Best Bars

20 Essential Portland Bars

From 19th-century holdouts to karaoke-rich tiki dens, make your way through our city’s required drinking list.

By Portland Monthly Staff November 2, 2017

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Bar Casa Vale

The Alibi

The Alibi has been the big kahuna in Portland since its Polynesian makeover in the late ’40s. Order a mai tai and take in the day-glo Polynesian art, saltwater aquarium, and assorted surfside knickknacks, and experience some much-needed continental drift away from the news cycle. Once you’ve had your fill of dark rum and tropical fruit juice, saunter onstage for some karaoke from the 30,000-strong playlist.

Angel Face

Slide on up to this marble-topped horseshoe bar on NE 28th’s restaurant row. Admire the soft pink wallpaper, striped with kaleidoscopic blooms hand-painted by two local artists. Skim the bottle labels circling overhead: everything from Wild Turkey to a 15-year Calvados. Order from a short menu of classy Lyonnaise bistro staples: egg meurette, duck confit. Now, play it cool—don’t ask for a cocktail list. (There isn’t one, anyway.) Instead, give bar manager Leah Brown a few hints: spirit-forward or citrus, rocks or neat, rye or rum. Then sit back and relax; she’s got this.

Bailey’s Taproom/The Upper Lip

Bailey’s Taproom on SW Broadway is one of the finest beer-drinking spots in the city, with 26 well-chosen taps displayed clearly on digital screens and dispensed by knowledgeable barkeeps . . . if you can deal with the overflowing crowd. If you can’t, ascend an unmarked flight of stairs on the SW Ankeny side to the Upper Lip, a pseudo-secret, 30-seat bar that doubles as Bailey’s Champagne room. A bartender pours six carefully curated taps that change daily, while nine giant, LED-lit refrigerators stock bottled and canned treasures. Beer geeks, unite!

Bar Casa Vale

BCV is Clyde Common restaurateur Nate Tilden’s take on an authentic sherry and tapas bar. Wood smoke permeates the menu, from crispy game hen in tangy mojo sauce to charred curls of octopus tangled around chorizo-fried hearth potatoes. But the focus is at the bar, where Cynar-fueled Argentine juleps and a Spanish-heavy wine menu bookend the impressive 30-bottle sherry list. It’s best enjoyed at the turquoise-arabesque tiled bar, or, in warmer months, on the light-strung Barcelona-in-spirit patio. 

Belmont Station

Lisa Morrison’s 20-year-old SE outpost exerts an almost gravitational pull on Portland beer geeks; watch them wander glassy-eyed through the bottle shop, which sells more than 1,500 brews from around the world. Crack open any one of ’em—from local nanobrewer Little Beast to an East Coast collaboration with Denmark’s Mikkeller—in the shop’s adjoining all-weather biergarten. Making the choice even harder is the brewpub’s constantly refreshing draft list of small-batch, often super-rare kegs, along with frequent special tastings from area makers like Northwest Cider Brokers and Newberg’s Wolves and People.

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Food and drinks at Bit House Saloon

Bit House Saloon

A century or so ago, the Grand Avenue tavern reportedly called Nat West’s Bit House was known for rowdiness, even street brawls. Today, the tipsy townies lining that spacious bar tend to be more blithe than bloodthirsty: a mix of off-duty bartenders, be-plaided east-siders, and weekend warriors, all drawn by pleasantly affordable top-shelf quaffs (cocktails on draft, sherry flights, a boilermaker menu). Here, you can wash down a fried bologna sandwich with “frozé” (a frozen rosé cocktail), a potent old-fashioned, or Domaine De Sau fortified wine. West’s landmark building has never been more dangerous.

Clyde Common/Pépé le Moko

As a place for drink worship, Clyde Common is all about its star bartender, Jeffrey Morgenthaler, who took over in 2009, launching himself to a book deal, a Playboy column, and the 2016 American Bartender of the Year title. His “Bourbon Renewal” and barrel-aged negroni reign as legit modern classics, backed up by an Oregon-centric tap lineup and a wine list recently spiked with Greek, German, and Slovenian finds. In the basement, Pépé le Moko pays homage to a labyrinthine Casbah with a fresh ice-cream grasshopper, neon green in the dim, sexy light, and a criminally smooth boulevardier, thick with Campari. 

The Driftwood Room

This cushy hideaway tucked into the corner of Hotel deLuxe’s glittering lobby is less a bar and more of a hazy collective ideal of a Rat Pack cocktail lounge. Nothing much has changed since it opened in the actual 1950s—the serpentine banquettes, the flickering candles, that couple canoodling in the corner (actual canoodling!)—it’s all there. No one texts at the Driftwood; imbibers of varied generations sip martinis, chuckle with friends, and trail their fingers along the padded bar and wood-clad walls like totems. The expensive cocktails—Champagne elixirs to tweaked sazeracs—are fine, as is the forgettable lineup of fancy mac and pork belly deviled eggs. It doesn’t much matter; you came to consume the ether of a time gone by. On that score, the Driftwood is a banquet.

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Expatriate’s congee and coffee flip


Candlelight spotlights what matters here: two turntables spinning vintage moods, outsize images of old European movies projected on the wall, drinks balanced like the scales of justice, and heat-seeking Asian snacks dispatched with ornate gold silverware. Then there are the corn dogs remodeled with spicy Chinese sausage, or the Korean-fried game hen blistered beneath pickled watermelon ranch dressing. But owner/bar master Kyle Webster’s eight nightly cocktails are the show, meant to pair with top chef Naomi Pomeroy’s loose take on Southeast Asian street eats. It could feel pretentious if all weren’t so damn good. Bonus: one of the city’s most excellent brunches, Asian-spiced stoner waffles to fish-sauce-fuming Bloody Marys. 

Hale Pele

There are tiki bars, and then there are Tiki Bars. Hale Pele is the latter. Enter from a relatively dead block of NE Broadway, cross a small bridge next to a trickling waterfall, and you will find yourself within a tricked-out thatched hut, where psychedelic lights, bamboo, and giant Polynesian masks all clamor for attention alongside nearly 40 frothy, boozy tropical concoctions. Conversations flow easily (and increasingly loudly) between strangers at neighboring tables, fueled by the epic, rum-centric cocktail menu. The sugary classics are here (the Painkiller), but plunge deeper into the menu for a taste of the spicy side of the tropics (the Navy Grog). Just pay close attention to the menu’s “potency scale”—they’re not playing around. 


With its the worn but elegant wooden counter, stained-glass hanging lamps, and soft-spoken bartenders in neckties, the back bar of Higgins Restaurant is a den of timeless class, where a commoner can enjoy a perfect Carman Ranch burger or a no-fuss proper old-fashioned. While the bar’s 11 taps have local and regional nods (Hair of the Dog, California’s North Coast), European classics like Chimay, Rodenbach, and Bitburger Pilsner are on hand, too, each served in its proper glass. Near the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, the Newmark Theatre, and Portland State’s Lincoln Performance Hall, Higgins can be packed pre-show (or, as has happened on occasion at this newsroom favorite, post-Oregonian layoffs). But most of the time this classic offers a break from the bustle.

Horse Brass Pub

Preternaturally cozy and convivial, this British-style haunt was also central to Portland’s craft beer revolution: when the late Don Younger took it over in 1976, he put plenty of English beers on tap but also became a champion for local brewers, from Widmer to Rogue to McMenamins. These days, the Horse Brass boasts more than 50 taps, a food menu of bangers, pasties, and fish and chips, and spirited patrons and soccer fans crowded around well-worn wooden tables.


As if the dark wood and art-deco tile work weren’t clue enough that you’ve just stepped into the oldest bar in town, there’s the distant aroma of mustache wax lingering like ghostly potpourri. Turkey dinner, the house specialty, is served in abundance all year round. As befits a gentlemen’s club, roving mixologists whip up flaming Spanish coffees with the flourish of magicians performing sleight of hand. A round of applause won’t embarrass anyone. 

Kelly’s Olympian

With its womb-like neon glow and constant murmur of buzzed drinkers, Kelly’s taps into a sort of homesickness for Old Portland, even if the 115-year-old bar actually predates that era of cheap rent and loud indie rock. The downtown space feels as if it has accreted the best of this town’s bar culture over the years—emerging as a day drinker’s nook, after-work watering hole, and quirky late-night arts club all in one. Everything here is a comfort; a well-drink-fueled refuge in genuinely fucked-up times: the nachos piled with fresh-fried chips drowned in Tillamook cheese sauce, Al Green on the speakers, the taps pouring 24 kinds of quality, local suds. It’s pretty much Cheers—with more tight black jeans and a fleet of floating motorcycles above the bar. 

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Mussels and fries at La Moule

La Moule

St. Jack chef Aaron Barnett’s dim, Clinton Street mussel shop might be the closest thing in Portland to a legit brasserie. Strong Belgian tripel on draft? Mais oui. Moules frites? Au safran or marinière? Then there’s that très chic wallpaper—scallops of ocean indigo that streak toward the moody back bar, manned by the Frenchiest of barkeeps: cool, swift, and utterly competent. Here, cocktails are king, from classic daiquiris to the inimitable Black Lodge—an old-fashioned cloaked in cynar and Combier Roi René Rouge.

Multnomah Whisk(e)y Library

The Library turned heads when it opened in 2013, a rare aerie of exclusivity in this fiercely egalitarian city. A tight members-only reservations policy governed clubby up-the-secret-stair trappings of brick and leather, where decorous staff plied the select with binders full of top-shelf booze. (The conceit did fray some during a recent visit, as a normcore crowd sported ballcaps to a Spotify-ish classic rock playlist. Are we in the Library, or not?) Bracingly uptown? Vaguely infuriating? Either way, MWL’s signature old-fashioned demands a spot on any Portland booze survey; the tequila program sources rare finds. Nonmembers’ strategy: show up early, alone—they’ll likely seat you at the bar. The place works: you’ll feel like Someone.

The Rookery Bar

A swanky cocktail haven in a former hayloft? As a metaphor for cosmopolitan New Portland, it’ll have to do. The Rookery has sat atop the 134-year-old Ladd Carriage House since 2011, serving up drinks from a whiskey-heavy cocktail list in a cozy rumpus room of leather and marble and dark wood. (The carriage house has been trucked all over town, but that’s a story to ask the bartender.) While the downstairs dining room Raven & Rose offers a comparatively staid vibe, the Rookery is all blazing fireplace, cracking pool balls, and live music. Bring along your fun coworkers and order one of the Rookery’s hand-selected “single barrel cocktails”—like Sim’s Old Fashioned, made from Eagle Rare 10-year and muscovado.

Rum Club

A Sandy Boulevard stalwart since 2011, Rum Club rescues long-forgotten cocktail recipes from obscurity while also realizing never-departed classics with verve. Take the house daiquiri, here deepened by a dash of absinthe (find the recipe here). Or go full island getaway with the Flamingo Kid, a frothy number with several types of rum, coconut, hibiscus, pineapple, lime, and bitters. A mahogany horseshoe bar swoops through the small space, lent a gentle tiki tilt by wood paneling, bird-of-paradise wallpaper, and a food menu of pickled eggs and sardine sandwiches. 

The Sandy Hut

To call the Sandy Hut a “new” bar is slightly disingenuous. The pie-shaped dive has pointed toward downtown like a rusty shank since 1923. But in 2016, it got a complete makeover: out went the garish, purple façade and nicotine stains; in went a new HVAC. But the Jell-O shots and the unfashionable arm cushions on the bar were lovingly preserved. The menu pays homage with “The Fat Man Sandwich”: a bacon, egg, ham, and onion ring–topped nuke of a burger originally served at the tavern in the 1960s. The music stage is gone, true, but we won’t miss it. On a Saturday night, as tipplers nursed well whiskey and Googled the name of the long-dead actresses from the signed black-and-white photos behind the bar, the jukebox played all the classics we needed: the Breeders’ “Cannonball” to Judas Priest’s “The Hellion/Electric Eye.” Unlike that well whiskey, the Sandy Hut goes down smooth.


In the most unlikely of places—a Pearl District eyesore straight from the early aughts—some of Portland’s most interesting cocktails are being conceived. Since 2007, co-owner Daniel Shoemaker has been dreaming up mad-scientist flavor combinations with his exacting jigger pours and exquisite house-made tonic and bitters. (Check out his secret cocktail onion recipe here.) Of the 350-plus drinks Shoemaker keeps in his Rolodex, the master bartender considers this tart, smoky-sweet “Illuminations” from the bar’s early days his all-time favorite. It’s an oddly alluring balance of smoldering tequila and sherry warmth, bracketed with a bracing squeeze of lemon and the mellow sweetness of grade B maple syrup, all lathered with egg white froth.

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