Charlie Horse Saloon
627 SE Morrison St.
In this newfangled Portland take on a Wild West saloon staffed by punk-rock Portlanders, avoid the needless $9 cocktails (a margarita made with Jameson ain't so fancy as that) in favor of the $6 shot and back combos, whether Buffalo Trace and Montucky or Hornitos and Tecate. Then, settle in for a soundtrack by the Cramps.
2126 SW Halsey St., Troutdale, 669-8610, mcmenamins.com.
It isn't specifically on the menu, but Edgefield offers an interesting opportunity. Hogshead Whiskey was distilled from a McMenamins beer base; pair it with beer, such as Widowmaker Imperial Porter, that was aged in the used whiskey barrels. Even better? Try rum barrel-aged Night Court Barleywine with the brewer's Three Rocks, an aged sipping rum whose barrels housed Hogshead before they housed the rum.
832 N Beech St., 971-703-4516, stormbreakerbrewing.com.
One of this new brewery's best features is a true drinking man's fetish for beer-and-whiskey pairings, served at a slight discount. Get the Bowmore scotch with the kolsch, and by the time you're done drinking, you won't remember your first sip, or get the Savage Nimbus Double IPA with Oregon distiller Ransom's hot WhipperSnapper bourbon back.
The Knock Back
2315 NE Alberta St., 284-4090, theknockback.com.
More than perhaps any other bar in Portland, the Knock Back treats the boilermaker as both art and science. Sure, there's the obligatory pairing of cider and Fireball—though the cider in this case is apple-skin Cascadia Granny Smith from Reverend Nat's—but there is also IPA and Campari.
The Fixin' To
8218 N Lombard St., 477-4995, thefixinto.com.
True to its down-home trailer-trash fixations, the Fixin' To has a fine selection of beers and shots, from the $5 Down 'n Out Old Crow and Rainier to a $6.50 Jim Beam and Dixie lager. The most upscale of them all is the Dead Moon, which pairs a Yukon Jack with a fine tallboy o' Guinness, for a cool $8.
632 E Burnside St., 233-3113.
But frankly, the classic shot and back is not a thing that needs to be on the menu. Portland, like a lot of the American West, honors the tradition of the beer back simply, without artifice and, if the bartender likes you enough, often without a goddamn charge. Skip the middleman and simply order your whiskey, whatever whiskey, and at a lot of the true old-school dive bars in town—the Standard, the Slammer, the Speakeasy, lots of places under the sign of S—you can simply ask for a back. It will arrive as a Pabst or Hamm's or who cares what, and if they like you it will be an accepted as part and parcel of the whiskey itself. Welcome to the America that still matters.