Food & Drink

The Best Cocktail Bars in Portland

Published On 07/13/2016 Published On 07/13/2016
Interurban
Courtesy of Interurban

It’s possible to get a great cocktail damn near anywhere in Portland; your friendly neighborhood bar might have a Sazerac on the menu, and every fine-dining restaurant in the city sports a dedicated cocktail program devoted to restoring the classics and inventing new drinks. But we’re focused solely on cocktail bars: the places focused on mixed drinks, first and foremost. (Sorry places like La Moule, Trifecta, Ataula -- you, sadly, won't be found here.) Here are our picks for the best cocktail bars in Portland.

Alex Frane/Thrillist

Bit House Saloon

Buckman

It didn’t take long for Bit House Saloon to become one of the most popular bars in the city. It’s no wonder: an all-star staff dedicated to hospitality, a handsomely wooded, renovated antique space, and a collaborative cocktail list that brings in each bartender’s unique approach make it one of the most fun and bustling places in the city. The goal was to make a friendly neighborhood bar with an incredible cocktail list, and judging by the constant, varied crowds, BHS has done exactly that.

Flickr/Krista

Rum Club

Buckman

Just a few blocks from Bit House, Rum Club is the other neighborhood bar that happens to serve some of the best cocktails in the city. The menu elevates rum to its highest potential and gets inventive with other spirits, too, and yet it never feels stuffy or pretentious: while you nurse your craft rum cocktail with house-made bitters and syrups, a bachelorette party is doing ski-shots of well tequila, and "The Imperial March" is blasting on the stereo. If there’s such a thing as a 'dive craft cocktail bar,' Rum Club is it.

Teardrop Lounge

Teardrop Lounge

The Pearl

Daniel Shoemaker opened Teardrop Lounge in 2007, and it was instrumental in launching the Portland Craft Cocktail Scene™. The city had never had a bar so dedicated to the classic era of cocktails, and while many more followed, TDL has retained its relevance by continuing to provide an outstanding repertoire of cocktails, both modern and classic, original and borrowed. The menu rotates seasonally, and each drink is made with meticulous care by the well-manicured but friendly bar staff. The barware is lovely, curated eclectically but intentionally, and the atmosphere is somewhere between a chic modernist bar and a night club. It’s the OG PDX cocktail bar.

Expatriate

Expatriate

Concordia

Across the street from the prix fixe icon Beast is its cocktail bar Expatriate, a transportive lounge. Step inside and you’ll feel like you’ve walked into a Prohibition-era bar in Saigon, or maybe an opium den. It’s decked out in golds and reds, with a shrine to Prince along one wall, which works surprisingly well with the rest of the decor. It would be kitschy if it weren’t so sexy. Drink prices run higher than most places in the city, in the $12-$14 range, but they’re excellent, classic, and strong. Along with Shift Drinks, the bar also boasts one of the best wine lists, with helpful descriptions such as "Good Red" and "Better Red."

Shift Drinks

Downtown

Though it caters primarily to those in the service industry, with the latest last-call a bar can have and wine to-go until close, Shift Drinks is a great spot for anyone who wants a killer drink or, like Expatriate, a nice glass of wine at a good price with a fun description ('Cheap+White+Delicious,' for $7). The space is can get noisy, but the short yet refined bar menu makes up for it.

Aalto Lounge

Sunnyside

Aalto is a Portland classic that’s somehow both underrated and wildly popular at the same time. It’s popular because of its fantastic happy-hour program, stylish mid-century decor, late-night DJs, and hipster-strewn summer patio. It’s underrated because it’s also one of the best, and one of the best-priced, cocktail bars in the city. Just peruse the old-fashioned menu, or try a Smith & Cross Negroni, and you’ll see that Aalto is more than just a stylish date spot.

Victoria

Victoria

NE Alberta

One of the more recent additions to the Lightning Bar Collective is also one of its most cocktail oriented. Each bar in the group has a good-to-great drink menu, and Jackknife was considered for a long time to be the best cocktail bar of the Collective, but it has since lost out to Victoria. It’s not just that the cocktail program is tops, or that the large, slick, white-tiled bar is a gorgeous touch. Victoria edges out Jackknife because it’s truly a Portland bar, rather than a tourist one. No offense, but we prefer getting our drinks without having to shoulder past tech bros visiting from Seattle or fashion models from the Bay Area.

Free House

Boise

Another under-the-radar cocktail bar, Free House operates on NE Fremont, away from the hustle and bustle of Downtown or Alberta or inner SE. In this rustic building, you'll find understated and delicious cocktails, alongside an elevated bar menu of sausages, sandwiches, and salads. Best of all, maybe because of its relatively anonymous status, none of the drinks creep over the $10 line, a rarity in this city and becoming even rarer.

Pépé le Moko

Pepe le Moko

Downtown

Since we’re skipping the restaurants with cocktail bars, we can at least have Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s speakeasy-styled bar. Just around the corner and down a flight of stairs from Clyde Common is Pepe le Moko. There, Jeff and his staff have taken the reviled drinks of the '80s and '90s, like Grasshoppers and Amaretto Sours, and perfected them with high quality ingredients and unexpected twists. It’s a fun alternative to the pre-Prohibition era cocktails that litter every bar menu in the city, and goes to show why Morgenthaler is among the nation’s most celebrated bartenders.

Hale Pele

Hale Pele

Lloyd District

Rum Club may have some of the best craft rum cocktails in the city, but Hale Pele has the best tiki drinks. Gone are the cloying, artificial flavors that defined the tiki movement of the past. They've been replaced by delicious, no less kitschy or boozy, concoctions. Sip the best Mai Tai you’ve had in the Northwest while the volcano on the wall erupts and a thunderstorm rumbles overhead on the speakers. Don’t miss out on the Zombies, strong enough to be limited to two per customer.

Vintage

The Vintage

Montavilla

It’s odd that The Vintage is as underrated as it is, and maybe residents of Montavilla would like it to stay that way. But this is a secret we can't keep: this bar has been putting out some of the most consistently solid vintage cocktails for some time now, quietly enjoying the "cocktail renaissance" while mostly keeping to itself. The space is pretty much exactly what you would picture, without any frills or twists: a long wooden bar, leather banquette, and backlit shelves. Cocktails are organized by spirit type (think whiskey, agave, sugar cane), and feature both classic and new drinks in equal portion.

The Rookery Bar

The Rookery at Raven & Rose

South Park Blocks

The Rookery, the upstairs cocktail bar of Raven & Rose, has some twists and house drinks (one of which won GQ's "Inventive Bartender Competition") like any good bar, but mostly it focuses on perfecting the classics. Best are "the single barrel classics," with hand selected single-barrel spirits making these the best articulations of the classics possible.

Courtesy of Interurban

Interurban

Mississippi

No spot in Portland blurs the line between restaurant and bar quite like Interurban, the double-decker cocktail bar and gastropub, with an emphasis on seasonal Northwestern/European bistro cuisine, local beers, and pre-Prohibition cocktails. It’s cozier than it is chic, with rich wood and leather chairs. You can easily stop in for a bite to eat and a beer, or a full three-course meal with wine pairings. But you could also sit at the bar or out on the patio and have some drinks; the program is often themed around cocktail books or bartenders (recently, it had a menu devoted to drinks out of The Savoy Cocktail Book), and includes bottled cocktails to share.

The Box Social

N Williams Ave

The Box Social might be the best cocktail bar for dates: it’s intimate, warm, and romantic. It’s a small space, but rarely overcrowded. The small bites are fine, but take a backseat to the excellent cocktail menu. Drinks include the usual mix of classics and originals, all made with aplomb. Box Social also has a great happy hour -- stop in early (4-6pm), or late on weeknights (11pm-close) for cocktail and food specials for an elegant but affordable date night.

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Alex Frane is a huge fan of cocktails, and is glad to live in a city where you can't go out without tripping over a craft drink. Find out where he's going next at @FraniacDrinks.

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1. 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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2. 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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3. Teardrop Lounge 1015 NW Everett St, Portland, OR 97209 (Pearl District)

Located in Portland's Pearl District, the Teardrop is a quiet and inventive cocktail lounge, creating original drinks with specialty liqueurs, syrups, digestifs, vermouths, bitters, and tinctures. The impressive drink menu, paired with a number of upped/casual appetizers, are the makings of a great night out. The atmosphere is a mix of night club and chic, so anyone will feel comfortable sipping drinks at one of Portland's first cocktail bars.

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4. Shift Drinks 1200 SW Morrison St, Portland, OR 97205 (Downtown)

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.

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5. 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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6. Aalto Lounge 3356 SE Belmont St, Portland, OR 97214

This sleek wine and cocktail bar, named after Finnish designer Alvar Aalto, is decked out in mid-century Scandinavian furnishings. It also has one of the best happy hours in Portland, with a menu that has remained constant for years. It centers around three cocktails: a cucumber-lavender gin highball, a spicy vodka-pineapple sour and a bourbon option with pomegranate and lemon. Go during happy hour for discounted libations.

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7. Victoria 4835 N Albina Ave, Portland, OR 97217 (Alberta Arts Dist)

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.

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8. Free House 1325 NE Fremont, Portland, OR 97211 (Ne Portland)

Three partners who've held it down at The Victory, Bunk Bar, and Olympic Provisions opened Free House, which is delivering cocktails that are "amazing versions of simple things", oomphed-up bar food, and rustic digs sporting a white-subway-tiled open kitchen, covered patio, and seating beneath the painted gaze of two "dueling Lincolns", who’ll both watch you get shot down by female patrons. The drinks are very affordable but high quality, and the fact that it is located off the beaten path makes for a pleasant drinking experience.

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9. 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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10. Hale Pele 2733 NE Broadway, Portland, OR 97232 (Lloyd District)

You might be a landlubber, but there's no reason you can't pretend to be a pirate and taste more than 50 different rums from all over the map, earning monikers that were previously reserved for guys with birds on their shoulders. Hale Pele in the Lloyd District rejects your average tiki cocktails and instead adopts more inventive cocktails. Don't forget to order the Zombies, which are so strong they are limited to two per person.

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11. Vintage Cocktail Lounge 7907 SE Stark St, Portland, OR 97215 (Montavilla)

Vintage in Montavilla is a great secret in Portland, but what should be more well-known is that the bar serves up consistently fantastic vintage cocktails. To keep the focus on the drinks, the space is pretty minimalistic with a long wooden bar and backlit shelves. To keep it all organized, the cocktails are sorted by type of spirit (such as whiskey, agave etc.), and new and old drinks live in harmony with each other on the cocktail menu.

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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. Interurban 4057 N Mississippi, Portland, OR 97227 (Mississippi Ave)

A partnership between the dudes behind Toro Bravo and Prost, Mississippi's Interurban straddles the line between bar and restaurant, with a great cocktail program and full dinner menu. Outside is covered during the winter, but in spring, the roof is removed, exposing the entire back patio for sunny happy-hour drinking. The place evokes a cozy feel with rich wood and leather chairs. If you come with a group, consider ordering the bottled cocktails that are perfect for sharing.

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14. The Box Social 3971 N Williams, Portland, OR 97277 (Ne Portland)

The Box Social in Portland is cozy and intimate, which makes it the perfect place to get romantic with a date. Even though the bar itself is small, it is rarely crowded. The cocktail list holds a mix of classics and originals, which are all made with aplomb. For a great deal, head to the Box Social during happy hours (they host an early and a late one) for deals on both cocktails and small bites.

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