[These are our bar favorites #2-5 of 2014. For our Bar of the Year, click here.]
5424 NE 30th Ave., expatriatepdx.com. 5 pm-midnight daily.
Recently it's become vogue for Portland's trendier drinking establishments to offer a selection of fine old books to peruse while one sips. Among the tomes at Expatriate: Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, Kingsley Amis and a 1922 edition of National Geographic featuring an article called "A Caravan Journey Through Abyssinia."
The stacks provide a nice welcome to Expatriate, the bar Beast chef Naomi Pomeroy and her husband, shaker-mover Kyle Linden Webster, opened across the street from that prix-fixe dinner house last summer. It's a self-consciously worldly affair, the sort of place you expect people to swap stories about traveling by camel as they munch on Burmese tea leafs.
True, you could drop $100 on drinks and snacks. But the cocktails are some of the finest in town. The six I've sipped were all stiff and balanced, especially the No. 8, a tonic of Pierre Ferrand 1840, Dickel rye, génépi, Italian vermouth and Regan's orange bitters. Also enjoyable is a cocktail called the Dorleac, which is quite a bit sweeter, though not out of balance, with vodka, Aperol, lemon, honey, elderflower and Angostura bitters. In an era when so many Portland bars endeavor to make their own bitters with mixed success, Webster says he remains a defender of the classics, and makes his case well.
The food menu is diverse and playful, with everything from corn dogs (crumbled Chinese sausage encased in supple breading) to a Burmese coconut noodle bowl built from wheat noodles, coconut sauce, cilantro roast chicken, duck confit and a gooey half-egg. Best of all is a Brussels sprouts plate that finds Napa cabbage, Szechuan pepper vinaigrette, and caramelized squash with a little smoky ground lamb.
Among the city's new wave of reservation-recommended watering holes, Pepe Le Moko and Multnomah Whiskey Library might be fun for an hour, but Expatriate left a lingering impression. Walk through the green canvas tent that separates this little world from the big world around it, and you feel privileged to live such a smart and fashionable life. MARTIN CIZMAR.
3. The Eagle Eye
5836 SE 92nd Ave., 774-2141. 2 pm-2 am daily.
Way out in Lents, at the corner of Southeast Foster Road and 92nd Avenue, sat a crappy old bar named Riley's where gray men fed their SSI checks back to the state through video-poker machines. When the bar lost its lottery license, the owner, long past retirement age, was about to lose his business.
Enter Erin Wagner. Wagner has some experience turning stabberific alky dives into neighborhood treasures, having taken over Becken's Winning Hand Tavern after the bar's namesake publican was busted for selling meth on the premises. In its place, Wagner opened 82nd Avenue's best bar, the Lion's Eye, furnishing it from Craigslist and working 80 hours a week until she'd won over the regulars and driven off the riffraff.
"If someone is an ass to people," she says, "I don't care how much money they spend. I'll ask them to go somewhere else. That really creates a nice atmosphere."
Wagner, who's worked in the bar business off and on since she was 21, and booked dancers and tended bar at a now-closed strip club before inheriting $25,000 from her grandfather, put her formula into action at the newly christened Eagle Eye, in part by removing the video-poker machines.
The Eagle Eye is still growing out of the rec-room stage—it's spacious with big windows and a drop ceiling that's been painted to look like tin paneling—but there's a smooth pool table and tap lines so clean that former patrons could get dialysis through them. Beer and liquor are local, Friday and Saturday nights have karaoke, and Monday nights feature Critical Comedy, an open-mic session where comedians critique each other's bits, an idea that's now being exported to Seattle and Los Angeles. It's all part of giving the place its own atmosphere—a spirit Wagner is spreading.
"If I hired the best of the best bartenders at a new place out in far Southeast, I'm sure they'd still be looking for something else," she says. "I like to invest in them with how I like things to be done. They might not know how to make a perfect martini, but they should be really friendly with it and learn." MARTIN CIZMAR.
412 NW 5th Ave., 564-2739, pintsbrewing.com. 11:30 am-11 pm Monday-Saturday, noon-9 pm Sunday.
Alan Taylor wants us to smell everything in his basement. He pulls little green nubs out of bags in the basement of Pints Brewing— fresh Bavarian hops. Taylor learned brewing in Bavaria, and since taking over as brewmaster at the tiny brewery, he's been making some of the most accomplished beers in town, hybrids of Northwest and German brewing techniques: Hopfenstopfer dry hops, a Rauchweizen rich with Bavarian yeast. Patrons can sample the brews in epic shot-glass taster flights.
But aside from the sterling beer, Pints is maybe the last friendly pub in Old Town. Situated between the the Entertainment District clubs and the chichi lounges of the Pearl, the brewpub is a deeply comfortable hardwood and brick-wall mecca. Fries come free with your first beer at happy hour. A party room in the back, near the fermenters, offers oddly touching intimacy with the beer. But Pints has remained off the radar, even from the beer hordes who mob Bailey's Taproom across Burnside.
Portland is full of beer bars that huddle you under uncomfortable fluorescent light or funnel you through crowds like a Temple Grandin test subject, and Old Town is full of spots that seem hostile to human life. But Pints has accomplished something seemingly impossible: an Old Town beer bar you might happily visit even if the beer were awful. But the beer is not awful. It's terrific. And with brewing outposts pending in Lents and in Albuquerque, it's also the pint-sized germ of a beer empire. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
5. Liberty Glass
938 N Cook St., 517-9931. 5 pm-2:30 am Monday-Sunday.
You mention Liberty Glass to Portlanders, and they get a faraway look in their eyes. "Is that," they ask, "the old pink-painted house near the tire swing? I haven't been there in ages..." Even though brother and sister Rose and Jason McCormick started Liberty Glass only in 2008, you'd think everybody was talking about their childhoods.
Liberty Glass is the bar equivalent of a deep cut on an old soul album. It doesn't play as often on the decks, but its roots grow in memory. And it is well worth remembering, which is why we're naming it one of our favorite Portland bars of this year–or any other, really.
Besides, it's maybe the first modern bar in Portland to really commit to deer antlers, which means they're still acting as the interior decorator for every ironically post-rustic bar that's opened in the meantime. Except Liberty Glass is sincere in its hospitality. The bar is an ode to porch-front living, offering an early-spring Stone smoked porter by the fireplace in the front yard. There's a gazebo over the wheelchair ramp. And if it feels like you're a welcome guest in someone's home, it's because you are: The upstairs bathroom of the old house sports a bathtub, which gets used. There's a locked room that belongs to one of the owners' kids, which the bartender raided for books recently when a friend brought his young daughter for a recent Sunday spaghetti feed ($7). The gesture was kind, and the spaghetti was delicious. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.