Portland is the kind of place where you’ll overhear discussions of natural birthing over a pint of IPA or a panhandler muttering into his afternoon whiskey while Ella Fitzgerald ballads play in a dive bar. A perpetual layer of grime sits atop this city’s increasingly shiny surface, which isn’t surprising considering the Pacific Northwest is the home of grunge—a movement whose aftershocks are still palpable here.
Equal parts underbelly, gentrifying hippie commune and “Silicon Forest,” the city has seen a boomlet of drinking establishments that embrace the idiosyncratic while attempting to reconcile the influx of money and East Coast expats. Some of these places are watering holes under cover (restaurants, strip clubs and late-night pho joints), while others are out in the open (breweries, whiskey bars and cocktail dens). The one thing they all have in common is happy hour.
Divided into quadrants, Portland’s neighborhoods (Northeast, Northwest, Southeast, Southwest and North Portland) have become calling cards for specific aspects of the city’s culture—and, by extension, their drinking scenes. In the posh Northwest there’s Teardrop Lounge, one of the city’s cocktail scene keystones where vested bartenders sling classic drinks, while in the park-lined Southwest, bouncers at Multnomah Whiskey Library usher guests with reservations into the plush, leather-coated interior.
In stark contrast to the glossier side of the river, the Northeast is a bucolic grid of homes and elementary schools, with neighborhood bars, taverns and craft beer bottle shops embedded within its quiet blocks. For those in search of champagne, there’s the old Portland wine hangout Pix’s updated digs (now called Bar Vivant), where a long list of sherry and champagne at low markups prove that, really, everything is cheaper in Portland.
In the Southeast, a hipster-cum-yuppie vibe pervades, with restaurants like Ava Gene’s and The Woodsman Tavern speaking to both via great wine programs, clean cocktail menus and sophisticated, but simple food. And even with the neighborhood’s recent density increase, its grimy dive bars remain intact.
Portland, it seems, has earned Shangri-La status with its unflappable mix of eccentric and enlightened, so infectious that even blasé, seen-it-all Brooklyners speak enthusiastically about the city as the West Coast’s “it” destination. Between Stripparoke, midnight pho, cheap craft beer and well-crafted cocktails, Portland is, undoubtedly, one of America’s best places to escape for a cold one.