On the strength of singer Matt Berninger's mopey baritone and endearingly myopic views on domesticity, Ohio's the National has acquired a feverish following among upper middle-class indie-rock fans.
So it shouldn't be surprising to learn there are now two bars in Portland named after National songs.
Last year, Dan Hart opened a craft cocktail and coffee cart behind his popular Mississippi neighborhood bier bar, Prost, called Bloodbuzz—a reference to "Bloodbuzz, Ohio," a track off the band's 2010 career highlight, High Violet. More recently, in the Pearl, cocktail veteran Tyler Stevens and Billy Hasson, proprietor of the Barista coffee-shop chain, unveiled Pink Rabbit, a brick-and-mortar bar featuring Asian drinking snacks and an ambitious beverage program. In their case, the name comes from a song on 2013's Trouble Will Find Me.
With both establishments now in operation, we had an obvious question: How well do these bars live up to their inspiration?
Ideally, we'd assign Berninger to visit both to give us his assessment, but that's not entirely realistic. So instead, we did the next best thing: We listened to the Brooklyn quintet's discography on repeat, and attempted to transport ourselves into Berninger's headspace—in the form of a letter to his estranged. Because doesn't that just seem like a thing he'd do?
I hope this letter finds you well, but I imagine it doesn't. I've taken a leave of absence from our urbane domesticity with hopes of finding myself, like so many other men my age, in Portland, Oregon. I know it's contrived, moving west to figure your shit out, but our social circle back in Brooklyn was tightening like a noose. All I want to do is drink quietly in the corner, and your friends will never stop haranguing me about what they learned from the latest David Brooks article, as if that really counts as being an engaged liberal at our age. I wanted out. I no longer love Brooklyn, and Brooklyn no longer loves me.
But Portland loves me. Maybe not so much the asshole writer who called our last show "NPR: The Musical," but that hasn't stopped a pair of establishments adopting the music of the National as a theme of sorts. It's a strange conceit. But there's also a scary clown bar and a Cthulhu-themed bar where you can dance alone in the dark to Bauhaus, so I guess anything is possible these days, which is what I love about this place. There's possibility in the air. Or maybe that's the smell of weed, which adults like us now call "cannabis."
One of these places, Pink Rabbit (232 NW 12th Ave., pinkrabbitpdx.com) will even put it in your drink. It's a mild, nonpsychoactive component called CBD, which I'm sure is everywhere in Brooklyn, too. But the two gentlemen who run this place—a bartender from a swanky cocktail place called Teardrop and a veteran barista who started a place called Barista—named the drink after my mom's Uncle Valentine. I imagine he could drink several of these vodka and Dolin dry concoctions before the CBD bubbles on top got to him and he wandered off alone. He was a cantankerous sot who didn't much care for people, but he would like this place. The surfaces are clean and understated, and despite an impressive array of globe lights dangling from the ceiling, the pink hue from the neon sign above the bar complements the darkness quite nicely. The couches are a lush, velvet texture, and I imagine Marc Bolan and Bryan Ferry, both of whom made several appearances on the stereo during my visit, would appreciate it very much.
I overheard a millennial at the next table over call the place "vibey." I don't think that's actually a word, but after a few sips of a really nice drink called What Did Harvard Teach You, which evened out the smoky burn of scotch with honey, lemon, ginger and sparkling lambrusco, I stopped giving a shit about the kids. I really don't care for people who argue about food being authentic, either. They have pork tonkatsu sliders (three for $10) with a sweet and spicy slaw perfect for soaking up the booze, and a cold wen su noodle salad ($12) doused in fish sauce, lime and pickled garlic that packs a potent finish of numbing spice offset by citrus.
The other place is a food cart called Bloodbuzz (4233 N Mississippi Ave., bloodbuzzpdx.com). It's behind a really popular German bar where young guys in hats yell at each other when the sun is out. They have a drink called the American Mary, which is a really stiff bloody mary that's only $8. Remember when you could get a bloody mary on Bedford Avenue for only $8? That's when Obama was president and the world wasn't so scary. Those were different times. You can get a bubbly Aperol and grapefruit drink called Dry the Rain for $8 too, which is a nice thing to sip on when you're hungover. The hangovers here are endless, Carin. It's a good thing this place has breakfast burritos too, but there's a little truck right behind this one called Matt's BBQ, and if you eat meat you should probably just go there instead.
But I like the cocktails here. They're incredibly strong and less than $10, which my friends tell me is hard to find. Sometimes enjoying them outside is nice, even though the rain can be quite oppressive. But that German bar is so loud and busy sometimes, so this is just perfect.
When someone told me Portland was a lot like Brooklyn with trees, I figured I would always end up here somehow. Now that I know important men with nice places to get drinks appreciate what I do, I fear I may never leave.