The stuffy, bossy wine bar is reborn in Portland: fun, democratic, and all-natural.
Just as Nostrana, Portland’s 13-year-old Italian stronghold, was settling into an uncool (but consistently crowd-pleasing) middle age, it surprised us with a wonderful, wine-fueled midlife crisis. Enoteca Nostrana looks nothing like its neighboring restaurant, nor the city’s formulaic, aseptic restaurant mode. Instead, it’s an expensive marvel of postmodern Italian design: Tetris tiles in shades of gray, squishy Champagne-cork-inspired bar stools, and pastel-hued Pixar-logo lamps. Both the intimate back room and reservable second-floor balcony offer views of the bar’s two-story wine cellar, encased in glass and backlit like a high-security server facility. That 2,000-plus-bottle cellar is stocked by sommelier Austin Morris Bridges, who ran the wine program at Northeast Portland’s venerable DOC for nine years before bringing his knowledge (and a special cache of bottles from Spain) to Nostrana’s impressive, well-aged library of Italian wines. But Enoteca isn’t just a waiting room—it has its own kitchen and menu of Italian staples and snacks, including an intensely smoky oyster dip that falls somewhere between stringy queso and bluefish pâté, and a DIY tomato pasta. Silly? Yes. But you’d be hard-pressed to find a better spaghetti in red sauce anywhere in the city. 1401 SE Morrison St —BT
Like all great American food cities right now, Portland is stricken with natural-wine fever. (Is it merely the rosé of the day, or the next craft coffee/beer/cocktail?) No one in town is a greater proponent nor more knowledgeable than Dana Frank, a national superstar sommelier. Opened in July, her Bar Norman on SE Clinton is so Dana Frank: exclusively natural, with a menu of glass pours only (plus a retail bottle shop), and a totally unintimidating collection—simultaneously wild, expressive, and refined—that will topple your wine notions. She darts around the white, lofted room, easing in curious first-timers and topping off longtime pinot specialists glued to the candlelit, mint green bar. But Bar Norman is the great equalizer: no one has a clue what the stuff is supposed to taste like. Handily, there’s a human encyclopedia of natural wine in the wings, waiting to show them the way. 2615 SE Clinton St —BT
Arden Wine Bar & Kitchen
Here we have something like the Platonic ideal of a next-gen wine bar, urbane but softened by bohemian trappings, like its Shakespearean name and its ropy planters. A recent by-the-glass list led with a pet-nat sparkler (Montinore’s “Hipster Juice”) and proceeded through a roster of exacting European and Oregonian selections from owner-somms Alex Marchesini and Kelsey Glasser. (They also run Thelonious Wines, a block away.) With chef Sara Hauman, veteran of San Francisco’s Michelin-anointed Octavia, in the kitchen, Arden offers ambition along the lines of an early-summer dish matching lamb with a wild-ramp spätzle, or gnocchi in squid ink. But happy hour is this place’s highest calling, when a “sherry-cano,” a negroni, or one of those daily wine finds can close the day and inaugurate the evening. 417 NW 10th Ave —ZD
Despite his five (and counting) James Beard nominations, the world doesn’t seem to have fully discovered Castagna’s modernist chef, Justin Woodward. It has, however, found his wine guy, Brent Braun, a Food & Wine top somm of 2017. Braun’s dogmatic wine tastes are on display at OK Omens, the sister café that, until recently, served as the burger bistro to Castagna’s abstract glamour. At OK Omens, Woodward delivers a warm hug of a menu (Szechuan-pepper-dusted buttermilk fried chicken, crab pasta with a dab of fish sauce). But it’s Braun’s zine-like wine list—replete with natural, local upstarts and recently featuring “juice for skiin’” (Alpine wines) and a Purple Rain callout—that seals the deal. His real obsession is Riesling, the wine he says pairs best with Woodward’s cooking. Braun devotes an entire section to this “divisive” varietal, with 30-plus bottles from Wachau, Saar, and even Southern Oregon. “Ask an American wine drinker what they want in a white wine. They’ll generally say, ‘bright,’ ‘minerally,’ ‘citrus’—that IS Riesling. It’s probably their favorite wine; they just haven’t had it yet.” 1758 SE Hawthorne Blvd —RD
Three days a week, North Portland breakfast spot Sweedeedee transforms into a candlelit natural-wine pop-up, with rare, funky finds from all over Europe and silver platters overflowing with Brittany’s greatest gifts: tinned fish, creamy cow cheese, and flowery honeycomb. In a word, we are psyched. Read more here. 5202 N Albina Ave —BT
A streak of talented bartenders and spiritous deep-dives made this a banner year for craft cocktails.
What happens when Ro Tam—famous for the creative mocktails at her Sellwood coffee shop, and the ubiquitous ginger-spicy Tanglewood Chai—reaches into late-night territory? Either/Or, her stylish new North Williams breakfast bar–cum–drinking den. That magnetic chai pours all through the night here, notably as the cornerstone of the flavor-whizzing Dirty Chai, a creamy, spicy, cinnamon sipper with a blackstrap rum kick. All this, along with a food menu that offers up solid bar standards alongside Chinese sausage and pork belly bowls, in dapper surrounds. From reclaimed wood over the bar to metallic buttoned banquettes to the custom DJ booth, Either/Or somehow toes the line between Northwest rugged and turn-of-the-century boudoir that we never knew existed. 4003 N Williams Ave —FM
Portland all-star Gabriel Rucker’s new location is technically a wine bar; the bound book, which includes 20 infallible glass pours assembled by Le Pigeon wine nerd Andy Fortgang, is well worth the long-read. But this also happens to be one of Portland’s most exciting new cocktail hangouts. Belly up to the seven-seat marble horseshoe bar that separates the serious drinkers from the long, short-order galley slinging everything from White Castle–style steam burgers to Funfetti pancakes. If you’re visiting early (it opens at 8 a.m. weekdays), you’ll have the Breakfast of Champions, a gin martini pumped with a Bloody Mary infusion of celery bitters and caper brine. Put the optional oyster ($3) “wherever you want,” instructs the bartender. For a nightcap, you can do no better than the Foie Turn, a “fat washed” old-fashioned. Canard didn’t invent the gimmicky technique, but the place has certainly mastered it: foie gras is rendered, blended with bourbon, then frozen and filtered. The result is a silky, rich quaff, bolstered by a sweet-spicy current of sauternes, apricot brandy, and sherry—well worth the $15 price tag. 734 E Burnside St —BT
At this Cuban-inspired spot, summer springs eternal: sun glints off gold-flecked tables, flamingoes and palm trees dot the illustrated menu, and frozen daiquiris ($6 at happy hour) flow from a slushie machine. From the color scheme—rose, teal, and butter yellow—down to the servers in matching seersucker button-downs, the cheerfulness verges on aggressive. But Palomar, which opened in April, also takes drinking seriously. Daiquiris range from classic to cruise-ship-worthy: try the roasty, cachaça-based Abuelita, blended with coffee, plantain, and lime. Other cocktails on the lengthy menu get tropical twists of their own, like a martini with coconut gin and a spritz of lime. Come funereal February, here’s where we’ll be hiding out. 959 SE Division St —RJ
So. Many. Mezcals. This engaging new outpost of longtime Southeast arepas hangout Teote offers many reasons to settle in for a spell—a rangy patio, those dense corn cakes—but really, you’re here for the drink. Explore curated flights, like the “Silvestre” collection of spirits produced from wild-grown agaves or a set that pairs mezcal with the distinct Mexican spirits sotol and comiteco. Servers can guide you through deep lineups of “entry-level espadín” and “artisanal expressions”—or, alternatively, upgrade the juicy house margarita with mezcal and just feel the vibe. The florid décor, with its psychedelic light-up centerpiece and woodcut of mustachioed guitar players, makes a welcome change from our reigning nicey-nice modernism. When that patio’s kicking, the place has the feel of a rowdy clubhouse, run by your uncle who did the worm many moons ago. 2700 NE Alberta St —ZD
Until recently, Adam Robinson’s Deadshot was that semisecret cocktail pop-up rocking at modernist Holdfast: mustard flips and coupes of mezcal, served up Monday nights only. The classy, dim haunt drew a service-industry scene: you’d find Langbaan’s Earl Ninsom or off-shift Expatriate bartenders. Robinson’s pop-up proved so popular that his hosts at Holdfast partnered in Deadshot’s brick-and-mortar, launched this past May, with a shared kitchen in back and a massive sliding door separating the spaces. Now open seven days a week, happy hour to darkest night, Deadshot grows the city’s boldest drink list, with an expanded four-section menu, developed with assists from a posse of hotshot bartenders, and seating for 52. Yes, the scale-up sacrificed some intimacy. But it’s still a serious place to drink. That mad scientist operating the sonic infuser and centrifuge? That’s Robinson, taking cocktails into the future. 2133 SE 11th Ave —RD
Beer in 2018: the new school grew up, beer gardens bloomed, and we found a real Irish pub.
The daffodil-colored bungalow on SE Division was, for 14 years, Old Portland brewery Lompoc’s low-key east-side outpost. On summer Saturdays, its patch of emerald lawn was typically packed with romping toddlers and dogs while parents wearily downed pints of Proletariat Red. In May, Little Beast’s Charles Porter and Olympia Provisions vet Brenda Crow took over the space, opening the brewery’s first beer garden. The same patio seating beckons behind the same shady tree. But open the menu; instead of knee-deep IPAs, find foeder-aged farmhouse ales, sour ale collaborations with Modern Times (below), and wheat ales with chamomile and lactobacillus conditioning. And those young families? They’re still sprawled on the lawn. It’s just that now, that party starts at 3 p.m. and lasts all week—naptimes (and work schedules) be damned. 3412 SE Division St —RD
Formerly Fat Head’s, this airplane hangar–size Pearl District beer hall reopened in March as Von Ebert, with brewers rich in experience from the Commons. The Timbers and Thorns flags are huge, as is the crowd wearing tucked-in plaid and chinos. And, critically, the beer is excellent, with frequently changing taps. A summer seasonal brewed with lactose and passion fruit–infused black tea was tart and refreshing, while the Battle Stations IPA struck that ever-elusive balance between bitter and citrusy. Argyle more your style? This summer, Von Ebert opened a second outpost at outer Northeast Portland’s Glendoveer Golf Course, right next to the pro shop. 131 NW 13th Ave —RJ
Yes, this place used to be beloved Euro-style brewery the Commons before it suddenly shuttered last fall. Yes, this place is a local expansion of Modern Times, a popular, IPA-studded brewery from San Diego. But put down your pitchforks, Portland: this bright, open, frequently boisterous space is brewing some seriously tasty beer. The décor takes its cues from Gen X childhoods everywhere: A giant, sparkling gold Macho Man Randy Savage piñata hangs from the cavernous ceiling, while a fractal of colored 3.5-inch diskettes wrap around the bar. The ever-changing, 20-plus tap list might hold five or six different IPAs, including several of the juicy, fruity, hazy variety Modern Times is most famous for. And despite (or because of) its California origins, the brewery has been busy doing as many local collaborations as it can. If the light, refreshing Abaddon Helles lager, brewed with Wayfinder, is California’s peace offering, we accept. 630 SE Belmont St —MP
T. C. O’Leary’s
If you’ve had your fill of Irish bars, rest assured: NE Alberta’s T. C. O’Leary’s is less an “Irish bar” and more a bar you might actually find in Ireland. Kelly-green décor and an audio onslaught of Irish jigs are out; genuine warmth, a decent pint, and conversational service, in. Helmed by soap star turned publican Tom O’Leary (he really did play a dashing doctor in his home country’s longest-running soap opera), this convivial neighborhood spot boasts paper-wrapped fish and chips, a full Irish breakfast (complete with black and white pudding made on the premises), house-baked blaas (a soft white bun from the southern county of Waterford), and some of the best Guinness in the state. The space, complete with a wall populated by photos of family members and the ancestors of some of O’Leary’s regulars, includes its very own snug: a walled-off portion of the bar traditionally set aside for priests and other private tipplers, and an essential element of any Irish pub worth its froth. 2926 NE Alberta St —FM
Perched just south of Marine Drive in the former beer desert of Argay, Level is a welcome watering hole for outer-east-siders, Gorge travelers, and anyone checking out the new Luuwit View Park. The soft theme here, as the name suggests, is video games. Inside the clean, concrete-industrial red barn, you’ll find the 20-strong tap list displayed on a converted arcade console with nerdy beer names. (The Magic 8 Ball–inspired “Reply Hazy ... Try Again” is an excellent New England–style IPA, brewed in collaboration with Belmont Station.) The big draw, however, lies outside the red barn: the 1,600-square-foot covered patio that began life as a greenhouse but now provides climate control for beer-drinking humans. And while Level doesn’t have a kitchen, two on-site carts regularly serve the patio: gut-bomb Bam Pow! Burgers and Oaxacan spot Flor de Guelaguetza. 5211 NE 148th Ave —MP