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Boozing in PDX: Jordan Felix on Portland’s Drinking Scene

Friday, October 03, 2014


Everyone knows that Portland takes its eating seriously. You can’t open a New York Times without seeing mention of some new gastronomical trend or culinary delight surfacing out of PDX and hitting the national headlines. 

But Portland also takes its drinking seriously, and some of the city’s booze trends and fine watering holes are helping to put it on the national map, too. 

Before coming west, I had heard about San Francisco, a well-oiled mecca of food and cocktails. Portland was explained to me like it was San Francisco’s cooler, quieter cousin. A gent by the name of Jacob Grier swung by the small Italian restaurant in which I was working part time, and before I knew it, I had a guest shift at Teardrop Lounge in the Pearl.

Teardrop Lounge blew me away. The adeptness of the bartenders, the terrifically garnished drinks and the vibrant atmosphere made as huge an impression on me as it would on any of their guests. 

Sophisticated scene

That nervous guest shift opened my eyes to Portland’s drinkers and the sophistication of their scene. Portlanders truly appreciate a good drink.  

I think this expectation comes from the fact that Portland has some of the best wineries, breweries and gradually, distilleries in the United States. 

We’re spoiled. See, I said it.  

Places like Teardrop Lounge, Clyde Common, St Jack, Upright Brewery and Sauvage not only put forth quality products, but they are also called to have a high standard from the public. This great exchange has given the city some notoriety not only nationwide, but worldwide. 

Examples of innovation

There are countless examples of innovation in Portland’s drinking world. One particular restaurant, Imperial, utilizes cocktails on draft for the bustling happy hour time. Clyde Common has its infamous barrel-aged cocktail program and also some lower-proof cocktails in small bottles for convenience and faster delivery. 

And as Portland grows, so too will the alcohol offerings and the opportunity to create more revenue and exposure for bars, restaurants, musicians and artists. 

Noticeable resistance

There does, however, seem to be some noticeable resistance. Free newspapers have been quick to judge bars and restaurants that take new approaches. 

Pepe Le Moko is one such establishment that pours a half shot of spirits, takes a waitlist and employs a host. It came under scrutiny for being both "pretentious and overpriced."

But couldn’t it also be seen as offering a different mode of service to what we have been accustomed to here in Portland?

Just because it’s not what Portlanders are used to doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea.

Obviously, criticism is great. Keeps us honest, in my books.

However, let it be constructive. Undoubtedly prices will go up on everything as Portland booms. To call out a local bar or establishment for being expensive is neither productive nor noteworthy, especially when said establishment advertises their mode of service. 

That’s the great thing about this city’s drinking culture: you can have a place like Pepe Le Moko exist alongside bars like Lowbrow, and each will find its clientele. You can pack Clyde Common and still have room for bars like Dig a Pony.

You can find a crazy, packed establishment in some innovative new space, but you’ll also find a place for a quiet drink. That’s one of the reasons why Portland’s drinking scene is so special.

And maybe it’s the reason why I call this city home. 

Jordan Felix is the Lead Bartender of the Multnomah Whisk(e)y Library. He has worked in the wine and spirits industry for the last ten years ranging from Melbourne, Australia to New York City.


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