Portland has a lot of great bartenders, and 2016 has been one of the busiest years yet with a flurry of bar and restaurant openings. Meanwhile, spots that opened in 2015 have been focused on refining and polishing their programs. What makes or breaks these bars can be a lot of things, but when it comes down to it, nothing’s more important to a bar’s success than the person making your drink. Here are the biggest, most influential, most kickass bartenders that have shaped Portland in 2016. Apparently, it helps to be attractive and tattooed.
RueAddress and Info
Rue hasn’t been attracting as much attention as it perhaps should be, having opened in a year with literally dozens of other restaurants, but bartender Jon Lewis shouldn’t be missed. After helping to open the bar at Taylor Railworks in late 2015, he was brought on to open the bar at Rue in 2016, where he brings his original, occasionally bizarre approach to cocktails. With drinks that include banana liqueurs (the Sharknana, inspired by his own shark/banana tattoo), or ones based on multiple types of bitters and vermouths, Jon’s speciality seems to be cocktails that shouldn’t work, but really do, and are unlike anything else in town.
Shift DrinksAddress and Info
It takes a lot of work to own and manage a bar, but the bespectacled Alise Moffatt does so with aplomb, and makes it look almost easy. Though it took Shift Drinks a moment to find its footing, as of 2016, it offers one of the best and most inventive cocktail programs in the city, raising the standards for everyone. Alise can be found behind the stick almost every night of the week serving creative and delicious cocktails with expertise and an endearing passion.
Ava Gene'sAddress and Info
The dapper Douglas Derrick is mostly known for the Negroni, having started the Negroni of the Month program at his previous restaurant, Nostrana, as well as the Negroni Social which inspired Negroni Week. In 2016, he’s been leading the movement of "farm-to-glass," with local ingredients from some of the top farmers in the state going directly into his cocktails. With his understanding of produce’s role in cocktails, Douglas has created some unique and delectable drinks that strongly reflect the season. In the meanwhile, he spends time judging cocktail competitions, including the Northwest portion of the Espolon Cocktail Fights.
Han OakAddress and Info
Michelle Ruocco started her Portland career as bar manager for the now-shuttered Bent Brick. In May of 2016, she grabbed the gold at the Whiskeytown Cocktail Competition before moving on from Bent Brick and becoming possibly the city’s most ubiquitous bartender. You can find Michelle almost any time of the week at one of many bars, including the fabulous Korean pop-up Han Oak. There, she designs a unique cocktail program, with new drinks every week, often inspired by Korean dishes or just full of unexpected flavor combos. The rare times she’s not tending bar there or at Tusk, Woodsman Tavern, or Rue, she’s posting photos of her stunning creations on Instagram, under the name BigMixshake.
LeChonAddress and Info
Joe Frade is creating some truly exciting drinks at LeChon, especially with tequila and rum. He freezes his own ice for clarity and consistency, and hand-carves it. He smokes cocktails and fat-washes cachaça. He’s been a National Finalist twice in the Bacardi Legacy Cocktail Competition, and is preparing for his third time, and he runs a beverage consulting and education company called the Liquid Courage Corporation. But what really matters to Joe is his community work: With a degree in Exercise Science, he’s planning on adding a blog to his Liquid Courage website to give advice on healthier living to industry workers. As a veteran of the Marine Corps, he plans to open a nonprofit bar which will employ military veterans who are looking to join the service industry.
The Benson HotelAddress and Info
Natasha Hill was the Portland cocktail scene’s best-kept secret for a while, until she started winning serious competitions. Natasha spent most of her bartending time at the Trio Club, a busy dance club. While the bar taught her speed and efficiency, she got bored making AMFs and vodka sodas, so she self-educated with cocktail literature before joining the Oregon Bartending Guild and starting a small, semi-secretive craft cocktail night at Trio. Eventually, she would use her combination of speed and craft in competitions, winning the Espolon Cocktail Fights in 2015 and again in 2016. Recently she moved on to a craft position at the Benson Hotel, and is taking her skills to the Espolon Nationals in New York City on November 9th.
The Rookery at Raven & RoseAddress and Info
Estanislado Orona, better known as Tanis, is responsible for most of the bar action happening at Raven and Rose’s upstairs bar, The Rookery. There he crafts amazing cocktails, including some of the best versions of “classics” you can find in Portland (we wait all year for his mint julep in summer). Much of 2016 for him was focused on defending his victory at the regionals for the Most Imaginative Bartender competition, which he successfully did, and traveling to London for finals. Still, he’s managed to find time to craft house syrups and spices; look for his enticing house-made cola soon, preferably mixed with red wine for the best kalimotxo you’ve ever had.
AtaulaAddress and Info
While wine is generally the prefered pairing with food, cocktails are making strides towards being food-friendly. Angel Teta exemplifies this at Ataula, where she pairs delicious sherry based-cocktails (and more) with Jose Chesa’s Spanish cuisine. She’s been behind the stick for a number of years now, working behind a tiny bar that serves a massive restaurant space, but 2016 has been big for her -- she was the Tales of the Cocktail winner, beating out hundreds of others for one of the most prestigious awards in bartending. Still, she remains a delightful and talented bartender, popular with guests as well as her peers.
Altabira City TavernAddress and Info
Altabira City Tavern is quickly becoming a destination after opening last year. Some of that is due to its beautiful balcony that overlooks the city, as well as its proximity to the Moda Center for Blazers games. But a lot of it is also because of its talented bar manager, Becca June. Becca is an Oregon native who grew up in Portland, though she spent time mastering her craft in New Orleans, and only returned home last year. Now she brings her charm and skill to the bar at Altabira, making cocktails from a variety of inspirations, from pop culture to music, or even what is happening at the nearby convention center; her drinks almost always have a story behind them.
Wayfinder BeerAddress and Info
Jacob Grier is one of those bartenders whose influence goes beyond his work behind the bar; last year he published his book on beer cocktails, Cocktails on Tap, and this year his brainchild, Aquavit Week (December 4th-10th), will be bigger than ever, spreading outside of Portland to cities nationwide. The year 2016 also saw him writing and publishing articles on alcohol legislation, teaching classes at Tales of the Cocktail and Bar Institute, and helping to open Portland’s newest pub and soon-to-be brewery, Wayfinder Beer, where he designed the bar program, bringing his signatures of aquavit and beer cocktails to the masses. And while 2016 is no different in this regard, Jacob remains one of the nicest people to serve you a drink in Portland.
Lisa Victoria Hare
VictoriaAddress and Info
The Lightning Bar Collective seems to always strike gold, having one of the most popular line of bars in the city. With Victoria, which opened in summer of 2015, the reason for success is clear: its eponymous co-owner and bar manager, Lisa Victoria Hare. Lisa is even more stylish than the bar named for her, and has made it the most welcoming and fun bar in the Collective by letting her personality and talent inform the way the bar works -- for instance, the cocktail menu, with names all taken from The Princess Bride, or the dog-friendly patio.
Trifecta TavernAddress and Info
Gregarious and endearing, Colin Carroll is a mad scientist behind the bar at Trifecta Tavern. Who else would think to char wood in a wood-fired oven and sous vide it with batched cocktails? Colin’s cocktail menu is much like him: all at once refined yet wild; bold but clever. The year 2016 has been his most playful yet -- like his summer menu that included zany yacht drinks, or the fall menu with bone marrow-infused bourbon.
Bex Karnofski and Anna Moss
La MouleAddress and Info
La Moule opened in 2015 with a great collaborative cocktail program managed by Mark Macminn and guided by owner Tommy Klus, but Mark has left, while bartending super-duo Bex Karnofski and Anna Moss, who both helped open the bar, have taken over. The two have tightened and refined the menu, making it more focused and seasonal, while working in tandem to create more daring cocktails, relying on the public trust that La Moule built up over its first year. While it was a great spot to begin with, under Bex and Anna’s watch, it’s growing up well, and it doesn’t look to be slowing down.
Eric Rickey and Gabe Pearlman
RenataAddress and Info
Another spot that opened in 2015 and hit its stride in 2016 is Renata. Gabe Pearlman took over as bar manager from Gabe Lowe in May 2016, with Eric Rickey joining as head bartender at the same time. While the two were strangers at first, they immediately connected as “twin souls” when it came to bartending. They saw a great bar program, but one that could be improved, and have shaped and focused the menu since then, adding on an extensive classics list and creating new, exciting Italian-inspired drinks, all the while being engaging, entertaining bartenders. While Renata is still a great spot for diners looking for Italian food, Eric and Gabe have made it a destination for cocktail drinkers as well.
Lucas Plant and Daniel Osborne
The Green RoomAddress and Info
It’s arguable that Lucas Plant and Daniel Osborne are the most influential bartenders in town… as least as far as barware is concerned. The two, along with social marketing maven Katie Burnett, formed Bull in China two years ago, an artisan barware shop, and now you can hardly find a cocktail bar that doesn’t use their stirring glasses, Lewis bags, and ice mallets. This year, they’ve been busy setting up their own brick and mortar shop, as well as consulting with bars and helping to launch bar programs at spots like Besaw’s and Solo Club. Somehow, they still managed to find time to tend bar, with Luke at the Green Room and Daniel at the popular new restaurant, Tusk.
Team Riff Raff
Bit House SaloonAddress and Info
Nick Cifuni, Chauncey Roach, Brian Gilbert, Jesse Card, Chris Churilla, and Chino Lee: It couldn’t be just one. Bit House Saloon was an entirely collaborative venture from the moment it opened its doors early last year, and has remained with the same core crew (Team Riff-Raff as they call themselves) ever since -- an unparalleled accomplishment in this city. This collaboration helped put Bit House on every media bar list, including multiple Bar of the Year awards, and made it a vibrant hotspot with its hospitality-driven approach and incredible drink menu. The team is traveling to New York for the finale of the Bar Institute to give a presentation on their collaborative program -- one of five bars chosen nationally to do so.
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1. Rue1005 SE Ankeny St, Portland
2. Shift Drinks1200 SW Morrison St, Portland
3. Ava Gene's3377 SE Division St, Portland
4. Han Oak511 NE 24th Ave, Portland
5. LeChon113 SW Naito Pkwy, Portland
6. The Benson Hotel309 SW Broadway, Portland
7. Rookery1331 SW Broadway, Portland
8. Ataula1818 NW 23rd Pl, Portland
9. Altabira City Tavern1021 NE Grand Ave, Portland
10. Wayfinder Beer304 SE 2nd Ave, Portland
11. Victoria4835 N Albina Ave, Portland
12. Trifecta Tavern & Bakery726 SE 6th Ave, Portland
13. La Moule2500 SE Clinton St, Portland
14. Renata626 SE Main St, Portland
15. The Green Room1122 SW Alder St, Portland
16. Bit House Saloon727 SE Grand Ave, Portland
Rue takes a fresh, light, and clean approach to both its decor and menu, serving up small plates in a modern French bistro space. The menu is composed entirely of small plates with many veggie-centric options in the mix, and range from roasted carrots to smoked trout to roasted guinea hen. Alongside them, you'll want to order from the lovely and herbaceous lineup of cocktails (go for the Fernet and and huckleberry soda), or a glass of wine off a list including Old World and Pacific Northwest options.
Housed within the old Terminal Sales Building, Shift Drinks nods to the it's office history in the name. But that's pretty much all that remains of the former office: it's been erased by a 90-seat, airy drinking stop with more than 100 Northwest and European vintages, curated by sommelier Anthony Garcia. His wife, Anne Garcia, is behind the food, which acts as a support for the wine with a straightforward Italian character. Even if you can't stop in for a leisurely sipping session, feel free to pick up any of their bottle to go.
You'd expect a restaurant by Stumptown Coffee Roasters founder to serve good coffee, but Ava Gene's also excels at vegetable-focused, Roman-inspired New American fare. The chef, Joshua McFadden, honed his green thumb during years spent working at Maine's Season Farm, and puts his experience to use in elemental dishes that are packed with flavor, from carrot and beef slaw to roasted cauliflower with chili and anchovies. That's not to say meat doesn't sing here: duck leg is sweetened with pomegranate, and buttery porterhouse steak is served with mussels. The menu is "aggressively seasonal," so while you can't count of it being the same during every visit, you can be sure it will be fresh, with a different farm or producer highlighted on that day's list. Family-style meals, which the chef will craft based on the harvest, are worth splurging for.
Han Oak is a prix-fixe Korean restaurant that fits right into Portland's experimental food scene. Inside the unmarked restaurant, a friendly and unpretentious staff serves fresh takes on traditional Korean food including dumplings, various types of kimchee, and salt baked pork belly. The space feels very cozy and mellow, and the welcoming ambience seems to complement the exciting dishes perfectly.
Quit fooling around and order the octopus with chorizo. Char-grilled and plated over fried potatoes and salsa verde, this cephalopod is as tender as it gets. Pro tip: Sit at the bar so you can marvel at the collection of jellyfish pulsing electric-white in a deep blue aquarium.
You’ll find the Palm Court bar in the lobby, it’s the classic holiday spot for a warm drink by the fire. You’ll feel like you’re on an episode of Mad Men, so order up a classic cocktail at the bar and grab a couch or a lounge chair, and be cool.
Entering The Rookery Bar, housed in the historic 1883 Ladd Carriage house right above British tavern Raven & Rose, feels like stepping into an old boys' club. It's all too easy to assume a "dandy chap" pose when you're sitting sitting fireside in an armchair, sinking further in with every sip from your Manhattan. Any of the classic cocktails poured here will get you in the mood, really, and the proprietary concoctions are given so much care, you'd mistake them for old standards (try Caroline's Fancy: reposado tequila, curacao, cardamom bitters). The kitchen nods to Irish and English inspirations, with fish & chips, shepherd's pie and London broil feeding tipplers under the vaulted ceilings. Stir in some regular live Irish folk music, a bold green billiards table, and a rare liquor selection and the entire experience is intoxicating.
Third-generation chef Jose Chesa's Northwest District restaurant Ataula is lauded for a reason: the Spanish tapas menu is augmented by his modern execution. Yes, there are welcome standards — hard-to-find jamon Iberico de bellota is sliced from aged hunks of acorn-fed pig, and cod croquetas come with a smoky piquillo sauce — but experimental dishes seal the deal. A mystifying order called xupa xup is essentially a chorizo lollipop imbued with goat cheese and membrillo, and should not be missed. The culmination of your meal, if you don't fill up on tapas (a perfectly noble choice, by the way), are servings of seafood-filled paella or rossejat for-two. And, because it wouldn't be a true Spanish dining room otherwise, white and red sangrias flow freely.
Altabira provides a highfalutin’ introduction to Oregon’s microbrewery scene high on a rooftop above Lloyd District’s Hotel Eastlund. Sixteen suds, all of them brewed in-state, are on tap, and can be taken out onto the 103-seat glass-covered patio to augment Downtown views. Elevated American dishes with a tavern bent are served in the well-lit space, with beef tartare and braised rabbit to pair with beer made with hometown pride.
Beer drinkers know how to find their way to Wayfinder Beer, housed in an 8,9000-square-foot warehouse in Central Eastside. The 110-seat space is a modern beer hall with an emphasis on local beers, and a large wood-lined deck with communal tables and gas-fire pits provides plenty of space for sloshing pints. That doesn’t mean the food is an afterthought: yes, there are expected items like smoked beer nuts and cheeseburgers, but some elevated sandwiches (duck confit bahn mi) and wood-fired grill offerings (steak frites, Jamaican jerk ribs) graduate Wayfinder above many beer pub competitors.
Victoria Bar in Alberta is a truly Portland bar untouched by tourists. The cocktail program is top-notch, and as a part of the Lightning Bar Collective, which also includes the popular Jackknife, Victoria Bar is bound to be a highly unique cocktail experience. The white-tiled bar gives the place a slick feel, and in addition to the drinks, the menu hosts an array of sandwiches, entrees and sharable plates, many of which are vegetarian-friendly.
Trifecta Tavern and Bakery is a fancy and stylish Eastside eatery where prime steaks, grilled flatbreads, and artisanal cocktails rule the menu. Fresh baked bread and fresh churned butter accompany every meal, which includes daily specials, wood-oven pizzas, and other snacks. Warm cocktails and an impressive wine list are also at your service.
There's something sexy about muscles... um, mussels, and that fact is especially apparent at La Moule. Eccentric patterned wallpaper and black leather booths set a seductive, vaguely European mood for four takes on the specialty shellfish, from a creamy iteration with saffron and thyme to a Korean-influenced broth with miso, ginger and kimchi. That's not to say you should stop there: Belgian-inspired favorites like rabbit pie are broken up by specials, like a heaping lobster BLT on buttered Texas toast with thick-cut bacon and caper-mayo skewered by a knife. An impressive Belgian beer selection is notable, but complex cocktails offer just as much reason to drink.
Renata is one of Portland’s best Italian spots, serving up great wood-fired pizza, house-made charcuterie, pasta, spit-roasted pork loin, and more. The food at this farm-to-table restaurant speaks for itself, as does drinks menu. Renata boasts an excellent cocktail program, and it also offers a few of its own variations of the negroni.
Tucked within the acclaimed Multnomah Whiskey Library, The Green Room was opened on street-level to help alleviate the massive wait times, but the library’s lower-level sister is a destination in itself. In a green room (see what they did there), guests can stand at the emerald-tile-backed bar (unlike upstairs) or sit in any of the 30 seats lit by green bankers lamps for a low-proof cocktail (think: Campari, sherry, vermouth) and light snacks from the kitchen upstairs. The Green Fairy (absinthe, lime, mint, sugar, sparkling water over shaved ice) makes a thematic choice. Imbibers too impatient to wait for Multnomah Whiskey Library can be green here, just without the envy part.
Even though it opened in 2015, there's an age-old feel to the 150-seat Bit House Saloon, named for how much a beer cost before the US outlawed foreign coins in the 1800s. You'll walk up to a bar on floors made from old bourbon barrels to order a whiskey-focused list of specials. But don't expect service as rusty as the brass accents in the space, this saloon has beed lauded for its mixology since landing on the scene. Stay traditional with an Old Fashioned or Manhattan, or dip into the punch-packing proprietary drink list, featuring sips like the Astro City Cracker Jack (popcorn-washed Applejack, smoked maple syrup, Verjus, soda). The food menu is fit to soak up the drinks, with fried pork rillette or smoked chicken wings playing opener to fried bologna sandwiches or a smoked pork plate.