The first thing you notice when you decide to lay off alcohol for six months is how much of a drinking town Portland is. That’s hardly a secret. You can draw a squiggly causal line from the stone-faced Portland dockworkers slamming whiskey at a hay-strewn waterfront saloon to what goes on beneath the everpresent Christmas lights at the Slammer on Saturday nights. But the sheer number of daily rituals we have that involve alcohol really is surprising.
We have our temples to heavy drinking, for sure, where well drinks and beer backs exorcize the demons, then summon them again. But I’m not talking about getting drunk. The kind of boozing I’m talking about is the prosaic kind, the rhythmic tippling that follows the patterns of life: after-work cocktails, bloodies at brunch, cheap wine at art openings, more expensive wine at charity events, then even cheaper wine at press events. There’s whiskey when you get your hair cut. There’s beer at trivia and comedy shows and community theater. Never mind the Laurelhurst and McMenamins; you can get an IPA at practically any old Regal now. You might be offered a cold one while trying on jeans, shopping for veggies at QFC, or tagging along on a Pedalpalooza bike ride. There’re 41 Blazers home games, 17 Timbers, plus Thorns, Pickles, Winterhawks, and beerily named Hops. And when out-of-towners come for the weekend, more than likely your first stops are Powell’s and your favorite watering hole.
While I can confirm it’s totally possible and often even fun to live in Portland and not drink, there has been some FOMO these past months—I especially missed our traditional family Christmas Day at Ambassador Lounge. And for this month’s issue, I wasn’t the most immersive investigative reporter when senior editor Benjamin Tepler sent us all to scour the city’s new bar offerings. I was happy to be along for the ride, though, and witness a return to the basics, with so many new bars focused on classic cocktails in cozy spaces. While I’ve spent a decade reporting on the city known as Beervana, this is actually my favorite type of bar—don’t fix what ain’t broke—and now I have a must-try list to explore when my six months are up.
Even in full-on gin joints, though, I’ve had plenty of things to drink as I helped my colleagues with the research. Mocktails have moved beyond their corny moniker and are really a thing now. (We share some expert tips here.) Despite my deep initial skepticism, it turns out they can be ridiculously delicious. There’s certainly nothing wrong with being sober—and nothing wrong with enjoying a drink, of course. Just please, please, please, don’t drink and drive. Cheers!