Bottoms Up

Drink Your Way Through the Best New Bars in Portland

Swank speakeasies, scotch-soaked lounges, music nerd paradises: 10 temples of booze you need to visit.

Edited by Benjamin Tepler Photography by NashCO Photo Published in the March 2020 issue of Portland Monthly

Sipping cocktails named after ’90s hits at Pearl District bar Pink Rabbit

Image: NashCO Photo

232 NW 12th Ave,

For the Pearl District’s neon-lit Pink Rabbit, the name—an homage to dad-rock royalty the National—is only the beginning of a very strong theme. There are mixtape-shaped menus with drinks named after hits by Nirvana and Fiona Apple. Songs by the Smiths and every band that’s ever sounded like the Smiths echo through the space. And on the wall there is (get this) an actual pink rabbit painted by National lead singer Matt Berninger.

Big ups to owner-operators Tyler Stevens and Billy Wilson (owner of successful coffee microchain Barista), who manage to imbue the potentially lifeless concept with solid Asian-fusion eats—banh mi hot dogs to chow mein—exciting drinks, and a human pulse. It’s not all perfect, but the happy hour exclusive Heart-Shaped Box is a simple, addictive vodka-and-passion-fruit elixir, and the savory-spicy pork tendon nachos haunt.

In a neighborhood marked by once-hip classics and concepts market researched to within an inch of their life, Pink Rabbit feels refreshingly new and loose. In the song “Pink Rabbits,” Berninger describes himself as “a white girl in a crowd of white girls in the park.” The bar feels like anything but. —Conner Reed

Scenes at 5 & Dime, with a mug of Oly and a $5 “shot” of draft manhattan

Image: NashCO Photo

6535 SE Foster Rd,

It’s quite a balancing act to open a “new” bar in Foster-Powell. The neighborhood is in the early stages of gentrification, for better or for worse; pricey designer cocktails wouldn’t last a week here. But 5 & Dime keeps its footing with a high-def screen mounted above the green-and-gold bar (judiciously used for the occasional Blazers game), $5 mini pulls of the house manhattan with an icy mug of Olympia, and instant access to greasy Atlas Pizza. So, yeah, the longtime Foster crowd is in. But so is just about everyone else looking for cheap, expertly made drinks ($8 old-fashioneds) and party vibes thanks to reliably bumping weekend DJ sets. The kitchen, smartly, does not try to outperform neighboring Atlas, instead serving up unexpectedly high-caliber small plates from garlicky “cotija corn crumble” squash skewers to Kewpie mayo–slicked eggplant sliders. Might the conceptual rotating house cocktail collection, most recently a play on the dreaded high school reading list, turn some people off? Maybe. But the friendly neighborhood dogs and occasional hawker rolling through are there to keep it real. —Benjamin Tepler

Bar Diane, with walls hand-painted by owner Sami Gaston

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Bar Diane

2112 NW Irving St, Ste 105,

Bright patterned murals, a cerulean blue tiled bar, and lemonade-pink chairs: Bar Diane’s is not the kind of aesthetic you might associate with Drugstore Cowboy’s louche and jonesing Dianne (Kelly Lynch), though she’s at least partly responsible for its name. Part of Gus Van Sant’s 1989 cult classic was filmed nearby, and owner Sami Gaston says she wanted to pay tribute to the neighborhood’s history. But Bar Diane—with an accessible natural wine list, exquisite cheese and charcuterie plates, and affably knowledgeable bartenders—is a far cry from the seedy streets of Van Sant’s early oeuvre. Gaston and business partner Kevin Gouy have been pouring for neighborhood regulars and in-the-know wine lovers in the Northwest alleyway since September. The pairing of Gaston’s bar background and her artistic chops—she painted Bar Diane’s rose-colored, geometric murals—make for a delicious drinking den, with spirits, beer, and cider on offer for the nonoenophile contingent. —Fiona McCann

The dark, cozy Basement Bar at the Hoxton

Image: NashCO Photo

Hoxton Basement Bar

15 NW Fourth Ave,

“Look for the black door with the red light.” This was the only clue we had to go on during a recent search for the Hoxton Hotel’s rumored Chinatown watering hole. How many horror flicks have started out this way? And how many of those ended happily? Sure enough, we found our black (handleless) door and gave it a simple knock. Entry was granted by an incongruously friendly bouncer, and we wound our way down a dark stairwell through another black door into a compact, dimly lit room, all clinking glasses, shaking ice, and couples huddled conspiratorially over tiny tables.

The Basement Bar is full-on Prohibition-era cosplay, but in the best way: murky enough to stay hidden from small-world Portland. This type of throwback speakeasy is the reason manhattans exist, but don’t sleep on the house cocktail list. The vodka-meets-cacao “Dream of the 90s” features a delightfully sweet candied blood orange twist, and cabbage fritters with mustard crema make perfect drinking companions if you’ve stumbled down here alone. Pricey? Very. But if you’re a time-traveling titan of industry from the Gilded Age, this is your place. —Marty Patail

A negroni and tunes; Decibel's seating area

Image: NashCO Photo

Decibel Sound & Drink

11380 SE 21st Ave, Milwaukie,

At Decibel, music is religion. Run by a lifelong Milwaukie family, the Pletkas, the bar makes this statement everywhere: photos of Mom and Dad, who met as teens when she auditioned for his band; the neon “Wish You Were Here” Pink Floyd tribute above the repurposed bowling alley bar top; and the entire room, centered on a custom oversize record cabinet built from 100-year-old walnut (salvaged from Grandpa Pletka) and vaccum tube amps from the clan’s other endeavor, a music supply company. Find Milwaukie regulars, young and old, in the 1970s-vintage macramé-strung living room while one of the fam flips vinyl from their classic rock collection. Decibel is in the midst of expanding both its cocktail program and food menu, but for now a tried-and-true negroni ($10) or a dry glass of Cuvée A Amrita ($9) from Anne Amie Vineyards, and house-smoked brisket tacos ($4) are all you need to get into the groove. —Eden Dawn

Cocktails, fries, and the scene at Dóttir; Kex bar ace Lydia McLuen

Image: NashCO Photo

100 NE MLK Jr. Blvd,

On the ground floor of the new Kex Portland (the second location of the Reykjavík-based hotel/hostel—see here), Dóttir offers a chance to sip from the tumbler of Lydia McLuen, a fêted young industry darling revered by everyone from Clyde Common’s Jeffrey Morgenthaler to Scotch Lodge’s Tommy Klus. McLuen’s hefty cocktail menu complements its addictive salt-and-vinegar fries and strongman portions of parsley- and dill-forward Icelandic-influenced cuisine. Balance pork belly and fried calamari on the open-faced surf-and-turf smørrebrød with a tart, frothy Swan Dress cocktail, which unites Danish aquavit and PacNW Clear Creek pear brandy. The bar’s take on a rye manhattan and an old-fashioned—the Dagsson and Après Ski, respectively—offer a just-the-facts-ma’am flip-side to Dóttir’s draft cosmo or pretty-in-pink Lady of the Mountain, with raspberry-infused vodka and a creamy jolt of skyr yogurt. On tap for spring: watch for the opening of Kex’s rooftop bar. —Margaret Seiler

The Burnt Sherry Cobbler at Scotch Lodge

Scotch Lodge

215 SE Ninth Ave, Ste 102,

Much ink has been spilled over basement whiskey den Scotch Lodge. We even named it one of our Best Restaurants 2019. We’d happily eat that creamy chanterelle and fiore sardo–slicked fettucine or the now-cultish pumpernickel-fried brie—essentially a fancy mozz stick—over most of the food in this city. The level of bar craft? Stellar. You’d expect nothing less from owner Tommy Klus, the man behind timeless watering holes Kask and La Moule, to name a few.

As for the scotch, the Lodge’s one-ounce tasters of rare and pricey bottles are like having the keys to a Ferrari GTO on loan for the evening. Scotch Lodge isn’t just a serious exposition of modern drinking food, handsome cocktail bar, or deep, considered library for its namesake spirit—it’s one of Portland’s best bars of all time. —BT

A night at Abigail Hall

Abigail Hall

813 SW Alder St,

When an acclaimed chef offers their “take” on fast food, it can read like a classical musician trying to convince their friends they love Beyoncé. Props, then, to Top Chef alum Doug Adams, who runs kitchens at Bullard, the Woodlark’s Texas-chic restaurant, and at Abigail Hall, its fizzy, velvet-draped cocktail bar. Abigail’s menu sees Adams pillaging the drive-thru, making one of the flat-out best burgers in Portland from an unpretentious In-N-Out blueprint and offering up crunchy-shelled Taco Bell replicas and a frosty mug of Modelo Especial (just $7 for the combo).

The drinks are solid, too; a seasonal hot buttered rum strikes the right balance between sweetness and bite, and parties of two or four can order preloaded cocktail shakers bearing stiff, well-mixed martinis or manhattans. The jewel-toned digs feature plush wingbacked chairs and delightful cartoons that nod to the space’s origins as a suffragette meeting place. Not everything’s a hit: the shoestring fries dissolve into a mass of salt and crunch after a handful or two, and the charcuterie is both overpriced and under-good. Still, Abigail Hall is one of the city’s most consistent hotel bars, a well-calibrated mix of high and low that should register with locals and visitors alike. —CR

Castelvetrano olives and Portuguese sardine board with crackers and hot sauce at Someday


3634 SE Division St,

Jessica Baesler and Graham Files, two industry vets with deep roots in New York and Portland, first met tending bar a decade ago. They promised each other: “Someday, we’ll open our own place.” It’s easy to dismiss this as tepid marketing romance. But clearly, Someday is a bar built by people who have choreographed enough date nights, happy hours, and nightcaps to get it right.

Walk down a narrow, mural-soaked alley at SE Division and 36th to find the entrance. Subtle touches are everything: a potent bouquet of Casablanca lilies by the front door, gentle globe lights that pop off the eggshell walls, and mossy velvet booths. It’s no surprise Someday's codesigners also happen to be the building’s landlord, interior design studio Of Prairies.

The wide, U-shaped walnut bar takes up much of the room, overhung by a massive skylight and clearly designed for cozy couples and lone drinkers. There’s a mean Gin Gin Fizz (Japanese milk soda Calpico standing in for egg white), a pure-as-hell daiquiri, and a delightfully limited menu: loaded hot dogs from Otto’s, Pinhais Portuguese sardines with spicy, crunchy accoutrements, etc. Hungrier crowds can head outside through double doors to the light-strung back patio, where a few food carts hold court.

Someday is a magnet for industry friends looking for off-hours respite, but Baesler and Files manage to make everyone else feel like intimate guests at their private soiree, too. Thankfully, Someday is now, and we couldn’t be happier. —BT

Enjoying the Mommy’s Thyme Out at Wonderly; martini-and-a-half, steak-frites, Banhattan, shrimp cocktail, and “Be-deviled” eggs

Image: NashCO Photo


4727 NE Fremont St,

Tucked into the Beaumont-Wilshire neighborhood, better known for stroller-clogged streets and mini doughnuts than fashion-forward cocktails, this upper Fremont bar knows its audience. How else to explain a recent addition to the drinks menu, the “Mommy’s Thyme Out” cocktail, with thyme-infused gin from local Portland distillery Aria, plus a splash of fresh lemon juice, apricot liqueur, and Italian vermouth for $12—or about the price of an hour of babysitting from a neighborhood teen? The bar, a marbled granite horseshoe surrounded by plush blue velvet stools, excels at the classics; Mrs. Maisel herself would find the “manhattan-and-a-half” pretty marvelous. Bonuses: the lights are low, the steak-frites ($15) are positively Parisian (the bar snack brussels sprouts with puckery bacon vinaigrette for $7 are pure Portland, though), and, if you order another drink, you might even be able to forget about the babysitter waiting back at home. —Julia Silverman

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