The Fixin’ To (8218 N Lombard St., 503-477-4995) has always been a little bit outlaw-country, a little bit rock ’n’ roll. But when the playfully ramshackle, vaguely Southern-themed St. Johns bar announced plans to expand into a concert venue earlier this year, it was easy to assume what that meant: put in a makeshift stage, install a low-end PA system, and, voila, you’re a club now!
Instead, the new addition—a self-contained, 100-capacity appendage built out from the main room—has finally made good on the bar’s honky-tonk aspirations. The decor mixes Elks Lodge kitsch with handsome newness. Antlers, a taxidermied boar’s head, framed black-and-white found photographs and a majestic deer tapestry line the unscuffed blue-green walls.
A velvet painting of Elvis sits behind a surprisingly spacious shin-high wooden stage, and the window at the back of the room assures you won’t have to leave midset to restock on Hamm’s.
Since opening this summer, the calendar has filled with emerging local indie acts, a weekly Sunday concert night and even a little hip-hop, filling a void in North Portland music venues that seems especially crucial with the impending demise of the Know.
As for the rest of the place, nothing much has changed: the food menu is still all Southern comfort, the cocktail names still reference the Ramones and Kiss, and a portrait of a young Bill Clinton is still on prominent display. Now, if only they could get that giant Game Boy arcade machine working.
Way back when the new sherry-happy, brick-walled Spanish bar was the green room for old-guard music venue La Luna, Tilden was apparently there knocking back Peeber from a tub with Everclear’s Art Alexakis. But as idyllic as that sounds, Casa Vale is a whole lot better.
In the backside of the Biwa building, Tilden and a whole mess of partners have made an intimate, upscale tapas spot tinted with firelight, where chef Louis Martinez (Imperial, Clyde Common) is already making some of the finest wood-fired grill meats in town.
There are sit-down tables, sure—little third-date tables by the wall-to-wall windows. But the spirit of the place is at the two long bars. One is an elbow wrap of hardwood with a slab of jamón ibérico de bellota perched atop one end, the other a Spanish-style standing bar that Portlanders may or may not figure out how to use.
The wine and sherry list is deep, but so’s the cocktail list, which includes a $10 Bourbon Reign deepened with both fig and red wine, and a light sherry “cobbler” ($9) mixing medium-dry amontillado with a bit of lemon and sugar. The taps kick out Basque Sarasola Sagardoa sidra and Spanish and Belgian beers alongside a rotating Pfriem of the month (just the wrong side of pricey at $6).
Really, Casa Vale is the kind of dim, drunky, comfortably hip tapas and cocktail bar the town’s been missing since the day Collosso sank to the bottom of Northeast Broadway.
So, in August, it became The Raven (3100 NE Sandy Blvd., 503-238-0543, theravenpdx.com). Since then, it hasn’t flown far from what the Tonic was for years: a witch-house home to doom and punk and dark rock and EDM odds and ends.
It is also home to a regular crowd that maybe haunted Old Town clubs at the turn of the millennium but now band together here in crisp-brimmed hats and “Blackout Boyz” T-shirts. They introduce themselves as “Jai” or “Messy Jessy” or “London.” The Sharpie graffiti again covers the restroom walls alongside the residue of band stickers on the mirrors, and the walls remain panic-room gray. The bacon and blue-cheese burger is back on the menu, and three people were eating it, always with tots.
One Sunday, you might find the bar briefly closed for cleanup after hundreds of scantily clad hairy men took over the place for a naughty Beardlandia afternoon. A punk show was scheduled later in the night in the backroom venue that’s been newly equipped with a thumping sound system.
And on a recent Thursday, the front-room DJ’s trap set was lit by epileptic seizure-inducing strobes, lottery machines and the faint light from an Avengers pinball machine in the pool-tabled game room. The pool table was always occupied, the dance floor less so. One woman danced in platform sneaks on the carpeted floor—slowly, so as to conserve her energy. It was going to be a long night, and she had no plans of stopping.
Back in 2012, West End cocktail bar Kask was a new concept. It was so explicitly designed as a fancy waiting room for now-closed Grüner restaurant, it might as well have put back issues of The Economist on the bartop. But after closing in 2015 and reopening this year under the owners of Ox, the new Kask (1215 SW Alder St., 503-241-7163, superbitepdx.com/kask) feels more like the main event—if the main event is a light affair with your side piece.
While everything at neighboring SuperBite is hyperambitious and groomed, Kask is a brick-walled hidey-hole so dim that the step-up between the door and bar acts as a particularly vicious eye test keeping the geriatric at bay.
The mood is loose, the crowd insouciantly professional. Our bartender, who looked a little like the famously unkempt dude from those Trivago commercials, was nonetheless one of the most pro pourers I’ve witnessed in town. He threw down a killer tequila-coffee-vermouth Tijuana Speedball ($11, unfortunately soon going off menu)—complete with a precarious garnish of three coffee beans balanced atop a lemon peel—with such precision and alacrity you’d think he’d just downed a speedball himself.
The Kask-classic Alexander Wept ($13), which combines variations in cherry with variations on whiskey, was likewise note perfect, while the food menu casually picks up some of the SuperBite kitchen’s can’t-miss fare without slowing down the cocktail slingers. It’s like a downtown Expatriate for people with buttoned shirts: everything perfect, a little bit sordid, and kept like a secret.
Since opening her Badger-proud beer bar eight years ago, Sarah Pederson had wanted to serve cheese curds. Aside from being one of the city’s best beer bars and bottle shops, Saraveza (1004 N Killingsworth St., 503-206-4252, saraveza.com) is a hot spot for the city’s Packers faithful.
Now, the ’Vez finally has white, squeaky cheese fried in an airy batter to pair with their Lambeau Leaps. It took a massive kitchen renovation and the hiring of Dustin Gettmann, a veteran of Pok Pok NY and Pfriem, where he helped prepare what’s been the state’s best brewpub grub. Gettmann, who worked for Saraveza in its early days, wants to turn this “bottle shop and pasty tavern” into a proper gastropub. Pederson empowered him to pick out the appliances they needed to upgrade the kitchen, requiring a short closure.
In the newly reopened space, the delightfully kitschy barroom looks pretty much the same. The chalkboard beer list has been enlarged, but the lineup has the same peerless quality we’ve come to expect (the wonderful AleSmith Vietnamese coffee stout and an excellent cloudy IPA from Block 15 on our visit).
The food menu, meanwhile, has been overhauled—the squeaky cheese is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s still fancy Chex mix and soft pretzels, but there’s also a charcuterie board ($15) with local sausages, cherry jam and moustarda, a radicchio salad ($10) with prosciutto in a tangy sherry dressing, and a smoked brisket sandwich ($12) with book-thick slices of beef from the sidewalk smoker. The buttermilk fried chicken ($15) with creamy mashed potatoes and a rich, herby tarragon gravy impressed us most of all.
It is, Pederson says, the spot she always wanted to run. It also happens to be the sort of beer bar we’re really excited to have.
I used to have a drink I’d order as a joke: “I’ll have a milk and Coke.” Well, at Patton Maryland (5101 N Interstate Ave., 503-841-6176, pattonmaryland.com) a milk and Coke is fucking delicious. At least, it is when those two ingredients are mixed with bourbon and coffee liqueur and an assload of cinnamon. The resulting flavor bomb is called Johnny in Black, and it’s the mixological equivalent of a girl from South Jersey. But despite having no interest whatsoever in being classy, it’s still pretty awesome.
The bar’s sort of the same way—a wood-grained box unadorned except for a map of ancient Portland and a giant light-up crown that looks as if it fell off a fast-food sign. From the same people who made Circa 33 and took over Produce Row, the bar in the former Pause space—complete with that same spacious rear patio—mostly acts as a Southern-tinged diner that, like a lot of things in the South, gets drunker and drunker as the day goes on, with a lot of $3 tallboys next to those $5.50 taps.
The food menu is Southern via Maryland, with smoked brisket and pimiento cheeseburgers prepared—we shit you not—by the great-great-great-grandson of Queen Victoria. Aside from being about 300th in line to the throne of England, chef Wesley Berger has cooked at Laurelhurst Market, Podnah’s Pit and Gino’s.
And so while the food doesn’t knock you out of your shoes, it’s a solid two steps above most pub fare, even though the pimiento cheeseburger is a little tame on flavor—trapped cold between lettuce and bun—and the deliciously fatty brisket could use a bit more in the way of smoke and bark.
Still, where you’ll find me on a sunny day is on the yuuuge back patio with trashy, spicy housemade pork rinds and a whiskey drink with bacon in it.
In August, Portland got a leather-daddy sex club behind a FoPo cafe. Now it has a Playboy bachelor pad in the back of a leather store. The Wayback (4719 N Albina Ave., 503-222-2774, tannergoods.com)—a fussily midcentury lounge tucked behind the new Albina Avenue flagship of Tanner Goods—feels a bit like drinking at Mrs. Robinson’s house while she’s away.
The whole place looks less like a bar than a furniture store’s take on domesticity—with globe lamps and minimalist couches arranged with Danish austerity around a TV screen playing anti-conformist cartoons from the 1950s. Old design magazines lie scattered across coffee tables, while outside on the spacious patio a lonely DJ swaps records under an adjustable cabana umbrella. All that’s missing to make the place into a page of Dwell magazine is a lone middle-aged man in silhouette, contemplating the existential tragedy of having such fine taste.
The bar’s drink menu is as minimalist as the decor: The rotating saison, cider, IPA and Pilsner ($5)—which arrive on lovely leather coasters—go unnamed on both menu and tap, so you have to ask their producers’ identities. The IPA turned out to be malty Uinta, while the saison was the Commons’ Farmhouse ale. The rotating cocktail, meanwhile, was a very sweet $8 Negroni.
The Wayback looks like the kind of place where you might eat focaccia ($10), and it is. It also serves $4 cat dishes of spiced pumpkin seeds, and a nearby fridge is packed with “to-go bottles” of Yoo-hoo and Original New York Seltzer. Is the Yoo-hoo a joke? Sincere nostalgia? It’s hard to say. It’s hard to feel anything in here.
Nearby, a four-top of young professionals in knitwear are coolly discussing their next real estate purchases. Almost precisely one month before the Wayback opened in North Portland, our new mayor-elect spoke after a North Portland bike ride called “Gentrification Is Weird.” I didn’t really know what it meant until visiting this place.
Brand-new North Killingsworth bar Backyard Social (1914 N Killingsworth St., 503-719-4316) is not the Hop & Vine, co-owner Danielle Healey wants to make very clear. Until this summer, that’s what the place was called.
The somewhat eccentric craft-beer-and-wine bar—best known for its burger and big back patio—closed this July, and that same month the new bar was announced, started by Healey and two former Hop & Vine chefs, Latima Chambers and Emory Brun (recently sous chef at Besaw’s). So the staff, by and large, is the same. You still order from a chalkboard menu on the wall behind the bar, and the back patio is still a bamboo bower punctuated by rows of picnic tables. You still get pleasant wafts of charcoal from the always-fired grill, and the beer list still skews eccentric, including a fresh-hop sour IPA and Ballast Point orange vanilla.
But the walls have been repainted a sort of club-vibe gray and the liquor shelves rebuilt into a series of Kinfolk-ian wall boxes. The brioche-bunned burger ($10) is now dripping with American cheese and topped with pork confit, arugula, onion-aioli “awesome sauce” and housemade pickles. The dinner menu has been upgraded to include $14 hanger steak and a $13 plate of smoked pork ribs.
Soon, Healey says, the back patio will be rebuilt into an Edenic event space where—who knows?—you might get married one day. The emptied bottle shop next door, largely unused when it was the Hop & Vine, has likewise opened up as an event space. Three weeks after opening, Backyard Social is still as much concept as realized vision. But that patio still feels like Mom’s backyard, and while the sun’s still out, that’s where everybody sits.
On the one hand, Sizzle Pie’s new Mini Mini(638 E Burnside St.) is a mini-mart. Like the Plaid Pantry a few blocks down East Burnside, Mini Mini will happily sell you American Spirits or Parliament Lights, and some D-cell batteries for your presumed ’80s boom box. And if you’re in a deodorant pinch, it’s got Old Spice and Sure Solid to gum up your sweat glands. But at the same time, it’s an art project, a mini-mart in air quotes—the retro trucker hat of mini-marts.
Warm cans of Rainier and empty Mini Mini-brand crowlers nonsensically line its front shelving as if anyone would ever actually buy warm Rainier or an open-topped crowler. An entire fridge case is taken up by blue cartons of water that say “JUST WATER,” just because. Other cool cases sport rows of multifarious Occidental and Royale beers whose colorful labels look nice through the glass.
Fashioned by celebrity designer Aaron Draplin, the store is as bright-white and blank as the waiting room in the afterlife. Well, fuck it: If it’s gonna be a Gus Van Sant dream-world midcentury mini-mart, we’re gonna have a stoop beer. Because that’s what Matt Dillon would do.
We left behind the Jones Soda crowlers ($5) and kombucha crowlers ($9) and Double Mountain crowlers ($7) and got some Stiegl grapefruit radler and a Sizzle Pie hot pocket ($3.50)—fluffier and with better cheese than the freezer versions, though just as greasy and prone to hot oil spills—and took our cans to the old, abandoned restaurant next door.
The former Farm has a perfect stoop, shaded by trees. The day was sunny. Life was perfect. Then, from the parking lot behind us, we heard a voice: “How you doin’?” asked a woman who’d set up camp in the parking lot, calling us by a racial slur we don’t print in the paper without good reason. The slur—which didn’t easily apply to anyone within eyeshot—seemed less hostile than an aggressive form of camp. As a peacekeeping gesture, we offered her one of our Stiegls. But seeing the can, she demurred. “I don’t do grapefruit,” she said. “That stuff will bleach out my hormones.” Turned out we weren’t in a Van Sant movie after all—it was Richard Linklater.
For 20 years, Bill had Cannon Beach on lockdown. Even as most of Oregon’s coastal towns grew increasingly beery, the scenic enclave was home to only Bill’s Tavern and Brewhouse, which won two medals at the 1999 Great American Beer Festival and has stuck with those recipes. Then, this summer, two new breweries posted tasteful wooden signs along Hemlock Street.
The first is the third location of Pelican Brewing(1371 S Hemlock St., Cannon Beach, 503-908-3377, pelicanbrewing.com), the English-focused brewery based in Pacific City. This Pelican offshoot makes its own beer inside a cavernous, blond-wood space that seats 160. It also does upscale seafood, like a $30 bowl of cioppino with Dungeness crab legs crawling right out of it, and a $16 sweet-potato-and-quinoa cake. After a full taster tray of beer and plenty of food, the best things we had were basic flatbreads and the Tsunami Stout.
But on the northern edge of town, another newcomer was more impressive. Public Coast Brewing (264 E 3rd St., Cannon Beach, 503-436-0285, publiccoastbrewing.com) is the first brewpub I’ve ever seen that has counter service—you order your food and drinks, then take your buzzer to a table.
The simple pub menu focuses on burgers (get the $14 Forager with sauteed mushrooms, onions and blue cheese), onion rings and desserts made with Tillamook ice cream. The beer exceeded expectations, especially the admirably balanced raspberry honey dunkel and a crisp Citra pale ale. If you’re headed out to watch the winter storms roll in over Haystack Rock, it’s a recommended stop.