Finally, Portland's rooftop bar scene is making some headway.
Prior to the opening of Revolution Hall's beloved terrace two summers ago, the best you could do was Departure, a decidedly un-Portland concept in both its price points and bougie, party-boy decorum. While the views aren't quite as breathtaking, Tope's perch on the ninth floor of the Hoxton Hotel still offers an excellent vantage of the city's eastside that pairs well with its playful cocktails and casual noshes. It's the third and final installment of the Chinatown hotel's evolution, and though a good chunk of its food menu has many of the same hangups as La Neta, its big-brother restaurant downstairs, it's probably the best thing the Hoxton has on offer for downtown office drones who just want an unpretentious outdoor space where they can drink a margarita on a sunny day.
The indoor space is gorgeous, if not a little overdone. A jungle of leafy greens hang in front of every available wall space, creating a lush contrast with the white tile and panorama windows that wrap around three of the four exterior walls. There's a giant indoor fireplace surrounded by stylish, low-slung swivel chairs. The bar is backlit with a dim golden light, in accordance with every other new bar in town that considers Instagrammability a top priority. If you're the type of person who's inclined to use "millennial" as a pejorative, you may want to avoid Tope entirely—on my first visit, I saw the bartender skip over two separate groups of 20-somethings who were too busy taking selfies to spit out their order. But if you're looking for good vibes, Tope has plenty.
It also has a cocktail menu that's diverse yet unified in its vision of sweet refreshment. If you're set on drinking a margarita, opt for the spicy version, which kicks up the dull and watery finish of the classic with Ancho Reyes Verde tequila and a simmering habanero finish ($12). Even better is the Fist Bump, a simple mix of Early Times bourbon, Mexican fernet and cola ($11), and the Carrot on My Wayward Son, a creamy drink that tempers the smoky bloom of Bahnez mezcal with egg white and carrot puree.
The food is a pared-down smattering of proteins and side plates found at La Neta, but the few shareables unique to Tope are what you should home in on. The most remarkable dish in terms of breadth of flavor and simplicity is the Sikil Pak, which features a chilled plate of root vegetables and a pumpkin seed dip that's smooth, tangy and just a little bit spicy at the end. If you're a few drinks in the bag and want to atone for the damage you've done to your body, a plate of fresh veggies and a ramekin of what's essentially Yucatecan hummus is a fine diversion from all the salt and fat that composes the rest of the menu.
The taco selection, though, is a bust. Most hover around the $5 mark, and although we enjoyed the sweet tinge of the al pastor more than expected, the lack of seasoning in the asada and braised-lamb variants triggered flashbacks of the muddled delivery at La Neta. If you're dining with a friend or two, go for the tlayuda ($19) instead. Billed as a "Oaxacan pizza," it's a crispy and satisfying foil to the flaccid flavors of the tacos, with an optional chorizo rojo upgrade that's absolutely worth the $6 price tag. It's one of the better communal foodstuffs you'll find at a post-work chips-and-margaritas joint, and it definitely hits the spot when one drink turns into three and you just need to get some food in you before you amble home.
It's likely that Tope will be outclassed when yet another rooftop bar in the downtown area comes around. Until then, it's a fine place to bask in the golden hour with a cocktail and some salty snacks among friends. No one is doing anything like this just yet, and even if its recipe for success seems ripe for replication, we're banking on this being one of the more popular early-evening hangs when the sun finally sticks around well into the evening hours.
EAT: Tope at the Hoxton, 15 NW 4th Ave., 503-770-0500, thehoxton.com. 5-10 pm Sunday-Monday, 5-11 pm Tuesday-Thursday, 5 pm-midnight Friday-Saturday.