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slides: Ask a Bartender: What Should I Order?

Friday, January 23, 2015


Portland, it sometimes seems, is not so much a city as a series of bars. It can be overwhelming and this column is designed to answer questions you might have. 

The customer is always right is a mantra that we seldom hear anymore and for good reason. In a discussion between two people, the person with the most experience on the subject is usually right, and that person is usually the person that works there. 

See Slides Below: A Bar in Every Quadrant: 5 Bars to Visit this Week

That being said, there is no right way to act in a bar: Only wrong ways. A good bartender likes his or her job and a good bartender therefore likes people or at least has a sardonic sense of humor.

Come in and enjoy yourself. That is the only rule. Here are some suggestions of etiquette as well as tidbits of knowledge to help you avoid any embarrassment and confusion. Bottoms up.    

This Week’s Top Question: What should I order? 

Answer: This is a reasonable, if horribly phrased question. Especially when I’m busy, it is important that you be concise as I don’t have the time or energy to address your existential dilemmas. 

Of course, you are allowed and encouraged to solicit advice. Think about what cocktails you like and why you like them. Are they mostly made with gin? Are they sweet? Are they tart? 

A proper bartender will eventually get this information out of you in a timely manner with minimal strife. The bartender knows he is the one getting paid. But it’s best to be preemptive by asking, for example: “I enjoy tart gin drinks. What should I order?” 

The bartender will appreciate your consideration of their time and reciprocate.

This Week’s Top 3 Drink Picks

Gin Gimlet

With Inherent Vice rekindling Portlanders’ joy of noir, there is no better time to enjoy Philip Marlowe’s favorite drink, the gin gimlet. It’s a classic and pure cocktail and hard to mess up. Nowadays, people prefer fresh squeezed limes. Back in the day, bartenders made them with Rose’s lime juice. Some people prefer this method, namely people that were running around with fedoras the same time Phillip Marlowe was. 

But if Altman can make a twist on Marlowe’s LA, and if Paul Thomas Anderson can borrow from Altman, surely we can make a twist on this drink. Authenticity and quality are not always mutually exclusive, but when they are, opt for quality.  



The scotch of tequilas, Mezcal is so new on Portland’s map that my computer thinks I spelled it wrong. The reason for this is perhaps that the cheaper stuff can taste like hairspray and that is usually what is available in the States. 

Portland bars, however, are quickly picking up to the trend and expanding their selections accordingly. If you need a cocktail to approach this spirit, try an Extranjero:

Build in pint with ice: 
2 oz Mezcal,
Equal parts grapefruit juice, and ginger beer. Lime garnish. 



James Bond’s favorite martini, the vesper is strictly for those who like to taste their booze. Shake this drink if you’re a Sean Connery fan, or if you’re more of a modern man and “don’t give a damn”, do whatever you want. I personally prefer mine stirred because I love gin and don’t want to bruise it. 
In shaker: 
3 oz gin, 
1 oz vodka, 
.5 oz Lillet Blanc vermouth. 
If you have scotch on hand, you may as well spritz a little in the shell (martini glass) beforehand. 


Related Slideshow: A Bar in every Quadrant: Top 5 Bars to Visit This Week

For this week, I chose cheaper bars. Christmas has come and gone and this is the time to sit on your duckits until tax returns come. So, in February we’ll roll out the fancy bars, but this week’s theme is frugality.  

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SW Portland.

Santeria and Mary’s club. Tucked away in the alley of Ankeny off Broadway, Santeria is the last bastion of old school Portland. The service is efficient, food is excellent, and they have a decent, if limited, booze selection. The most important thing though, and what I mean by old school: Santeria is still cheap. The owners are about the two sweetest people you’ll ever meet and all the tips are split evenly amongst the kitchen and bar. It’s like some sort of utopia ideal, which works in theory, but…well definitely check it out quick. 

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NW Portland.

Paymaster Lounge.
This is one of the few places where one can still smoke and play pool simultaneously. They have a large heated patio with outdoor pool table. The pool table is crooked but that just makes for a longer game and more Paul Newmanesque photo-ops.  

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SE Portland.

Lovecraft Bar. This is the kind of bar you daydreamed about whilst sitting all the way in the back of the classroom, popping zits and trying to hide the fact that you’re blaring NIN on your headphones. This is an actual place to have a good time and not a place to be seen. If you are the type that only lets loose once every two months, Lovecraft is the place to do it. If you bring a book with you to the bar every night of the week, you might be annoyed at the high level of energy. 

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NE Portland.

Beulahland. If an indicator of a good bar is minimal staff turnover, Beulahland gets the prize. This bar may no longer be the lynchpin that keeps inner NE 28th Avenue together, but it has played a vital role in making the street a fun place to hang out. With coffee and minors on the South side bar and alcohol and photobooth on the North side, reasonably priced drinks, good food and staff, it’s a great place to begin or end your 28th Avenue crawl. 

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St. Johns.

Fixin’ To. St. johns is a wonderful place to observe small town life. If you make it down the long and formidable Lombard Street, you’ll discover there are a lot of people just like you who simply never left. They will be at one of the two heated mega patios, talking banal minutia over cheap beer.  


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