The Best Bars in Portland

Portland’s bar scene goes far far beyond offering a little something for everyone. The city is rich with knowledgable bartenders and cocktail innovators. From swanky mixed drinks to tiki bar delights, cutting edge wine bars, and, of course, craft brews, Portland is the place to find your new favorite tipple. You’re going to love the city’s late-night scene.

1124 SW Alder St
1500 bottles of booze on the wall, 1500 bottles of booze… The Multnomah Whiskey Library serves up more than just great whiskey and atmosphere. The experience of finding oneself comfortably cradled in the arms of a worn leather chair, perusing a card catalog of spirits destined to delight, is downright civilized. MWL members get to create reservations to insure access to the enclave. The rest of the clamoring public needs to get on the waiting list. Patience is a virtue rewarded when a spot in the Library opens up. The dark paneled walls, stained-glass ceilings and big fireplace exude comfort. The only thing missing are the slippers. There’s nothing stuffy about the surroundings with plenty of low voltage interaction dancing between guests. The drink menus are impressive. And it’s not just about the brown liquor. There is a great variety of beers, wines, gins, vodkas and tequilas to tempt your tastebuds. The cocktails carry their own cache with a table side trolley for viewing specialty concoction creation. That and any other service is superb with staff exceling in matching patrons with potables. The small plates come a variety of persuasions; meat, fish, veggie, providing catalyst for food pairing and parlor conversation. Try the Scotch Egg, Radicchio Caesar and Crab Fritters for your opening volley. Hop back on the drink trolley for a Clubland cocktail to keep the evening lively. Your arrival will be the only thing ever overdue at the MWL. Many happy returns.
1015 NW Everett St, Portland, OR 97209, USA
If you enjoy drinking cocktails, you’ll like the Teardrop Lounge. If you enjoy seeing them made, you’ll like it even more. It was pure fluke that when we arrived, the only seats remaining were the two barstools next to the wait-station, and we took them willingly, because we’d heard good things about this place from a gin-distilling friend in London. Speaking of gin and tonic, this place makes its own tonic water from scratch, and it’s a million times better than the anaemic stuff that comes out of a soda stream. What was supposed to be a place to kill some time before the cinema turned into an hour-long entertainment in itself. The mixologist was kept on his toes—the bar was at capacity and the orders just kept coming—and we didn’t see him slow or stop for a second. From Tom Collinses to Negronis to Long Island Iced Teas, not to mention the raft of house cocktails that the Teardrop is famous for, he was stirring, shaking, and sluicing incessantly. And if we’d thought that would make him too busy to talk to the likes of us—well, we were very wrong. He was charming, insightful, interested in what we were up to, and witty (at one point, looking a little exhausted, he told me “If you came in here and ordered a simple gin and tonic, I wouldn’t just make it for you, I’d buy it for you”). Seriously, I couldn’t recommend this place more highly. Go there. And give the barman a break.
736 SE Grand Ave, Portland, OR 97214, USA
This is one of the new hot bars, just a few blocks down from the Jupiter Hotel on SE Grand and Morrision. Checkpoints: skinny hot bartenders in wifebeaters who shake up some inventive cocktails, a DJ, a 110-year old piano, a horseshoe bar and an impressive late night menu (cuban sandwiches, anyone?). I had the Sam Issacs which was mentioned in Portland Monthly as the drink to have but not even on their menu. It has bourbon, mint, blackberries and lime. It’s DELICIOUS. Portland seems to have a thing for libations with ginger beer and I’m loving it. I followed up with 96 Tears, a combination of vodka, lime, ginger and ginger beer. This was light but boozy. The perfect way to start a night or in this case, I’d end it here if you want to dance.
1305 SE 8th Ave, Portland, OR 97214, USA
Like Groucho Marx, “I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.” Fortunately for me, the White Owl Social Club is mostly a great bar and restaurant. Joining the club at the White Owl is a matter of showing up, which is when the fun begins. This former dive bar in southeast has been transformed into a legitimate destination. Thanks to a reworking of the space and menu, the scene is now a great mix of neighbors, hipsters, young and old. The happy hour is a huge draw but folks stay well into the night. The WOSC also has a great lineup of events like movie night and beer-release parties to entice. The crown jewel is the all-weather patio. With its fire pit and the fact it goes on forever, it’s one of the more crowd-loving outdoor spots in town. Perfect for ordering the tabletop s’mores. The rest of the menu is a mix of traditional bar food with a vegan-friendly twist. The Owl is a place where a heavy metal band competition and a vegan mac and cheese can coexist. Where you can find a vegan BBQ pulled jackfruit topped with a kale slaw, next to a classic all-beef burger. The cocktails, wines, and beers all lean toward the local variety and are destined to “embolden the drinker to seek new heights of mental and spiritual acuity.” A visit to the WOSC will not break the bank while providing a great evening of entertainment. Hanging out watching the PDX scene ravel and unravel over good food and drinks can become habit forming. Membership is free.
1438 Northwest 23rd Avenue
Ducking into the Matador in the alphabet district is a great way to tour the Mexican culture through its tequila and mezcal heritage. Touting over 100 tequilas in a variety of vintages, you’re likely to become a bit overwhelmed by the depth and complexity. This anxiety is generally relieved after a couple of shots. Staff are keen on giving solid recommendations based on your preferences. There are “flights” of tequila to introduce you to the subtle characteristics of this oft-misunderstood beverage. Be daring and undaunted by the task at hand, and try to sip, not shoot. Salt & lime optional. The space is anchored by a large fire pit that is cozy in the winter months. Huge windows open during summer to bring the outside, in. The menu is focused and leans toward the California interpretations of Mexican cuisine. The pork dishes are a bit more traditional, while the fish tacos have a NW flair. The carne asada is nicely done, and there are veggie and gluten-free options all over the menu. Happy hour is a big draw with lots of great dishes and featured drinks on the cheap. While being part of a small chain of restaurants might seem one-dimensional, Matador promotes local sourcing on ingredients and lets each store have its own personality. NW Portland is a great neighborhood for exploring, and a tequila flight at the Matador is an entertaining way to get the party started.
5008 Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard
Actually, the lobby of the Sapphire Hotel is as far as you’ll get when you visit these days. And for all intents and purposes, it’s far enough. The Sapphire maintains the edge its enjoyed since its inception in the early 1900s. Then a gathering place for the quirky and lightly mannered; cool before cool was cool, it now is the great-grandparent of PDX hip. The candlelit scene keeps the conversation low and the alcohol levels, therapeutic. With cocktails like: You’re Not My Real Dad, Retrosex, Winter Isn’t Coming and Floozie, what could possibly go wrong. The hotel rooms are long gone, but the kitchen still hangs around. The menu maintains a simplicity and charm of another era. An order of the salmon corn cakes with a Sapphire salad will easily sustain, but why stop there. Go for the fully-loaded Sapphire burger, have another pop and regroup for the ginger-vanilla bean creme brûlée. The best thing about the Sapphire is the hang time. It’s out on the bleeding edge of Hawthorne, so once you get out there, you’ll tend to want to linger. The atmosphere encourages it with a sharp wait staff supported by bartenders that roll the dice to delver concoctions you can’t get just anywhere. Happy hour tends to evolve into happy evening, even happy night. I’d say it was a gem, but that would be stating the obvious.
955 N Russell St, Portland, OR 97227, USA
The traditional gasthaus in Germany is an inn or pub with a bar, restaurant, party space, and rooms for rent. The Widmer Brothers Gasthaus Pub lives up to all but the last feature and stays true to the love of beer and food. Widmer beers are a flagship in the NW craft-brewing fleet, and the Gasthaus serves them all. Start with a sampler of pours just to get you in that Germanic state of mind. Settle on something you like and turn your attention to the menu. The mix of NW staples and German classics fulfills the need to give your beer something to wash down. There are specials that drift into the game reserve, like elk stew, along with a veggie burger made onsite and destined to disrupt your attitude about meat. Their meats are locally sourced and cured onsite, so if you do need to feed your carnivore calling, you’ll do it in savory sustainable style. The Gasthaus gets really busy during local sporting events, since it’s just down the street from the Trailblazers basketball arena. Widmer is one of the local sponsors of Timbers soccer, and matches are another great draw for the Gasthaus. You’ll always find specials during those events, another reason to cheer. The other thing about gasthaus tradition is the family-run nature. While Portland isn’t a small Bavarian hamlet, the Widmer brothers, Kurt and Rob, along with sister Shelly, take pride in the offerings and sense of community they’ve created at the Gasthaus. Come for the brew, stay for the food. Prost!
939 SE Belmont St, Portland, OR 97214, USA
With more than 60 breweries, Portland has more than anywhere else in the world. If you do not start drinking at dawn, and drink at lunch, and drink through the evening, you are not doing your part.
2828 Northeast Glisan Street
Finding great beer is rarely about the destination and more about the journey. There are no shortage of trails to take you on beer expeditions in Portland, with Migration taking its place among the best. Locally sourced, owned, operated and distributed, the beers coming out of this brewery are broad and balanced. The brewers embrace the importance of innovation, while staying true to styles that span centuries. The beer menu is all Migration, all the time, with seasonal and special batches breaking into the lineup on a regular basis. The IPAs are hoppy and the stouts are, well, stout. Keep track of your alcohol content (always posted along with bitterness values) if you plan on operating machinery after a couple rounds. Some styles creep up into the double-digit range. You’d swear the folks serving the beer are the ones making it, based on their knowledge and expertise in pairing your taste to their brews. The other benefit is a great pub menu with something for everyone. Try the pulled pork nachos or hypocrite burger to give your cold one something to wash down. The pet-friendly patio seating is lively rain or shine and the beers are on sale during televised local sports team events. Plenty of onsite bike parking, too, if you decide to two-wheel it in.
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