Sitting at the bar in a restaurant means you’re not about fuss. You don’t have the time or the patience to deal with waitstaff struggling to serve from the left, take from the right. You just want a plate of roasted chicken and a cocktail and a nice bartender to talk to. Opting for the bar instead of a table can also make you feel less like a guest who needs to be pampered and more like a regular, especially if you stay late and chat up the kitchen crew.
What you’re drinking: A Bombay Sapphire martini, up with a twist
A man in a suit walks up to the bar. He orders a Beefeater martini with a splash of Carlos 1 brandy. No olives. Up. “Excellent choice, sir.” A woman in a suit walks up to the bar. “Give me the burger, side of mayo, please. Champagne.” “Bottle or glass?” asks the bartender. “Bottle. I’m celebrating. Alone.” The man loosens his tie. The woman lets her clipped hair down. The man and the woman do not speak to one another. They do not have to. Like so many sitting at the long bar that serves as the centerpiece of this swanky dining room, so full and bounteous is their confidence that these bright-faced professionals hardly need to entertain the idea of making more friends. But a second martini is ordered, and the bottle of champagne is slowly drained. The woman tells the man about her favorite Cecily Brown painting, and the man admits he’s late for rehearsal with his improv theater company. The bartender nods goodbye as they each go their separate ways: “We’ll have that bottle of champagne waiting for you on ice next time, ma’am.”(529 NW 23rd Ave, 503-445-7400)
What you’re drinking: A glass of Argyle Brut
Drinking at the bar in a white-tablecloth establishment feels subversive, and never more so than at this bistro in Nob Hill. It’s not that the restaurant is so fancy, although there is an elegance to the cuisine here that’s unparalleled elsewhere in the city. It’s more that getting a table can be so very difficult that when you’ve scored a seat at the tiny bar, where the bartender tells you he has 15 other drinks to pour before he can get to your order, you feel as though you’ve been accepted into the inner sanctum of an exclusive club. One you’re more than happy to be a part of, no matter how long the wait. (1204 NW 21st Ave, 503-243-2403)
What you’re drinking: A negroni
Sure, the cocktails here are some of the smartest in the city—is there anyone else daring enough to redefine the martini by adding a simple splash of chestnut cognac to bracing, ice-cold vodka? But, really, what will keep you coming back is the way in which the bartender behind the tiny eight-seat bar commands your attention: the exacting seriousness with which he or she tastes each cocktail before it’s set in front of you, the way he watches out of the corner of his eye as you take your first sip—and his ability to tell, based on a slight shift in your eyebrows, whether to ask if it’s not quite balanced enough to your liking. (1758 SE Hawthorne Blvd, 503-231-9959)