Maybe it's all the money restaurateurs are dumping into 99-tap sausage bars and vermouth-focused cocktail spots. Maybe the sudden fear that the old dives are closing has caused people to take notice of places they'd long taken for granted. Or maybe it's the influx of 20-somethings living in cramped studios who are searching for a place to be.
Whatever it is, in the past couple years, every other major publication in town launched its own guide devoted to Portland's ambitious new monuments to drinking—ham bars, fried-chicken-and-oyster bars, mussel bars, and waiting-room bars that exist only to shake you down for $14 drinks before you can get the more sought-after $14 drinks upstairs.
In the 16 years we've been putting out a guide to our favorite places to get a drink in Portland, we've been pretty consistently devoted to the notion that a bar in Portland is like a church in Arkansas or a movie theater in Hollywood. They're the places you come to hang out and feel like you're part of a shared city. In godless, post-industrial Portland, the local pub may be the only place you meet your neighbors.
And so this is a guide to the 167 best of them in town—from fancy modernist temples on the ground floor of those new mixed-use communities in the sky to the gritty joints that open after third shift and serve breakfast with whiskey. We like both, given the right situation.
And yet, the bars we were most excited about this year weren't the fancy new spots backed by big-money restaurant groups. They're bars that, in humble ways, serve the people in their community with a cold beer, music and a place to feel human again after a long day at work.
Our Bar of the Year is a renovation of a classic, overseen by a third-generation Portlander who wanted to preserve a century-old forest cabin that would otherwise be razed for a mansion. Another is owned by two brothers who decided to help bring back jazz and blues to the fast-changing Alberta neighborhood they grew up in. A couple of uniquely talented bartenders started a bar to serve the new class of nighttime workers they're a part of. And for the first time in a few years, Portland opened a really good bar-themed bar—a bar devoted merely to being a bar.
Meanwhile, we bear witness to a whole new bar community forming on North Killingsworth, and a huge new crop of wonderful rooftop patios, which are both the next best thing to a great backyard barbecue and maybe the only place to install a patio in newly population-dense Portland.
But if you just want a super-cheap PBR tallboy before heading home, we think we've found the very cheapest in town—at a goofball new McMenamins, if you can believe it.
At every place in this guide, we think you'll find a memorable experience—sometimes because of the drinks they're serving, and sometimes just because of who's on the stool next to you.
Happy drinking—and tip your bartender.