Food & Drink

The Best Cocktails in Portland Right Now

Published On 10/14/2015 Published On 10/14/2015
Andy Kryza/Thrillist

Portland Portland has become known for a lot of things: beer, beards, and putting birds on crap are just the first that come to mind. But we’re also a killer cocktail town, so much so that, starting this weekend, bartenders from throughout the country will be hitting Stumptown for Portland Cocktail Week. What those bartenders don’t realize is that every week is Cocktail Week. And these are the best cocktails in the city right now. More Stuff You Will Like

Kachka

Laika

Kachka (address and info)   Central Eastside Not even the trademark horseradish vodka at this high-end Russian spot can take the shine away from this more subdued and savory tarragon vodka cocktail. If you’re looking for a reintroduction to vodka after years of drinking-game penalty shots of McCormick, then you can’t miss this drink. While it seems simple with only three ingredients, the tarragon vodka adds a savory depth that most cocktails this light and fresh can’t even approach.

Ornament and Crime

Expatriate (address and info)   Concordia This warm rendition of a Lost Weekend -- with bourbon instead of the traditional rum -- sounds as eclectic as the music choice on a typical night at Naomi Pomeroy and Kyle Linden Webster’s drinking/food spot. It’s basically a classic at this point, considering it has been on the menu since opening day back in 2013. Where do those lost weekend days go? Their menu does say they are open eight days a week, so it’s anybody’s guess. We tend to lose track of time when pairing some of PDX’s best drinks with wonton nachos. Continue Reading

Kari Young

Clown’s Prayer

Rum Club (address and info)   Buckman As a well-known bartender’s bar, Rum Club was always going to make this list. Well known for its signature daiquiri and beloved Pedro Martínez, the fact that one of their newer cachaça-based drinks is the thing that really stands out right now is a testament to the talent regularly found behind this bar, with cachaça, overproof rum, vermouth, and apricot liqueur combining into a cocktail unlike anything else in town.

Elotequila

Bit House Saloon (address and info)   Central Eastside Don’t let the corn milk in this cocktail throw you off: Bit House’s Elotequila is far from a snooty, mixologist gimmick. This playful sour is smooth, and perfectly balances every ingredient, even the corn. Although their menu suggests the Elotequila is perfect for our late summer, the ancho chili shrub warms your throat all the way down. Oh, and don’t ask the staff how they milk the corn -- it’s funnier in your imagination than it is IRL.

Flickr/Neil Conway

Grasshopper

Pépé Le Moko (address and info)   Downtown Forget the long line at Salt & Straw: take a stroll downtown to Pépé Le Moko for the best ice cream treat in Portland. Like every ice cream and donut shop in town, Pepe Le Moko mixes sweet with salty. But what really sets their dessert drink apart at Clyde Common-founder Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s underground oasis is the deviation from the classic recipe: the bitter notes of Fernet-Branca topped off with sea salt for balance.

Aged Negroni

Ava Gene’s (address and info)   Division Barrels are so 2010, now we’re doing amphora-aged negronis straight from an underground, six-week aging process right into your mouth. You may remember this earthy concoction from the Negroni Social (if you were lucky enough to go), but negroni master Douglas Derrick has really dialed in the most Portland of all aging processes. Head out to AG’s to try the newest innovation in weird Portland cocktail trends, just please don’t start burying your cocktails all over the place like kimchi jars. The neighborhood raccoons/sous chefs don’t need more encouragement.

Laurelhurst Market

Smoke Signals

Laurelhurst Market (address and info)   Laurelhurst Smoke Signals may be the longest-running cocktail on this list, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. While the smoked ice is seemingly the star, it’s really the pecan and rye that create the perfect complement for each other. The heat of rye tempered with the woody taste of pecan and smoke is like drinking a steak in a glass. This may be the only craft cocktail that Ron Swanson would approve of.

Passport

Aviary (address and info)   Alberta Arts District How can you pass up trying a cocktail whose listed ingredients includes the enticing “secrets?” Although the mystery may reel you in, it’s the perfect mix of more familiar flavors that will keep you coming back. The nutty fino sherry and hint of absinthe flavors transform the smoke from the scotch into something entirely new. Stop by during their generously late happy hour so you can afford repeated expeditions to the bottom of a glass to try to solve the mysteries therein.

Little Bird Bistro

Stinger

Little Bird (address and info)   Downtown One sip of this cocktail will make you wonder why there isn’t a sherry and cognac option at every bar. Stinger brings together two popular cousins of wine with the light heat of rum and cooling feel of Fernet Menta to create the perfect liquid representation of Little Bird -- sounds fancy, feels casual, and tastes of both.

Black Ataturk

Mediterranean Exploration Company (address and info)   Pearl District Like this rich cocktail’s namesake -- the revolutionary father of modern Turkey, duh! -- Mediterranean Exploration Company is blazing a new trail in Portland. The bar program is a great successor to the dearly departed Riffle, and this cocktail is a prime example of the innovation going down in the Pearl. Between the averna, cynar, and orange oil, this is not your typical tequila cocktail. In fact, the heavy herbal mix is like a metaphor for the Mediterranean, with flavors borrowed for many countries and cultures, from Italian Averna to a house blended vermouth.

John Valls

A Radish Walks into a Bar

Imperial (address and info)   Downtown With its fancy hand-carved ice and tapped cocktails (get the Vieux Carré... $5 at happy hour), Imperial’s always had one foot in the future of cocktail innovation while keeping the other grounded in the past. A Radish Walks into a Bar exemplifies this attitude, incorporating radish gastrique, salt & pepper, gin, vermouth, and lemon into a glass, and emerging with a cocktail that’s remarkably satisfying, even if it represents an instance of a bartender tricking you into eating vegetables.

Sim’s Old Fashioned

Rookery Bar (address and info)   Downtown You’d be forgiven for thinking you stepped back in time at The Rookery. The cocktails are of the old-school variety. The place itself is located in the loft of the historic Ladd Carriage House, and old Emmett Brown tends to sit drinking Sim’s Old Fashioned while screaming about clock towers and Libyans. Barman Dave Shenaut punches it up with Eagle Rare bourbon, muscovado, and bitters with a drink paying homage to, of all people, the founder of Reed College, who used to be a barman and, oddly enough, also knew Emmett Brown... back in the 1860s. Jumpin’ gigawatts!

Courtesy of Oven and Shaker

Pepper Smash #2

Oven and Shaker (address and info)   Pearl District Were it designed by anyone other than master barman Ryan Magarian, the Pepper Smash would sound like some hipster mixologist just screwing with you. But this is a cocktail by Magarian, so don’t worry. The aquavit, mint, lime, house-blended maple syrup, and yellow bell pepper extract combine to make a spicy, sweet, and incredible experience. And it pairs great with the signature pizzas. Feel free to skip peppers as a topping.

Sidepipe

Bunk Bar Wonder (address and info)   Boise-Eliot Sometimes, you need something fancy. Sometimes, you need a gigantic-ass glass of frozen margarita with a mini Corona jammed in it, which drains into the drink as you drink. And it’s wonderful. Especially considering that Bunk’s take on the lowbrow resort drink is actually one of the city’s best margs, made from fresh-squeezed juice and poured from a slushie machine. Sign up here for our daily PDX email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun Portland has to offer. Amy Wolfenberger is a confirmed cat lady who only leaves the house for the best craft cocktails Portland has to offer. Follow her to highballs and hairballs @shame-y.

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1. Kachka 720 SE Grand Ave, Portland, OR 97214

This Russian eatery is brought to you by the team behind Oven & Shaker. Lots of knickknacks litter the area while lace curtains allow just enough natural light in to not feel dark. The menu has plenty of hearty fare, and of course, vodka.

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2. Expatriate 5424 NE 30th Ave, Portland, OR 97211 (Concordia)

Arguably one of Portland's most popular cocktail bars, the bartenders at Expatriate are professionally trained mixologists who, in addition to perfecting the classics, have a knack for creating custom or experimental drinks. And in addition to these carefully-crafted concoctions, the bar also offers a menu of refined bar bites. The Prohibition-era vibe is evident from the gold and red decor that is way more sexy than kitschy.

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3. Rum Club 720 SE Sandy Blvd, Portland, OR 97206 (Buckman)

This place, as you might've guessed if you saw the name, is all about the rum. They've got nine specialty rum-centric cocktails, but if rum's not your thing there's always the nine other cocktails mixed with different liquors. The menu of pub grub features classics such as Braised Short Ribs and the Shrimp Cocktail. The casual vibe makes Rum Club a "dive cocktail bar," if such a thing exists.

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4. Bit House Saloon 727 SE Grand Ave, Portland, OR 97214 (Buckman)

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.

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5. Pépé le Moko 407 SW 10th Ave, Portland, OR 97205 (Downtown)

Star bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler helms this speakeasy. In typical fashion, the door is mostly unmarked, but you’ll know where to go once inside, as it's right down the stairs and underneath Morgenthaler’s other famous bar, Clyde Common. Within this dark haunt you’ll find the best Long Island you’ve ever had, plus creative bar bites like Hawaiian spiced peanuts.

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6. Ava Gene's 3377 SE Division St, Portland, OR 97202 (Se Portland)

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.

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7. Laurelhurst Market 3155 E Burnside St, Portland, OR 97214

Whether vegetarian or carnivore, Laurelhurst Market is bound to have a dish you'll love. The restaurant and butcher shop works with local farmers to provide patrons with the best Portland has to offer, which includes the restaurant's French fries. Laurenhurst also mixes incredible cocktails, so be sure to indulge in the variety of creative libations.

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8. Aviary 1733 NE Alberta, Portland, OR 97211 (Alberta Arts Dist)

On the off, off chance that the bird ISN'T the word, it's probably a good bet that this restaurant/bar is. Aviary's got a great selection of cocktails and beers for you to wet your beak, and the food menu's organic, locally sourced ingredients will leave you questioning why you've been choking down millet seed all your life. Ok, no more puns, we promise!

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9. Little Bird 219 SW 6th Avenue, Portland, OR 97204 (Downtown)

From the accolade-bagging dudes behind Le Pigeon, Little Bird plays to the strengths of their Eastside bistro with a simple menu of gourmet-level poultry and seafood dishes like chicken-fried trout and seared duck breast at super affordable prices. The swanky bi-level restaurant stays open until midnight, making it an ideal spot to camp out on the weekends with a large glass of vintage or valley wine or a craft cocktail.

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10. Mediterranean Exploration Company 333 NW 13th Ave, Portland, OR 97209

Think orzo, lentils, eggplant and hummus. The plates are smaller so get a few and share, which is easy to do once you start in on the cocktail list that rarely disappoints.

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11. Imperial 410 SW Broadway, Portland, OR (82nd Ave)

Imperial restaurant, located in the historic Hotel Lucia, is owned and operated by Chef extraordinaire Vitaly Paley. This spot has a modern bright interior, and all the food is dishes made with local ingredients. The menu's combination of new and traditional American cuisine can be paired with any of Imperial's fine wines, specialty cocktails or draft and bottled beers.

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12. Rookery 1331 SW Broadway, Portland, OR 97201 (Sw Portland)

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.

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13. Oven and Shaker 1134 NW Everette, Portland, OR 97214 (Pearl District)

Pizza wouldn't be worth much — let alone existent — without either an oven or seasoning shakers, and we're just thankful that four-time-James-Beard-nominated chef Cathy Whim's Oven & Shaker has both. The pies pulled from her wood-fired oven at this sleek Pearl District dining room are the real deal: creative topping combinations like salumi and honey on thin-but-still-chewy dough keep tables full. Italian street foods, from fried mozzarella to arancini balls, round out the meal. Italian whites and reds are sprinkled with local vintages, but the true stars are the cocktail options like the maple syrup- and bell pepper juice-infused anise vodka sip, Pepper Smash #2. But you don't have to be the only one drinking: let it be known that there's a special option on the menu where you can "buy the kitchen a six-pack." You should do it.

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14. Bunk Bar 1028 SE Water Ave, Portland, OR 97124 (Buckman)

Draft beers, imported cans, and house drinks like the Iceberg (a pint of beer topped with a shot of frozen Marg), pair superbly with the mouth-watering sandwich creations perfected by the guys at Bunk. Expect varied creations like the braised lamb with house chorizo or roast beef sandwich with caramelized onions.

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