Call me biased, but there’s no better place in the country to be thirsty than Portland, Oregon. Other cities might be bigger, fancier, or more famous, but Portland has it all: astonishingly good local wine, a world-famous (and world-influencing) brewing scene, one of the most well-established craft distilling communities in the nation, award-winning cideries, and enough bars to make visiting them all feel like a lifetime project.
Plus, we’ve been doing this for a long time. Other cities seemed to discover beers beyond Budweiser in about 2009, but we’ve been debating our positions on high-alpha hops and cask conditioning for decades. Portland might be small, but we’re sophisticated, with a nose for what’s good and a keen ear for nonsense. That means quality is almost always high, even at that little neighborhood joint just around the corner. (Case in point: even the local strip club/steakhouse, The Acropolis, has 65 beer taps and raises some of its own cattle.)
So here are a few favorite watering holes to get you started, but don’t let this list limit you: there are plenty of treasures left to discover for yourself.
Located just across the Willamette River from downtown, Portland’s central eastside was once a gritty collection of working warehouses and brick apartment buildings. Today, it’s one of the trendiest parts of town, filled with bars, restaurants, and sleek new apartment buildings—although you’ll still see a few working warehouses here and there.
On SE 7th and Belmont, one of Portland’s most beloved breweries, The Commons, serves up farmhouse-style ales high in flavor and relatively low in alcohol. Inside, a “cheese window” from local cheese legend Steve Jones pairs cheeses to a beer of the day. Commons recently announced it’s closing its Belmont location at the end of 2017, so now’s the time to visit. Just a few blocks away, Bit House Saloon on SE Grand and Morrison has managed to create an amazingly ambitious bar program without falling into the trap of taking itself too seriously. Here, you’ll find sherry on tap, frozen Riesling cocktails made in a slushy machine, and a boilermaker for every palate paired with creative bar food.
A bit north on SE 8th and Sandy, you’ll find the effortlessly stylish Rum Club, one of the most trustworthy cocktail bars in the city. Dark wallpaper, a tiny patio, and killer daiquiris make this the perfect place to start (or end) a night. A few blocks farther on, Spanish-inspired Bar Casa Vale on SE 9th and Pine is a relatively new addition to the neighborhood, but a welcome one. Nibble on salty Iberico ham or little skewers of olive, anchovy, and pickled pepper alongside low-proof sherry cocktails or a lovely list of Spanish by-the-glass pours.
Closer to the river, Wayfinder Beer on SE 2nd is another relatively new face. Boasting a gigantic outdoor patio, the tap list includes German-style beers brewed in-house (you can see the brewery from part of the dining room) as well as surprising and consistently well-executed cocktails. For a stylistic 180, head to Hair of the Dog on SE Water and Yamhill. Founded during the first wave of craft beer in 1993, HotD has been doing things its own way (and nobody else’s) for 25 years. Try its flagship beer, Adam, a dark, sweet, boozy brew modeled after a historic recipe from Dusseldorf.
A bit further east, there’s no shortage of great places to grab a drink. Southeast Division Street is so packed with new watering holes, it will be practically unrecognizable to anyone who visited more than a few years ago. Highlights include Southeast Wine Collective on SE Division and 35th, a collaborative winemaking space and bar featuring some of the most interesting wines currently being made in Oregon. Just around the corner is Ava Gene’s, a hot-ticket, veggie-focused Italian restaurant with an extensive Italian wine list. Curious about what’s new in the world of craft beer? Beermongers on SE 12th and Division is an anchor of the Portland beer community. This bottle shop has everything from vintage Belgian quads to the freshest New Age IPAs from around the corner, plus six taps highlighting rare beers and emerging breweries (and it hasn’t been closed a day in more than 8 years).
The Horsebrass on SE 45th and Belmont is a living piece of beverage history. Opened by Don Younger in 1973, this British pub was one of the nation’s first craft beer bars, and its 50-strong tap list is still a great place to discover new beers or revisit old friends. Further south, on SE 19th and Powell, Bushwhacker Cider is the first cider-only taproom and bottle shop in the nation, stocking about 340 different bottles of cider from around the world. Not far from Bushwhacker’s, Teutonic Winery on SE 20th and Pershing is assuredly the only winery in the city (perhaps the nation) to prominently feature Rainier beers alongside Rieslings, Gewürztraminers, and other German-style wines. Can’t choose? Have a Winier (pronounced “wine-eer”), an icy cold Rainier with a float of muscat wine on top.
If you’re looking to go all out, Multnomah Whiskey Library on SW 11th and Alder is a truly memorable experience. More than 1,500 bottles of spirits of all types—although whiskey is the focus—line the walls, many accessible only by sliding library-style ladders. If straight spirits aren’t your thing, it also offers tableside cocktail service. (Note that wait times can be long, especially on the weekends.)
Nearby, Shift Drinks on SW 12th and Morrison offers a decidedly more casual environment, but you’ll still find quirky, unusual, and delicious spirits here, plus a lively wine and cocktail list, and a killer all-day, every-day happy hour designed to give guests from the service industry a dose of happy hour joy whenever their shifts happen to end.
Higgins Restaurant on SW Jefferson and Broadway is one of Portland’s original farm-to-table restaurants, and behind the main dining room is one of the city’s coziest bars. Snuggle into a wood-paneled corner and enjoy a glass of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir or an ice-cold martini delivered by servers in crisp black-and-white. Closer to the river, happy hour hotspot Luc Lac on SW 2nd and Taylor serves a full menu of pho, banh mi, and other Vietnamese favorites alongside a cocktail menu featuring Southeast Asian flavors including lychee, mango, coconut, and chili.
Across Burnside in the Pearl, the tony neighborhood just to the north of downtown, is Teardrop Cocktail Lounge on NW 10th and Everett. It might look oddly chichi from the outside, but it’s played a critical part in establishing Portland’s cocktail scene; some of the city’s most inventive cocktails are made behind this teardrop-shaped central bar. And don’t miss a stop at Deschutes Public House on NW 11th and Davis. While the production brewery is hours away in Bend, the Portland pub has its own pilot brewery and makes a number of seasonal and one-off experimental brews served only at the taproom. You can even try a limited-edition whiskey made from distilled Black Butte.
North and Northeast
To get a sense of perspective, there’s no better place than Altabirra. Perched on the top of Hotel Eastlund on NE Grand and Hassalo, this comfy restaurant and beer bar boasts one of the best views in the city—unbeatable on a sunny afternoon. A bit farther north, venture into the relatively unmarked basement of the Left Bank building to visit Upright Brewing at 240 N Broadway. You’ll feel like you can’t possibly be in the right place, but persevere and you’ll be rewarded with fantastic Belgian-style beers served right on the brewery floor (and, if you’re lucky, live music).
Further east, Hale Pele on NE 27th and Broadway is the fastest way to turn a rainy Portland night into a sun-warmed tropical getaway. Cross a faux jungle river and enter this cozy, Tiki-themed den, where the drinks are organized by strength (from “lightly delightful” to “KA-BOOM!!!”) and are occasionally served with a flaming garnish. To keep the vacation vibe going, head to Expatriate on NE 30th and Killingsworth, which takes loose influence from trips to Southeast Asia. The cocktails are perfect, and so are the fried wonton nachos.
Closer to the river, Pinky’s Pizza on N. Shaver and Interstate is a whiskey bar disguised as a neighborhood pizzeria. If you’re into Japanese whisky, this is your spot; the selection is incredible. And for a classic Portland experience, cap off the night at Vendetta on N. Williams and Skidmore, a hipster dive complete with shuffleboard, colossal pours of Fernet, and a huge patio equipped with umbrellas for sun and overhead heaters for the rain.