There's never been anything quite like Hale Pele in Portland.
Tiki bars are, of course, nothing new here. This town has long had respectable versions of the Singapore Sling-slinging Polynesian theme bars beloved in the middle of the last century. Our Trader Vic's outpost still has the respect of most enthusiasts, and Thatch, the kitschy tiki bar that occupied Hale Pele's location on Northeast Broadway until last year, was a serviceable homage to the works of Donn Beach and Victor Bergeron.
But while Hale Pele is not novel in concept, it's perfect in execution. Owner Blair Reynolds steers drinkers through a holodeck trip to Tahiti by way of a '57 Chevy. Nearly a year after it replaced Thatch—the letters on the roof of the building have been rearranged to say "That Tiki Bar"—in a nondescript strip mall next to a doughnut shop and a nail salon, it grows more charming with every trip, which is why we're naming it our runner-up Bar of the Year.
"A good tiki bar has attention to detail. Every visit, you notice something different," Reynolds says. "And hopefully by the fourth visit you forget something you noticed the first time and notice it again."
Despite the reputation of tiki drinks as being boozy sugar bombs in coconut shells, Hale Pele's concoctions are every bit as meticulous as any you'll find at Teardrop Lounge or Clyde Common—just with pineapple and swizzle sticks. Many of the drinks are layered with a dozen ingredients, preciously sourced and carefully measured, including exotic aged rums from around the world and carefully chosen fresh fruits. Each has a story behind it, either because it's a perfect re-creation of a drink invented by a legendary bartender from the heyday of tiki or because it's a variation done in the spirit of the original, part of the revival inspired by the likes of San Francisco's much-lauded Smuggler's Cove.
"I'm happy to talk about the history of the drink and explain the nuances of the rum," Reynolds says. "But you can also just drink a drink out of a pineapple and go 'wooo!'"
On a recent Tuesday night, the crowd at Hale Pele was about as diverse as Portland crowds get. Along the bar, there were pretty young ladies with short skirts and lots of tattoos. In a booth, a large, middle-aged bear of a man in a Hawaiian shirt sipped a drink still aflame.
At one point, the sound of thunder boomed out and rain flowed from hoses strung above the pools that separate this little world from the busy thoroughfare outside. Reynolds looked around and smiled. He pointed out the rain to someone looking the other direction, pure delight on his face.
"This is my playground," he says. "I just love it so much."
GO: Hale Pele, 2733 NE Broadway, 662-8454, halepele.com. 5 pm-midnight Tuesday-Saturday, 10 am-2 pm Sunday brunch.