Best Bars 2018: Where To...

From Sipping Sake to Swilling with Surfers, a Portland Bar for Every Occasion

Here are nine spots that have nailed a niche.

By Kelly Clarke, Ramona DeNies, Zach Dundas, Marty Patail, Margaret Seiler, and Benjamin Tepler August 14, 2018 Published in the September 2018 issue of Portland Monthly

Cully Central’s standout nam khao crispy rice salad

Where to Sip Sake: Chandelier

They come clean and refined; they come fragrant and bright. Rich. Earthy. Sparkling? They bring vivid presence, Mirror of Truth to Demon Slayer. The microscopic SE Ankeny escape hatch Chandelier serves its sakes with feeling, its select list powered by the kind of geeky enthusiasm that built this city’s art, music, and food scenes but often seems sorely lacking these days. Likewise: although this dramatic, red-curtained mini-boîte resides in a brand-new building, it feels in touch with a throwback spirit of louche urban adventure. Not into sake? The all-Euro wine list ($5 a glass) contains some brilliant obscurities. 1451 SE Ankeny St —ZD

Where to Eat Laotian Pub Grub: Cully Central

This Cully neighborhood beer bar isn’t quite like anywhere else in town: a genuinely family-friendly sports bar with a trove of intense, authentic pub grub ... from the small Southeast Asian nation of Laos. You’ll spy neighbors demolishing paper plates piled with nam khao crispy rice salad and kids tearing around the blacktop patio, playing corn hole. Every table ought to order the huge heap of super-crunched, cilantro- and curry-perfumed, lime-zinged rice mingled with Lao cured pork. (You can order it vegan, too.) Load up a big lettuce leaf with the deep-fried goodness, and crunch your way to heaven. 4579 NE Cully Blvd —KC

Where to Swill with Surfers: Up North Surf Club

Part bar, part surf shop (selling boards, books, and more), the year-and-a-half-old Up North has a versatile living-room area that can suddenly turn into a live-music setup or a comedy stage. If there’s not an event happening, expect the promised “chill vibes,” CBD sodas, primo pints from the likes of 54’40” and Pfriem, and surf videos on the bar TV—assuming there’s not a Blazers or Timbers game on, or the occasional screening of Swayze surf classic Point Break. 1229 N Killingsworth St —MS

Where to Eat Gemischter Salat with Your Amberweiss: Olympia Provisions Public House

This cursed corner on SE Division (it’s had four occupants in the past five years) is now the unofficial taproom of Portland’s long-homeless Rosenstadt Brewery, whose popular German-style lineup includes roasty Dunkel and even a stealth pale ale, Fünf Null Drei (German for 503). Those suds are housed inside Olympia Provisions Public House, newly rebranded from its previous iteration as OP Wurst but still sporting a long fire pit, Adirondack chairs, and painted wurst puns. The menu is less “fancy hot dog” and more “schnitzel and schweinshaxe” now, with standout seasonal salads. Will this version break the rotating-restaurant curse? The neighborhood families pulling apart pretzels and playing corn hole in the parking-lot biergarten point to yes. 3384 SE Division St —MS

Where to Toss Back Boilermakers with Skate Punks Made Good: Cat’s Paw Saloon

Pro skater Michael Reyes and partner Emily Griffith built a bar that is pugnaciously out of sync with its neighboring wine shops and perfumeries. Here, you suck down shots alongside Division’s Restaurant Row refugees (and their motley dogs), who maybe knew Reyes back when he stabbed and punched his way through the ’80s skate scene. And that’s why you go to the Cat’s Paw: not for the beer list (disinterestedly static) or the bar snacks (quesadillas only). No, you go for the posters ripped from Juxtapoz, photos of boarders you might know, a mural of a tiger and ... Chief Red Cloud? And the stories, of course, that pour like well liquor from the punk one bar stool over. 3565 SE Division St —RD

Where to Play Big City Nightclub Impresario: No Vacancy

It’s doubtful (Bill) McCormick and (Douglas) Schmick would have envisioned their Old Portland lobster house tricked out with disco balls, gyrating LEDs, and a glassed-in DJ cage. No Vacancy, open just eight months, is the brick-and-mortar ideation of a tech-heavy underground pop-up party series, hosted at venues like Holocene and the Doug Fir, from local boys Billy Vinton and Rick Sheinin. No Vacancy might be Portland’s most ambitious nightclub, with big acts and even bigger dreams. (A $2,000 annual membership here nabs you and your entourage access to unlimited shows and keys to a private, on-site liquor locker.) We’re not San Francisco (yet), but here, where the Suntory highballs flow and the walls shake with late-night EDM, a club kid can definitely pretend. 235 SW First Ave —RD

Where to Sip Vodka, Cold War Style: Kachinka

This summer, our much-loved Soviet-era eatery split into two: Kachka proper moved to the Goat Blocks, while the original SE Grand space became Kachinka—a dedicated cocktail bar. The babushka-chic/communist-hip digs remain, and the cocktail menu has expanded alongside a new brand of Russian bar food. But the wordplay-heavy list (Red October meatball sub, tequila-fueled Trotsky Tipple) still needs work. Stick with the old classics: dumplings and vodka infused with seabuckthorn berry, whatever that is. 720 SE Grand Ave —BT

Where to Pair Pho with Rum: Anchoi

The south end of downtown near Portland State has had an Asian revival of late: the honest-to-goodness Chinese fare at Duck House, and a new outpost of banh mi palace Best Baguette. Upscale Vietnamese cocktail joint Anchoi quietly opened this spring, boasting a drink menu from former Hale Pele owner Blair Reynolds. The renovated space is the spiritual opposite of the 68-year-old Cheerful Tortoise next door, with matte blues and blacks offset by shiny, clean woods and chrome fixtures. Grab a bowl of cardamom-rich pho and sip a deliciously tart Anchoi Daiquiri, made with Martinique rhum and fresh-squeezed lime juice. 635 SW College St —MP

Where to Never Drink the Same Way Twice: Function

Welcome to the boozy holodeck. This quasi-subterranean chamber of concrete walls and black padded booths on NW 23rd Avenue morphs from a neighborhood sports hang to chic wine tasting room, to omakase dining room, to a Dungeons & Dragons gaming tavern—depending on what enterprising chef, bartender, or would-be event maven rents the space that week. The common denominator: great drinks and lively company. What’ll pop up next? 919 NW 23rd Ave —KC

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