and aficionados of Asian cuisine can also languish over plates of smoldering Mongolian lamb ($6); zesty Tang Tang noodles ($3); and liberally sauced Lo Mein ($5), among other worthy entrees.

The cocktail menu is huge and the glasses are tall. Tropically tickled drinks with fresh juices such as the mojito (three varieties); the Pomegranate margarita, and the Mandarin cosmo come to your table during Happy Hour for a mere $6.50. Still too pricey? Never fear, because they also have a selection of $5 cocktails made with shochu, a neutral grain-based spirit (known in Korea as "the working man’s drink"). A shochu-fueled martini or Ginger Cure (sake with ginger ale and muddled ginger) should awaken your appreciation of libations from the mystic East.

The dinner menu is roughly the size of the Hong Kong phone book. You could visit every night from now till Christmas and still find unexplored terrain.

• It’s organic! So dig in with a clean conscience! They even have a "Sustainability" page that details where and how the food is sourced, if you’re one of those nosey noshers like Portlandia’s Fred and Carrie characters.

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Make no mistake, it’s a worthwhile adventure to visit either the Low Brow or Seres without piling one atop the other. But when you must heed the siren song of possibility, you can do so without fear of plunging into poverty. Even in the Pearl.

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