2010 Best Bars
Best Bars to Score a Deal
Spirit of ’77
500 NE MLK Jr. Blvd; 503-232-9977
YOU’RE DRINKING Double Mountain Vaporizer Pale Ale ($6)
The talent behind this new Lloyd District sports bar—the same guys who did Ace Hotel, Clyde Common, and Olympic Provisions—could probably give the White House a successful relaunch. Their version of the Great American Sports Bar is a tribute to the basketball team whose only NBA championship inspired the bar’s name. With a happy-hour (4 to 6 p.m.) roster that begins with $1 cans of Rolling Rock and progresses to $2 chickpea sticks with yogurt to a $3 almond-and-chorizo sandwich, Spirit promises to be the ideal place to bridge the gap between quitting time and game time. The place fuses full-blooded jockdom with that inimitable Portland sensibility: only here would a bar replete with hi-def TVs also feature indoor bike racks and an espresso counter manned by a barista in a natty necktie. No matter what happens around the corner at the Rose Garden, all are winners here.
Davis Street Tavern
500 NW Davis St; 503-505-5050
YOU’RE DRINKING Old Town Revival ($8)
12 Bridges Gin, Lillet Blanc, Cointreau, absinthe, and lemon, served up
Happy hour can be many things, but let’s not forget why the institution exists: to give refuge to urban proles desperate to banish workday stress with a cold one. Or a well-mixed one. A very good Portland-modern refinement of the concept can be found in this elegant, high-ceilinged bar in ever-dodgy Old Town—a neighborhood physically convenient to downtown yet psychologically (and sometimes psychotropically) far removed from the corporate world. In most cases, you’re unlikely to encounter your boss around here. Even better, Davis Street’s ambitious bar and kitchen provide cocktails laced with the now-requisite local booze and luxury-class aperitifs and a happy-hour menu (4 to 6:30 p.m.) featuring a $6 pork-belly burger and oysters on the half shell for a buck apiece. Soon you’ll be ready for anything—or nothing at all. And that’s really all you can ask of happy hour, isn’t it?
3652 SE Division St; 503-236-8755
YOU’RE DRINKING Bourbon Ginger ($6.50)
Bourbon, ginger, house-made orange-cardamom bitters, spicy ginger ale, on the rocks
You have to love a bar named for George Orwell. (“Victory” refers to the rotgut gin swilled in Orwell’s 1984.) Hard to say if the flinty English writer would have liked Victory’s huge Euro-beer selection or arty cocktails, but he probably would have appreciated its twilit romance. And given Orwell’s perpetual financial woes, he would have loved Victory’s evening and late-night happy hours (5 to 7 p.m. and 11 to close), when items from its hearty, gastropub-ish menu (baked spätzle, venison burger) dip to $5 apiece, well drinks to $3, with discounts on wine and beer, too. Those deals help endear this 10-year-old, well-tuned little place to local cooks and bartenders—and, inadvertently, make Victory a living example of how Portland’s collective tastes have changed, from Pabst to Pernod. Victory, indeed.
The Palm Court
309 SW Broadway; 503-228-2000
YOU’RE DRINKING A Manhattan ($7.50)
Some days—often Mondays—can be salvaged only by a stiff drink. These days are not the time for 5 o’clock sojourns to the boho café where a bright young mixologist does amazing things with infusions and smoked ice. We’re talking about the days when you want to settle into velvety cushions, in a place where your grandfather may well have soothed his wounds. This is the moment for the Palm Court, the grand lobby bar at the Benson. During happy hour (4 to 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. to close), all items on a menu that combines retro Americana with quirky Asian touches (lollipop chicken wings and spicy teriyaki sauce) are $2 off. There are no drink specials as such, but at the Palm, most bourbon drinks and martinis come as doubles. And by that, we mean that when they bring your drink, they also bring you a tankard of supplemental booze big enough to make a whole second drink. After “one” of these, you’ll be thinking in italics, too.