For our bar of the year, Stammtisch, go here.
2. The Liquor Store
3341 SE Belmont St., 421-4483, theliquorstorepdx.com. 4 pm-2:30 am daily.
The news is all bad at the Liquor Store.
Kennedy is assassinated, maybe. John Lennon is shot. Pearl Harbor gets bombed.
"It's very difficult to find positive headlines," bar owner Ray Morrone says of the rotating stock of ancient and yellowing newspapers he keeps by the DJ booth. "I've got men walking on the moon. That's the most positive other than St. Helens erupts." The papers are an old obsession of Morrone's, and they're free to look at—as is his personal record collection, which lines the walls. One piece of vinyl has already been stolen: an old Tom Waits bootleg loosed from its sleeve.
"It's a terrible bootleg," Morrone says. "I keep thinking maybe they'll bring it back."
But aside from those tragic and awestruck headlines, everything else at the Liquor Store is damn good: solid local taps, a truly excellent gin and housemade tonic with floating juniper berries, and a weathered casual-luxe room that makes you feel like you've already been drinking there for years. In a Portland obsessed with a prefab version of olde tyme, the Liquor Store's blend of old and new feels much more personal, more comfort than gimmick. Maybe that's because this is a dream that Morrone's been living with for seven years now, dating back to the first time he planned to move to Portland and start a bar after running nightclubs, writing for newspapers and doing graphic design for hire.
He always wanted a place where music and casual hangout could coexist without ruining each other; think Tuesday and Friday at Dig a Pony, but on the same night. The music thumps in the downstairs microclub—a mix of EDM nights and rock booking—while upstairs is a subdued DJ lounge where they blend their own Curacao for their Blue Monk, a tribute to the jazz, poetry and hip-hop bar that occupied the space last year, downed in part by a police raid on a rap show.
The Liquor Store installed sprinklers, fire escapes and a new Funktion-One sound system, not to mention a back exit from downstairs—although they're still struggling to get the occupancy increased by the city. Judging from the lines that already form outside every time there's a show downstairs, plenty of people wouldn't mind a seat at that lovely horseshoe bar. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
3564 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 206-4884, likewise.website. 4-11ish pm Tuesday-Saturday.
Likewise wasn't supposed to be a bar. It was supposed to be a station wagon.
Nancy Prior had answered an ad for a car she and Likewise partner Adam Moser needed for an art project, but when she met up with its owner, who turned out to be Cup & Saucer owner Karen Harding, she ended up with an entirely different set of keys. "She told me, you don't need a car," Prior recalls. "You need a space." Harding handed Prior access to both the car and to a little side area of her long-running Hawthorne Boulevard cafe, setting Moser and Prior loose to brainstorm what they wanted to do with their bar space—without a lot of the normal commercial pressures.
What Likewise has become in only a couple months is something extraordinary, especially in a post-gentry Portland with seemingly no room for the old ramshackle, DIY spirit of Seaplane or the original Disjecta: It's a place where artists and poets and fiction writers and weirdo experimental musicians immediately feel at home. "I don't know how they find out about us," Prior says, "but we thought it was a victory when the PNCA students came across the river."
Likewise is an art gallery with no art, a white-walled space that looks like a canvas for almost anything. The lovely cocktails are all untitled, the taps are labeled only with the tops of trophies, and the only food options are nuts, freezer pizza or a $700 dinner that includes shutting down the bar and driving to the coast for seafood.
Each month, the fabric of the bar changes; three of the five nights they're open, they host a different artist as bartender. They think of it as a sort of alternative arts residency. "People have this notion that art is created in solitude," Moser says. "We wanted to create a different model."
And so one month, performance artist Alicia McDaid plied her trade while at the bar, playing a different role each night, from Raggedy Ann to a Drew Barrymore-obsessed teen. The next "bartender in residence," local publishing house Publication Studio, hosted such writers as Oregon Book Award poetry winner Emily Kendal Frey and Literary Arts fellow Ashley Toliver, who both wrote during prescribed hours at the bar; as a capstone, they made chapbooks and held a reading of what they wrote at Likewise. Cheers night is every Thursday—when Moser and Prior tend bar—and during an episode in which Norm and Cliff refuse to drink when a gay couple walks in the bar, the entire bar cheered when Sam served the couple free glasses of wine.
Meanwhile, Prior and Moser are still full of ideas for little projects. Recently they awarded Blazers tickets to single patrons, and set up a "stranger date" to the game. Prior and Moser dropped off the winners at the stadium, then picked them up. They'd made T-shirts for the occasion.
"This is what we do," Prior says. "We think, what if we did this? Or this? Or this?" MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
4. Coopers Hall
404 SE 6th Ave., 719-7000, coopershall.com. 4-10 pm Monday-Thursday, 4 pm-midnight Friday-Saturday.
Most urban wineries, when they migrated from the valleys to city streets, tucked themselves away in one-room repurposed garages and nooks with crushed velvet couches. But Coopers Hall took its inspiration from another Portland institution: the beer hall.
Winemaking may seem highbrow, but "it's the ultimate in smoke and mirrors," according to founding winemaker Phil Kramer. "Winemakers are tough fucking guys and gals."
Rather than park all their wines in bottles, meant for enjoyment at home, the founders of Coopers Hall converted an old auto-repair warehouse into the first all-keg winery in Oregon, with 44 taps pouring their product alongside other mostly local wines, craft beer and cider from their own in-house cidery, Alter Ego.
Production barrels loom next to groups enjoying whole rotisserie chicken on black-varnished picnic tables. "We called it a hall," Kramer says, "like a brewpub. Because it's a place to just come and hang."
It took a village even to found it: It is the communal dream of ChefStable's prolific restaurateur Kurt Huffman, A&R Development (behind the Ace Hotel building and the Lumberyard indoor mountain-bike park), Kramer from AlexEli Vineyard & Winery, and St. Jack sommelier Joel Gunderson.
Here, pinot descends from its perch to fodder for growler fills. You can make your own flight with 2-ounce tastes ($2-$10) of any kegged wine, to winemaster Gunderson's preferred soundtrack of Wu-Tang. In one corner of the 9,800-square-foot urban winery, story-high barrels are metal-jacketed to stay cool while diners 20 feet away stay warm. And the wine list is a Twitter feed of quips—"#9: gushy little treat from the south of France"—a refreshing field trip from the regurgitated thesaurus of oeno speak. Garden-party touches like orb lights and topiaries overhanging the sleek, gray slate bar offer just enough refinement, as does the fact they're pouring probably the best pinot rosé in town this year. But come crush season, the forklift runs alongside dinner service.
Still, no hall is anything without its public. "You can plan what you want to be," Gunderson says. "Then you open, and the public tells you what you're actually going to be."
So although it was modeled after a public house, Coopers Hall has become Portland's most coveted new space for private parties. The owners had to make a loose rule for themselves: They don't shut down the place more than twice a month. This kicks all those parties up to the mezzanine while the main floor stays open. As you sit at the bar enjoying a wine from the kegs, you'll hear them up above, wine-drunk, singing "Happy Birthday" to the rafters. ENID SPITZ.
5. Habesha Lounge
801 NE Broadway, 284-4299. Hours and nights vary.
Once upon a time in Portland, seemingly every party house had a name, and they all had rock shows in their basements, with bands—Wampire, White Fang, Red Fang, whatever—you'd maybe see later that month at Doug Fir or Holocene.
Habesha Lounge is keeping that spirit alive on top of an Ethiopian restaurant, in a bar whose double-decker patio is bigger than the interior, which looks like an attic at Christmastime and sports a giant picture of Haile Selassie meeting JFK. Open only when there's something going on—which lately is more nights than not, with open mic on Tuesdays and karaoke on Thursdays—the bare-bones space feels less like a business than a punk-rock patio party where everyone's invited. Word travels through Facebook and text message: Habesha. Tonight.
"I feel like it's a dying breed," says Brandon Nikola, the bar's founder, booker, bartender and sound guy. "A lot of places—Sandy Hut, Langano—have been closing down."
It started, like most party houses, as a hand-me-down. Tony Prato, now booking at Bunk Bar, had thrown together rock shows above Mudai, the previous Ethiopian restaurant in the space, and Nikola was a frequent guest. Through that connection, Nikola met the family that runs Habesha restaurant downstairs.
"They called me one day and said they got a new stereo system and needed help," Nikola says. "Somebody came and picked me up, gave me 40 bucks, and we developed a relationship. I said, 'What if I book shows here?'"
Starting February 2013, Nikola has packed the place with a Grammies record-release show, metal shows with stage divers and crowd surfing, a snowstorm concert on Nikola's birthday, and a particularly noisy Young Dad show that scared the crap out of the family who owns the restaurant.
But for the most part, the feeling is as much family as bacchanal—Nikola picks up his boss's kids from school sometimes—and an Ethiopian DJ spins once a month. Habesha often doesn't advertise shows, in order to keep the mood friendly, or at least friend-of-friendly.
"Maybe it's self-serving," Nikola says, "but it's a better time when it's just friends there. It's a party." MATTHEW KORFHAGE.