Ever since to-go cocktails were legalized in Oregon in the final days of 2020, we at Portland Monthly have been dutifully ordering drinks from local bars and restaurants, with the goal of sharing our favorites with our readers. Served in taped-up plastic cups, hot sauce bottles, plastic mason jars, and freshly canned tallboys, to-go cocktails can’t quite match the experience of sitting in a dank dive bar or a slinky lounge, but they’re a worthy experience in their own right—and a great way to further support your neighborhood businesses. Read on for a few of our favorites.
The Erotic Friend Fiction from Wedgehead, $18 for a two-serving can
I want to like bourbon so badly. I like bourbon vanilla, I romanticize the idea of barrel-aged spirits so much, but when it comes down to it, me and any type of whiskey usually spells wincing and instant headaches. But every other aspect of the Erotic Friend Fiction cocktail from Wedgehead sounded perfect: Buffalo Trace bourbon with house-made tamarind syrup, lemon juice, and Tajín, garnished with slices of dehydrated kumquat. Plus, it just happens to be named after one of my favorite Bob’s Burgers episodes ever. I headed into Wedgehead to pick up my cocktail and my Gold Dust, a sandwich with a house-made fried chicken patty and honey mustard sauce—and while I longingly peeked at the vintage pinball machines, I also got to see my cocktail being made from scratch and canned in a tallboy to order. You’ll get a Big Gulp–size plastic cup to drink your cocktail from, generously filled with ice (a blessing for those of us with small apartment freezers with only a single ice tray). For $18, you get a double-size cocktail that’s plenty big enough to share with your roommate, as I did. The drink itself? Tangy, tropical, lightly sweet with a hint of salt and spice for balance, and with a hint of caramel-like, toasty flavor from the bourbon. I might be a bourbon convert, and I might need a whole can to myself next time. —Katherine Chew Hamilton
The Blood Orange Margarita from Nightingale, $10
This cheery, blush-pink margarita, served in a hot sauce bottle sealed with painters’ tape, is an inventive twist on the lime-heavy warm-weather classic, revamped for winter with refreshing blood orange (a plentiful source of vitamin C, perhaps?), a hint of smokiness from mezcal, and a touch of cinnamon. It pairs perfectly with the tacos de pato: crisp-edged shredded duck with guava chutney (think a grown-up barbecue sauce), unctuous black bean purée, and watercress atop fluffy handmade corn tortillas. For bonus points, add an order of the yucca fries: a super-crunchy exterior with a creamy center of yucca, served with refreshing, cooling epazote crema and nutty, spicy sikil pak. —Katherine Chew Hamilton
The Paper Tiger from Tulip Shop Tavern, $11 (sold to-go exclusively in batches of 2 for $22)
In 2021, who doesn’t love a ritual? For almost a year now, I’ve been watching bad movies on Zoom every Friday with friends in New York and LA. Recently, the ceremony has come to include a pre-movie trip to N Killingsworth’s Tulip Shop Tavern, home to one of Portland’s best burgers (the real star is the fries) and a formidable cocktail program. Once the state approved takeout cocktails and delivered us from the tyranny of home-shaken whiskey sours, Tulip Shop started canning its creations on-site, courtesy of a single fancy canning machine (whose mechanics feel borderline-magical), always in batches of two. Not exceptionally easy on the wallet, granted, but you get some real bang for your buck. Recently, I’ve been stuck on the Paper Tiger: a zingy mix of vodka, Becherovka bitters, grapefruit, lime, and salt that calls to mind a sharp, boozy limeade. If you have any tolerance at all for pucker-inducing potions, two of these things go down like juice, and they cut the burger’s heavy special sauce nicely. A word to the wise: those fries are small but mighty, and greasy enough, it turns out, to stain a coffee-table book. RIP, Derek Jarman’s Sketchbooks. —Conner Reed
The Passive Regression from Lazy Susan, $13
A bit of PoMo lore: for several months, food editor Katherine Chew Hamilton and I have shared an apartment. For her, this means she’s had to listen to a lot of Janet Jackson at ear-splitting volumes. For me, it means the best food in the city is regularly scooting through my kitchen. Lazy Susan’s weekly brunch boxes have been an undeniable highlight (we feasted on their Eem collab, and I have been dreaming of the tamarind bacon ever since), and I wish every breakfast cocktail looked and tasted like the all-star Montavilla spot’s Passive Regression. A mix of whiskey, coffee crystals, Frangelico liqueur, condensed milk, cream soda, cinnamon, and salt, served cold in a New York Greek coffee cup swathed in saran wrap, it is the ideal union of high- and lowbrow. It’s sweet, but not treacly; the whiskey and Frangelico give it bite, but not too much, and the bodega-nodding presentation is delightfully kitsch without being crass. I am famously Switzerland about the concept of brunch—no strong thoughts either way. I miss a lot of things about pre-COVID life, and brunch is not one of them. Sucking down a Passive Regression, though, I felt my first true pangs in a year. —Conner Reed
The House Manhattan & The Bee’s Knees from Paydirt, $12 each
These are two very different drinks for two very different moods—but both come in cute little 4 oz bottles that make you feel as though you’re about to put together an at-home science experiment. But don’t be fooled by the unassuming bottles. Inside, there’s a lot of flavor and a lot of booze.
I’m a simple boy with simple tastes, and Paydirt’s House Manhattan is a straightforward drink that delivers on the classic cocktail staple. The Wild Turkey 101 Rye hits right away, while the Punt e Mes and bitters linger about to cushion the blow. It’s the kind of manhattan you might see someone sipping on in an episode of Mad Men. Not quite the glamorous high-end locale Bertram Cooper fancies, but more like the underground speakeasy with illegal gambling and where comedians get punched in the face. A little fancy, a little grimy. All style and all substance. (You even get a “fancy cherry” to go with it.)
The Bee’s Knees evokes a completely different image, perhaps of spring or summer, lounging about in the afternoon sun. Packed with Aviation gin, honey, lemon, and lavender bitters, nothing is buried and yet everything is distinctly flavorful. The initial sting of the lemon and bitters is softened by the honey and the floral bed of the gin. Delicious and compact. I hesitate to liken it to “spiked lemonade,” but it does feel like something one might imbibe during a Fourth of July celebration or summer party.
All drinks at Paydirt come with a “complimentary cheese sandwich." And I’ll just say, if you’re expecting this cheese sandwich to stand in for your evening meal, brace yourself for Fyre Fest levels of disappointment, minus the lettuce and tomato garnish. —Gabriel Granillo
Blackberry Sour from Senet, $20
Senet (Game Bar) opened in 2019 as a relaxed growlerie and cocktail spot with a twist—after snagging a prime loft location in downtown Tigard, Senet partnered with its downstair neighbor, Versus Board Games, to build a collection of tabletop games for bar-goers to enjoy alongside their libations. A newfound reliable for me, I’ve come to expect playful pairings on the cocktail menu; whether it’s the Chai Baby Old-Fashioned (whiskey, house-made chai syrup, and chocolate bitters) or the dark and stormy (dark rum, ginger beer, fresh lime.) This time I went with a classic, the blackberry sour. Though not my usual go-to, with bourbon, lemon, and—as is Senet’s signature—house-made blackberry syrup, what could go wrong? Visiting Senet during pandemic times may not be quite the same, but your cocktail will be fresh, canned with enough for two (to share or not to share? we’ll let you decide) and garnished with dehydrated lemon. If you’re feeling so inclined, serve it to yourself on the rocks with a sugared rim. Though still a little sweet for my taste, the bourbon was generous and hit just right. After a few sips, what’s a little extra syrup? —Aurora Biggers
The Tamarind Whiskey Smash from Hat Yai, $10
“Contains alcohol!” promises the sticker on my plastic mason jar stand-in, the jaunty red Hat Yai chicken perched atop these welcome words. And reader, as promised, the Tamarind Whiskey Smash did in fact contain alcohol, and in perfect proportion—bourbon, its sweetness cut with tangy tamarind and soured by lemon with cane sugar to balance, fresh mint leaves a-swishing gamely to mild effect, propped up by clankings of ice. The result erred on just the right side of sweet to make for a fitting accompaniment to crunchy fried chicken wings and the fragrant heat of Hat Yai’s famed curry broths. Next stop: the coconut mango horchata promises strong summer vibes but was sold out on the night of my order. Not to insult the TWS, which did a fine job on its own, and for a modest $10. I’ll be back, red chicken. —Fiona McCann