Top Ten Classic Portland Bars
ALIBI TIKI LOUNGE
4024 N. Interstate Ave.
The Alibi doesn’t boast the transformative rum drinks of Hale Pele or the voluminous tiki menu of Trader Vic’s. Visitors are just as likely to order a beer and a shot as they are a mai tai. But what it does have is atmosphere to spare, surviving relatively unchanged from tiki’s last gasp in the ’70s on a nostalgic stretch of North Interstate. You’ll find decades of kitschy faux-Polynesian history tucked in every corner — not to mention a building that dates to the horse-and-buggy era.
Red vinyl booths, scattered among glowing hula girls, dangling lanterns and fake palm trees, offer a cozy retreat as each night brings the karaoke faithful into the spotlight from their dimly lit surrounds. It’s all jovial before the impending realization that the longer you sit ensconced among the Vegas-ironic tropical relics the greater the likelihood everything will dissolve into a rum-soaked neon blur. This is a Portland hipster’s dream of a Spring Break dive bar.
Who’s sitting next to you: A group of tattooed 20-somethings drinking some liquid courage before their big karaoke debut.
Signature drink: It’s a bit sweet, but the sea-colored Blue Hawaiian sets the vacation mood.
— Colin Powers
1331 S.W. Washington St.
A clean, well-lighted place on the very edge of downtown, Cassidy’s feels older than its 35 years thanks to a worn wooden bar, oak-paneled walls and an air of casual permanence. Long a favorite of actors and audiences of Artists Repertory Theatre, the bar these days tends attract the older fans of whatever band’s playing around the corner at the Crystal Ballroom, drawn by an excellent seasonal menu, pleasant service and the absence of teenagers.
The restaurant’s skilled servers, friendly but unwilling to put up with nonsense, reinforce the adults-only vibe. Cassidy’s happy hour offers some excellent deals($8 burgers, $7 croque-madames) despite not being much of a happy-hour hangout, which makes it an excellent destination for a quiet, anonymous after-work escape.
Who’s sitting next to you? Off-duty bartenders and undercover rock stars.
Signature drink: A pint of Anchor Steam, always on draft.
— Ben Waterhouse
DAN & LOUIS OYSTER BAR
208 S.W. Ankeny St.
There’s been some kind of seafood market fronting the now car-free stub of Ankeny Street since at least 1907, with someone shucking oysters for stew in the old bar for nearly that long. These days, Dan & Louis Oyster Bar might be known mostly for its happy hour, when sun-worshipers sit at picnic tables in the Old Town alley slurping $2 oysters from Oregon and Washington’s best-branded bays and inlets.
But inside, the bar is a classic, with its dark wood smoothed down from age and a giant ship’s wheel setting the tone for the nautical decor found in the warren of room’s behind. There’s a simple cocktail menu, including a sweet daiquiri and a boat-sized, cherry-red Manhattan, plus a handful of draft beers available to pair with a dozen Willapa Bay fatties. Would it be fun to sip top-tier drinks from some big-name bartender here, perhaps as some kind of cocktail pop-up? Sure, but who wants to mess with history?
Who’s sitting next to you? Two regulars. First question, Who’s shucking today?
Signature drink: An IPA and a generous shot of bourbon.
— Michael Russell
THE DRIFTWOOD ROOM
729 S.W. 15th Ave.
Tucked into a corner of Southwest Portland’s historic Hotel DeLuxe are the wood-paneled walls, coastal decor and plush seats of the Driftwood Room, a throwback lounge serving cocktails, bites and plenty of mid-century vibe. First opened in the 1950s, the Driftwood Room has maintained its retro feel with a menu of refreshing Champagne cocktails, extensive Manhattan variations and perceptive, vested staff who effortlessly deliver drinks and entire spirit lists (from memory).
Although not quiet, the Driftwood Room feels cozy and secluded, perhaps due to the low ceilings, intimate tables or the well-tuned acoustics that make it sound like Louis Armstrong is crooning right into your ear. Throw on a pair of pearls or cufflinks, head over to the beautifully-renovated hotel and curl up in one of the leather chairs around the bar for a drink and a plate of the sizzling forest mushrooms — five types of mushrooms sautéed in butter and white wine and drizzled with white truffle oil.
Who’s sitting next to you? Men in checkered shirts and stylish glasses.
Signature drink: The floating straw — a boozy float of Black Butte Porter and Salt & Straw caramel-ribbon ice cream.
— Samantha Bakall
1239 S.W. Broadway
Head to the back of Higgins, the landmark downtown Portland restaurant, to find the kind of bar every big city needs. There’s the no-nonsense bartenders, who might seem gruff to first-timers, but who will notice your empty glass before you do and refill your drink with little more than a nod. There’s the TV tuned silently to sports.
And there’s the sterling bistro menu, with its monumental charcuterie plate and trailblazing bistro burger. And, because this is Portland, the stellar beer list includes intriguing taps and a surprisingly deep roster of Belgians by the bottle. A relative whipper snapper on this list at just 20 years old, the Higgins bar already feels like an institution.
Who’s sitting next to you? Some hack journalist.
Signature drink: A cool pint of Hair of the Dog Brewing’s Fred.
— Michael Russell
411 S.W. 3rd Ave.
The portrait of Jim Louie that hangs over an American flag on the wall of this downtown stalwart says a lot about the place: Louie, the Chinese immigrant whose family has run Huber’s for more than a century, is pictured carving a turkey, surrounded by other roast meats from the restaurant’s menu, which hasn’t changed much since Prohibition.
He looks calm and a little amused, perhaps surprised by the longevity of the business he built at a time when Asians were still ineligible for citizenship, or maybe just happy to see you. And why not be happy? Huber’s abides, thanks less to its turkey-heavy menu than to its understated, elegant atmosphere — the stained-glass skylights were designed by Portland’s Povey Brothers Studio — and unfailingly graceful service. The joint is timeless in the best way. Sit down. Have a drink. While away the hours.
Who’s sitting next to you? By day, local office workers and tired tourists. By night, giggly twenty-first birthday parties.
Signature drink: A Spanish coffee ($10). Developed by current owner James Kai Louie in the ’70s, the rum-Kahlua-triple sec cocktail involves a fiery, acrobatic preparation that’s worth the price of admission all on its own.
— Ben Waterhouse
THE PALM COURT
309 S.W. Broadway
A seat at the swank bar of downtown’s Benson Hotel demands the right sophisticated sip. Jäger bombs and apple martinis will not do. Try the Pegu Club, an appropriately throwback blend of gin, Grand Marnier, lime and bitters, accompanied by a chilled sidecar to refresh your drink as you go. It hails from the Victorian-era gentleman’s club of the same name in British-occupied Burma. Some modern bars, particularly those of the speakeasy ilk, try too hard to reach into that halcyon drinking past. This bar does it effortlessly, as befits a grand hotel.
You can make this a first stop if you’re visiting El Gaucho, the steakhouse on the other side of the lobby, or daydream you have enough cash to stay the night after rising from your leather chair. As a pianist provides the score amid ornate chandeliers and a plenitude of luxurious wood (and festive decorations each Christmas), you needn’t worry about feeling outdated here. They still have an old phone booth on the premises.
Who’s sitting next to you? On one side a dapper gent, on the other a dude in shorts and T-shirt — the full Portland spectrum.
Signature drink: The barkeep suggests one of their unconventional Manhattans.
— Colin Powers
2165 W. Burnside St.
One of Portland’s oldest family-owned restaurants and still the city’s best traditional steakhouse, RingSide at 70 has a clubby, Rat Pack-era charm. The sunken bar, decorated with dark wood, dangling boxing gloves and little else, is the best place in the city to see Portland’s power-brokers unwinding, rapidly, over cold beers and ice-cold Martinis.
You won’t find boutique vermouth or artisan bitters here — and, yeah, the well whiskey is Early Times — but if you call your spirit, the amiable bartenders can stir you up a smooth Manhattan. A Bulleit upgrade, $2.50? That’s a small price to pay to feel like Don Draper without leaving downtown.
Who’s sitting next to you? A Republican gubernatorial candidate in a ten-gallon hat.
Signature drink: Manhattans, martinis and whatever else pairs best with steak.
— Michael Russell
1220 S.W. First Ave.
A watering hole for the courthouse set, Veritable Quandary has long been the place where legal minds from both sides of the bench come to make a deal, plan an attack, or just plain blow off steam. With its heavy wood, antique ephemera and snug, private booths, the English pub-like bar has been the second home to a large cast of suit-and-tie regulars since the 1970s — in fact, brass plaques at each stool honor the truly committed for their decades of patronage.
The cocktail list only occasionally rotates, but it ambles widely through brown and white spirits, and bitter and sweet profiles, offering enough variation to stay interesting. The white-tablecloth restaurant in back offers a classic, upscale menu at expense-account prices. But sit at the bar or the spacious outdoor patio (with its oblique Hawthorne-bridge views) and you can dine on meaty fare like rabbit pate or juicy burgers for slightly less damage.
Who’s sitting next to you? A rumpled-looking lawyer who knows the VQ’s entire staff by name.
Signature drink: The Trace Amounts, a feisty blend of bourbon, ginger beer and cardamom syrup served on the rocks.
— Danielle Centoni
820 S.W. 10th Ave.
Bye, Dwayne honey. Have a nice Tuesday, the tattooed bartender called after a man as he walked out of Virginia Cafe, the century-old, downtown Portland bar’s bar. You’ll find regulars at any hour of the day here, where wooden floors meet wooden walls lined with historical photos, where Rod Stewart croons alongside girl groups of the ’60s and where, no matter what time of day, done-up or dressed-down, you’ll fit right in.
Originally opened in 1914 on the corner of S.W. 10th Avenue and Stark, the VC has relocated several times before finding its current home in 2008. Here, it serves a menu of sandwiches, burgers and drinks meant to be drank, not sipped. Pop by for a game, a quick bite or drinks after work and even if it’s your first time there, you’ll feel right at home.
Who’s sitting next to you? A group of businessmen out for lunch and a bit of day drinking.
Signature drink: Beer. And whiskey.
— Samantha Bakall