Last year, when nearly every public holiday ritual went dark because of the pandemic, individuals took it upon themselves to keep the season bright.
Local vendors selling real Christmas trees reported booming sales—a sharp reversal of the trend toward faux firs. Decorations flew off store shelves and went up earlier than ever as we literally tried to find light during dismal times.
Now, as we approach a second COVID Christmas, the burden of making merry is, thankfully, not solely on our shoulders. For the most part, bars and restaurants have welcomed back all traditions—from the company-hosted dinner to the holiday-themed pop-up lounge.
One of the latest local bars to adopt an over-the-top seasonal alter ego is Tope, the breezy cantina perched atop the Hoxton hotel in Old Town-Chinatown. Unveiled the day after Thanksgiving, Holidaze is billed as a “psychedelic celebration of the winter solstice.”
After the past two years—hell, since 2016, really—who wouldn’t want to be on an altered mental plane while gazing at the equivalent of a bold Christmas sweater’s spirit splashed across the walls?
Holidaze’s ninth-floor décor doesn’t deliver the Buddy the Elf-sized sensory jolt of other holiday pop-ups in Portland. But, remember, you’re here for a serene Yuletide high, not a Jäger-fueled tinsel assault.
There’s a sparkling silver aluminum tree, trimmed with strands of beads and dangling bulbs, and a backlit wall overtaken by red, green and gold ribbon—each the shape of a perfect corkscrew, a time-consuming task known by anyone who’s learned to master the edge of a scissor blade.
Preference for seating—at the indoor fire pit or the more intimate banquette—will vary, but all parties are presented with a pair of 3D glasses that reveal a changing hypnotic pattern of circles and swirls printed on the back of an index card-sized cocktail menu.
Between the pre-Prohibition cocktail, an absinthe-dosed Spanish sparkling wine, and a Mexican-inspired Christmas punch—drinks designed exclusively for the pop-up—Holidaze makes it hard to recall what era or even what country you’re in, if you rely solely on your palate. It’s a delightful trip, nonetheless, and one tied together by sheer holiday cheer and the psychedelic theme.
The Green Giant ($16) is a buoyant, melony mixture of Catalan-made Avinyó Cava Brut Reserva and absinthe, the formerly banned, anise-flavored spirit once wrongfully assumed to cause hallucinations. However, you may think you’re seeing things in your glass, due to a clever trick best left unspoiled.
If you’re in the mood to drink yourself into a long winter’s nap, the Pinche Ponche ($15) is ready to tuck you into bed. Traditionally found simmering on stove tops across Mexico during Christmastime, Holidaze’s version is a potpourri of apples, pears, raisins, sugar cane and baking spices served in a Super Mario Bros.-like mushroom mug with a candy apple red cap to keep the drink warm.
But the standout is the Lemon Tek ($15), the bar’s take on the century-old Corpse Reviver No. 2. The blend of gin, Lillet Blanc and citrus was renamed here as a nod to taking magic mushrooms with lemon juice to enhance the high. This cocktail, all on its own, is a tart, refreshing mood booster.
The small yet solid and diverse lineup of new cocktails (as well as a handful of food items) at Holidaze would be welcomed by anyone who grew fatigued of playing home bartender during quarantine, even without the additional holiday flair. But the garland and glittering lights feel like necessary encouragement to get us through the homestretch of 2021. Just be sure to visit before the New Year. Like a real psychedelic trip, Holidaze is a temporary state of euphoria that’ll be over before you know it.
GO: Holidaze at Tope, 15 NW 4th Ave., 503-770-0500, thehoxton.com/portland/tope-restaurant. 4-11 pm Thursday-Sunday.