Food & Drink

Portland's Cocktail Bucket List: The 50 Drinks to Try Before You Die

Published On 03/16/2016 Published On 03/16/2016
Clyde Commons' Barrel Aged Negroni
Clyde Commons' Barrel Aged Negroni | Andy Kryza/Thrillist
Alex Frane/Thrillist

Fino Countdown

Rum Club

Address and Info

Buckman

Rum Club is famous for, unsurprisingly, its daiquiris, as well as its cocktail-lounge-in-a-neighborhood-dive atmosphere. But the best drink is the Fino Countdown, an enticing and complicated mix of rums, sherry, syrups, and spices. There’s good reason that it has stuck around on the menu so for long, and it’s not just the Europe reference. Might as well grab one of those daiquiris while you’re here, too.

Zombie Punch

Hale Pele

Address and Info

East Broadway

With so many fun, inventive, and kitschy cocktails at Blair Reynolds' amazing tiki joint, Hale Pele, it’s hard to pick just one. The Mai Tais are the best you’ll find in town, and you can’t go wrong with the Hurricane, either. But the Zombie Punch, a deceptively potent mixture of rums and juices, wins out. There’s a good reason it’s called a zombie and limited to two per customer. Sip on one and listen to the sounds of the volcano on the wall erupting.  

Flickr/Ami @ Entouriste

Bye & Bye

The Bye & Bye

Address and Info

Alberta Arts District

The Bye & Bye has a great cocktail program alongside its surprisingly good vegan menu. But who wants to pay $11 for a 3oz drink with your jerk tofu bowl? The eponymous drink is made with peach vodka and peach bourbon with lemon, cranberry juice, and soda, and you get 32oz of it for only $8. It’s not the fanciest drink on the menu, but it’s the best bang for your buck.

Face Plant

The Knock Back

Address and Info

Alberta Arts District

At this Alberta Arts watering hole, it’s simple: a shot of Fernet-Branca and a full pint of Kinda Dry cider from Portland Cider Co. The two pair exceptionally well; drink them side by side, or drop the Fernet into the cider. A couple of those are guaranteed to "get you started," promises the drink’s namesake.

Courtesy of La Moule

Boot Strap Buck

La Moule

Address and Info

Clinton/Division

The future of Kask might be up in the air, but La Moule owner Tommy Klus has brought a few of the cocktails over to his new spot for mussels and Belgian beer. The Boot Strap Buck is a wonderful variation on a Dark 'N' Stormy, with Cruzan Black Strap Rum, lime, ginger beer, demerara, and a dusting of freshly grated nutmeg.

Happy Hour Vieux Carré

Imperial

Address and Info

Downtown

The Vieux Carré is already a fantastic drink, and Imperial, the new(ish) spot from the famous Vito Paley, makes them predictably well. They’re made in batch, on tap, and only $5 during happy hour. A couple of these and you’ll think you’re in the French Quarter listening to a local jazz group. Don’t miss the $6 happy hour burger while you’re there.

Pepe Le Moko

Amaretto Sour

Pépé Le Moko

Address and Info

Downtown

Yes, an Amaretto Sour, and one that’s actually good. Jeffrey Morgenthaler opened his posh, underground lounge Pépé le Moko with a menu full of reviled drinks, and put a spin on each to make them not only palatable, but downright delicious. His Amaretto Sour is bolstered by overproof bourbon, fresh lemon juice, and an egg white. Also try the Grasshopper while you’re here.

Well Respected Man

Bang Bang

Address and Info

Beaumont-Wilshire

From the owners of Aalto Lounge comes Bang Bang, a place for Thai curry bowls, snacks, and a cocktail menu with the same high quality as Aalto. The Well Respected Man is like a nutty Manhattan -- a lovely mix of rye, Punt e Mes, and Nocino. Try it with the wings; they’re some of the best Asian-style chicken wings in the city, and they’re gluten-free.

Alex Frane/Thrillist

Real Good Gin & Tonic

The Liquor Store

Address and Info

Sunnyside

Not all gin and tonics are created equally; the one at The Liquor Store, a bar whose name has led to many confused conversations, is evidence of this. Tonic syrup and soda are used instead of generic tonic water, and the drink is garnished with juniper berries and hibiscus flowers, which slowly infuse the drink as it sits in between sips.

Barrel Aged Negroni

Clyde Common

Address and Info

Downtown

Another Morgenthaler drink, this is the one that ushered in the habit of bartenders aging their cocktails. It’s gimmicky, sure, and makes it easier for the bartenders to make big batches that can then be stirred and poured, but it’s worth it. The age mellows and blends the drink for a perfect Negroni.

Flickr/Curtis Cronn

Bloody Mary Bar

Holman's

Address and Info

Kerns

Think your Bloody's are better than anyone else’s? Prove it at the Bloody Mary bar at Holman’s, a classic Portland dive, every weekend. It provides the ice and vodka (obviously, you’re not pouring that yourself), and you get to assemble your own mix from the massive selection of tomato juices and spices. It’s an obvious way for the busy brunch bartenders to do less work, but it’s no less fun for it.

Broder

Aquavit Bloody Mary

broder & broder nord

Address and Info

Clinton/Division & N Interstate

Speaking of Bloody Marys, yours are not better than the aquavit-based Bloody Mary at the Scandinavian brunch spots broder and broder nord (the latter also serves dinner). Let’s face it, vodka is boring, and aquavit is delicious, lending itself to a savory/spicy Bloody Mary exceptionally well.

Super Premium Vodka Flight

Kachka

Address and Info

Eastside Industrial

OK, so not all vodka is boring. Kachka, the place with the best dumplings ever, has a staggering collection of vodkas, and features a number of flights meant for sipping or shooting. If you’re ordering a flight, you might as well go all-in and get the Super Premium and see how quickly you can knock back $30 worth of vodka. Nasdrovia!  

Multnomah Whiskey Library

Old Fashioned

Multnomah Whisk{e}y Library

Address and Info

Downtown

The Whisk{e}y Library is the best place in Portland for whiskey fanatics, with a massive, er... library of whiskey. You can order any whiskey you want as an Old Fashioned (and haven’t you always wanted to order a $300 Old Fashioned to “impress” someone?), but the one on the cocktail menu is perfect as is. If you’re not sitting at the bar, a whiskey librarian will roll a bar cart over to your table or seat to make it.

Spanish coffee

Huber's

Address and Info

Downtown

Spanish coffees are, shockingly, not actually Spanish, but originate here in Portland! Huber’s, one of the city’s oldest and most cherished restaurants, was the birthplace of the drink, and still puts on the best show when you order one. We love our booze with a side of pyrotechnics.

Courtesy of Michael Cary

Cocina Especial Margarita

Nuestra Cocina

Address and Info

Clinton/Division

Who says Portland doesn’t have good Mexican food? Lots of people, but they’re wrong. Prove them so by taking them to Nuestra Cocina. Even if they’re stubborn enough to not like the food, they’ll have to admit that the Cocina Especial Margarita, a spicy and zesty take on the drink featuring chile árbol-infused tequila and muddled fruit, is fantastic.

Laurelhurst Market

Smoke Signals

Laurelhurst Market

Address and Info

Laurelhurst

Smoke Signals has been on the menu for many years now, having established itself, and the steakhouse’s cocktail menu, as truly innovative. The most notable aspect is the ice: melted with hot smoke, then refrozen to maintain that smokiness, it’s then combined with rye and pecan for a delicious, singular cocktail.

Fireball and PBR

Devils Point

Address and Info

Foster-Powell

You can get Fireball and PBR at any dive bar in PDX, but at Devils Point -- the original rock 'n' roll strip club -- it’s always on sale. Any thought of how terrible Fireball might be will dissipate the moment one of the incredible dancers takes the stage. It wouldn’t be an essential Portland list without a strip club!

Courtesy of Alan Weiner

Charred Orange Wood Alaska #1

Trifecta Tavern

Address and Info

Eastside Industrial

A lot of bartenders are turning to kitchen techniques to craft inventive drinks, but bartender Colin Carroll at Trifecta may have found the most creative, and labor-intensive, way to make batched cocktails yet. The Alaska #1, with gin, Yellow Chartreuse, and sherry, is infused via sous vide with orange wood charred in the kitchen’s ovens. Luckily, it’s not just ridiculous, making a complex, smooth, botanical libation.  

Kingpin

Bit House Saloon

Address and Info

Eastside Industrial

Bit House Saloon was Portland’s most popular new bar of 2015, with its hip-yet-welcoming, cozy atmosphere, enthusiastic staff, and great drinks. The Kingpin was added early on and has remained on the menu, recently joined by the Killgrave to continue owner Jesse Card’s tradition of nerdy names. The drink is nuanced and rich, but balanced: smoked fig-infused bourbon, Hennessy, Nocino, sherry, and walnut bitters.

Raven & Rose

Mint julep

Raven & Rose/The Rookery

Address and Info

Downtown

The bartenders at Raven & Rose and The Rookery (the upstairs bar) excel at making the classics, and the best example of this is their take on a mint julep. It’s not available in winter. But during the summer, it’s the best mint julep in the city, due mostly to the Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve bourbon, at 120 proof, that's been personally selected by the bar staff. That, and the perfectly crushed ice and gently expressed mint, with a fine mist of absinthe for aromatics.  

Kentucky Blackbird

Swift Lounge

Address and Info

Lloyd District

Swift Lounge is famous for its Mason jar drinks, the best of which is the Kentucky Blackbird. Bourbon, mint, peach, and lemon in a Mason jar = fun. You can order it in the “sissy” size of 16oz for $6, but why do that when you can order a 32oz “fatty” for only $2 more? Just make sure you don’t have to drive.

Hazel Room

Robert Palmer

The Hazel Room

Address and Info

Hawthorne

The Hazel Room is a not-so-hidden hidden gem on SE Belmont. It was originally intended to be a cocktail bar and tea house, but now operates as one of the best brunch spots in town, with tons of tea-based boozy drinks. (It collaborated with Townshend's Tea when it started distilling its own tea-based spirits.) Grab the Robert Palmer, a boozy take on an Arnold Palmer, and a refreshing way to start your day.

Courtesy of Katie Burnett

Bottled cocktail

Interurban

Address and Info

Mississippi

Interurban is hard to pin down; more than any other place in town, it strikes a balance between bar and restaurant. Many of the cocktails here come straight from classic recipe books, like Savoy, and those drinks were often made in large batches for multiple drinkers. So grab a bottle of cocktails for the table for a classic drinking experience.

Alex Frane/Thrillist

Gin and tonic

Victory Bar

Address and Info

Clinton/Division

The Victory Bar, a hip spot in SE covered in faux-communist memorabilia, gives us another gin and tonic. This one is made with house-made tonic water, as well as house-infused hop gin. The result is a surprisingly rounded gin, with the hops adding a floral sweetness rather than the expected bitterness. Enjoy it while watching some inspiring propaganda and bizarre music videos on vintage TVs, comrade.

Bartender's choice

Angel Face

Address and Info

Kerns

It took Portland a while to do what many other cities have done, which is to have a cocktail bar without a drink menu. At Angel Face, the sister bar to Navarre, you can either ask for a specific drink, or just give the bartenders a list of adjectives you like in a cocktail. "Sweet." "Tart." "Bitter." "Alkaline." "Acerbic, yet coy." Whatever your pleasure, the bartenders can probably figure it out for you. They like a challenge.

Driftwood Room

Portland '85

Driftwood Room

Address and Info

Downtown

Everyone’s favorite hotel bar for adultery, the Driftwood Room in the Hotel Deluxe specializes in sparkling cocktails. The Portland ‘85, named for the city and year of my birth*, is made with pear brandy and pear liqueur, both from Clear Creek, and topped with champagne. It’s the perfect drink for an amorous encounter.

*this is conjecture, and almost certainly false

Draper Daiquiri

Barlow

Address and Info

Downtown

It’s a well-documented fact that cocktails served in nitrogen-chilled glasses simply taste better, and it’s not all just fanfare. All the drinks at Barlow are solid, and served in a cloud of liquid nitrogen, but you can’t beat a well-made daiquiri, which is what the Draper is.  

Aalto Lounge

The happy hour trio

Aalto Lounge

Address and Info

Sunnyside

Aalto has one of the best happy hour deals in Portland, as well as one of the most chic mid-century Scandinavian designs. The HH menu has remained constant for years, centering on three cocktails: a spicy vodka/pineapple sour, a cucumber-lavender gin highball, and a bourbon drink with lemon and pomegranate. They're great especially because they’re only $2 each. Might as well get one of each, and grab a $2 grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup while you're there. Just be sure to tip nicely.

Werewolves and Vampires

Produce Row Café

Address and Info

Eastside Industrial

Produce Row Café, though renovated from its once-seedy glory, is a Portland institution, responsible for much of the beer culture we take for granted these days. And while it didn’t invent the beer and whiskey combo (boilermakers have been around for at least a century), it was the first in Portland to specifically pair beers with spirits.

Expatriate

Sundowner

Expatriate

Address and Info

Concordia

We’re not sure whether this is named after the legendary Boulder, CO, bar that’s the stuff of dive bar legends -- probably not, considering that if you walked into that glorious shithole and ordered a mix of mezcal, dry-and-sweet vermouths, pamplemousse, and absinthe, they’d look at you funny -- but either way, this thing’s delicious, especially when paired with wonton nachos.

The Nathan Jr. 

The Nest Lounge

Address and Info

Sunnyside

Like the proverbial phoenix, The Nest burned down and rose from the ashes in a new spot, a renovated house on SE Belmont. There, you can play board games, ping pong, and pool, participate in trivia nights, and drink The Nathan Jr., a mix of New Deal Vodka, lime, soda, and Emergen-C. Get your vitamins while you drink! It’s unclear whether or not that will help diminish your hangover, but it can’t hurt.

Teardrop Lounge

Piña colada

Teardrop Cocktail Lounge

Address and Info

The Pearl

Daniel Shumaker and his staff at Teardrop were pioneers in the Portland cocktail scene, and the bar remains relevant today. Its impressive, and impressively large, cocktail menu rotates regularly, making a single drink tricky to pin down, but we went with the piña colada. As TCL reshaped the cocktail scene in PDX, so too does it reshape the piña colada. You’ll be looking forward to it all year until it reappears in summer.

Piggy Back

Hamlet

Address and Info

Downtown

When you have a bar that specializes in fancy ham and cocktails, of course you need to put the two together. Thus, a shot of prosciutto and mezcal joined forces to render the pickleback irrelevant.

Purple Alien

Space Room Lounge

Address and Info

Hawthorne

Because sometimes you need to risk diabetic shock and drink a fishbowl containing lemons, grape vodka, grape juice, and 7 Up. And when it happens, it’s best to do so in a pitch-black room with only a black-lit mural of Mount Hood to narc on you for caving in.

Smallwares

The Sake

smallwares

Address and Info

Beaumont

Jo Wares is a master of messing with Asian influences and convention. She made General Tso’s chicken into an amazing sandwich, after all. So if her joint’s going to make a variation of a Pimm’s cup with sake, well, you just trust that it’s going to be good.

Drinking Tobacco

Shift Drinks

Address and Info

Downtown

A buddy at Willamette Week turned us on to this drink, and we’re pretty into it because it sounds cool, and this is a bartender’s bar, so it feels extra cool when you sound cool. It’s a strong vermouth. Get it, and then whatever else you want on the menu that you’ll probably enjoy more, but won’t feel as insider-y for ordering.

The Alibi

Mai Tai

The Alibi

Address and Info

Overlook

Oh, whatever. It’s probably Kool-Aid and well liquor. But guess what: you’re about to sing the “Thong Song” to a room full of strangers, and that free Hawaiian buffet isn’t going to get any fresher. So maybe order two and get to work.

Mystery shot

Spare Room

Address and Info

Cully

When in a gigantic former bowling alley/dive bar where the KJ blows a sax as you sing, you behave accordingly. That means rolling the literal dice and taking the mystery shot, which comes out of a bottle shrouded in a paper bag that corresponds with its number. It might be Amaretto. It might be butterscotch schnapps. It’s most certainly liquor that’s gone south. And it’s incredible.

Pudding shot

Mad Hanna

Address and Info

Roseway

Mad Hanna is one of the few dives that's managed to keep its Old Portland feel, aided by the fact that it's filled with true locals instead of bespectacled hipsters. And yes, this shot is exactly what you think it is.

Oven and Shaker

Pepper Smash #2

Oven & Shaker

Address and Info

The Pearl

One of legendary bartender Ryan Magarian’s best concoctions sounds like a bucket of nonsense: mint, aquavit, lime, maple syrup, and yellow pepper juice collide in a glass. But it’s a damned revelation, hitting every note in between sweet and spicy with alarming ease.

Dharma Drinks

Foster Burger

Address and Info

Foster-Powell

$6. A shot of well whiskey and a tall boy. Now you can endure the clashing of loud music and kids while you hork down a double Foster.

"The boob drink"

Mazatlan

Address and Info

Downtown

So... look, we have no idea what’s in this thing. It might be horchata and vodka. But there’s definitely whipped cream. And you’ll eventually want one after a night of karaoke and gigantic Dos Equis, because it’s served -- as all milk-based cocktails of dubious origin should be -- in a mug shaped like a boob. A boob that has a hole in the nipple. It’s classy like that.

Bunk Bar at The Wonder

Sidepipe

Bunk Bar Wonder

Address and Info

King

Oh, nothing. It’s just Bunk’s famous frozen margarita with a tiny Corona in the side that drains into the slush as you drink it. You know. Just something perfect.

Squirt and Vodka

My Father's Place

Address and Info

Buckman

My Father’s Place is the quintessential Portland dive/diner, open from 6am - 2:30am every day, giving the closing crew just enough time to clean up before the openers come in. Go grab a Squirt (on tap) with vodka to work off the hangover you earned here the night before, along with some greasy diner breakfast food, available all day.

Brown Derby

Pope House Bourbon Lounge

Address and Info

NW Alphabet

The Brown Derby is an oft-overlooked bourbon drink, but an essential classic. Pope House is an oft-overlooked whiskey bar, but it’s one of the best in the city. Go grab the former at the latter. During happy hour, it’s only $5, perfect for a summer sipper on the patio, or a winter happy hour in the old manor house.

Departure Portland

Tasho Macho

Departure

Address and Info

Downtown

The Tasho Macho is the longest-surviving drink on Departure’s cocktail menu, from when the restaurant first opened under Ron Acierto (it’s his drink). It’s a spicy, Asian fusion-inspired take on a Moscow mule, and best sipped on one of the balconies, looking out on one of the best available views of Portland.

PDX Sour

The Box Social

Address and Info

N Williams Ave

The Box Social is a romantic little spot helping to gentrify the North Williams area with style. All of the drinks here are made with aplomb, but since this is a Portland list, go with the PDX Sour. It's a riff on a Brooklyn sour, with Buffalo Trace bourbon, lemon juice, egg white, maraschino liqueur, and caramelized pineapple with a red wine float.

Tijuana Speed Ball

Slow Bar

Address and Info

Eastside Industrial

Portland’s legendary Slowburger will slow you down. That’s why you need a coffee-tinged tequila cocktail as a chaser. Or two. It’s a pretty big burger.

Cumin Centipede

The Observatory

Address and Info

Montavilla

Montavilla is the new hip/not hip rapidly growing part of Portland, rubbing up against 82nd just east of Mt Tabor. The Observatory is one of many great bars in the small neighborhood. There, you can find the Cumin Centipede, a savory mix of cumin-spiced tequila, bell pepper, cucumber, and cilantro with a salted rim.