Alright, time to move on to The Show. Part 1 was about simply getting to Portland and finding shelter. Part 2 was about not dying from malnutrition while you’re there. All those pointers are fine and dandy, but they’re really just in support of the main adventure: drinking some of the best craft beer on the planet. So, without adieu, I present Portland Tips Part 3: Drinking.
Map: If you’re getting lost, here’s a handy dandy map I put together. It’s swell.
Brewpubs – Rogue – 1339 NW Flanders
Despite actually being from Ashland, Oregon, Rogue is one of the older brewpub presences in Portland. Nestled in the trendy-but-not-quite-Yaletown area of town known as The Pearl, it’s been serving up pub grub and craft beer for as long as I can remember and, frankly, the food and beer taste like it. Seriously, the beer is poorly conceived/executed, the food is bland and the service is inconsistent but consistently slow. Avoid unless you’ve never had any Rogue beers.
Brewpubs – 10 Barrel – 1411 NW Flanders
Okay, fine, 10 Barrel is owned by AB-InBev now. So is Goose Island, and so is Elysian. All three still make pretty good beer. In the case of 10 Barrel, up “pretty good” to “fairly excellent.” The irony of the largest brewery on the planet owning a brewery named for how small it is, is delicious—almost as much as the food coming out of the kitchen. Sure, this whole slick establishment couldn’t even exist if it weren’t for AB-InBev, who footed the bill for this larger-than-the-actual-brewery expansion to the Bend-based 10 Barrel, and I thank them for writing the cheque. It’ll be interesting to see how the 10 Barrel/Rogue dynamic develops over the years, as they’re literally across the street from one another.
Brewpubs – Bridgeport – 1313 NW Marshall
Speaking of old school Portland breweries, Bridgeport has been serving suds in Oregon since 1984, and from their North Pearl location since… sometime after that; getting dates for pub openings is hard. Take the same starting lineup as Rogue, but instead of putting freaking Sriracha in your beer as “innovation” perhaps play around with hopping or grain bill. The result is a much better, more consistent lineup of craft ales.
Bottle Shop – Whole Foods – 1210 NW Couch
Yes, Timmy, that’s correct. I’m putting a freaking grocery store on a list of great beer places. Portland is THAT cool. Seriously, though, the Pearl Whole Foods has a great beer selection, a giant walk-in cooler and is conveniently located to boot. How good is the selection? Let’s just say that I actually almost started crying when I first saw it.
Pro-tips: It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the selection of beers you’ve never heard of. Check those out on ratebeer.com before buying to ensure quality. As the cooler is at the back of the store, use Whole Foods’ free WiFi instead of repeatedly walking to the front to use cellular.
Bar – Bailey’s Taproom – 213 SW Broadway
If one pub could be described as the beating, beer-pumping heart of Portland, it would be Bailey’s. Nestled into the pointy corner of a building with 20’ tall windows on all sides, this tiny space combines 40 seats with 25 well curated taps. In Vancouver, any space this cool would be a coffee shop, not a bar. Of course, Bailey’s no kitchen and no table service policies would prevent it from opening in Vancouver regardless of how cool the space.
Pro tip: If Bailey’s is full, go down the side street about 30 feet to the mostly unmarked, glass door entrance to Bailey’s Upstairs. With only six curated taps, it’s not quite Bailey’s, but at least there’re seats.
Brewery – Upright – 240 N Broadway
You know that dream you sometimes have of starting a craft brewery in your basement? Nothing too fancy, just a small kit with a few barrels, an open fermenter and a hand bottler? Maybe you’d have a picnic table set out so you can pour your friends a pint from your 4-6 taps while you spin a record on a turntable you picked up at a garage sale. Well, that’s Upright, only their beer is waaaaayyy better than the infected schlock you breathe into life in your garage.
Pro-tips: Upright is cash only, so come prepared. If you’re Car2Go’ing here, parking can be hard to find since Upright is close to the stadium. However, smart car-only parking can be found in the lot across the street.
Brewery – Burnside – 701 E Burnside
It’s a cute brewery just down the street from Fire on the Mountain, and their tasting bat is priced at a very attractive $1/sample for 10 samples. However, I’ve never really been a big fan of Burnside’s beers. They’re a bit too mediocre to stand out, and that makes a hard argument for spending some of your limited brewery-visiting time here.
Brewery – Base Camp – 930 SE Oak
The bar here might be built from some of the biggest slabs of granite I’ve ever seen, and the small outdoor patio does provide a nice setting for a cosy pint or two. Still, I’d skip these guys in favour of a lot of other breweries. Having said that, if you’re biking/walking from Upright or FotM to Cascade, Base Camp is basically the perfect half way pit stop.
Brewery – Hair of the Dog – 61 SE Yamhill
The beer is world class. The food is excellent, and the cellar list is the stuff dreams are made of. Hair of the Dog has a consistent lineup of outstanding brews, plus one or two special releases on tap at all times. If you’ve been to HotD enough that this doesn’t excite, the cellar list is long, deep, and full of amazing rare gems. HotD earns the coveted “Barley Mowat Best Brewery on the Freaking Planet” award for good reason.
Pro Tip: Order the bread, it’s almost always one of the best things on an already-great menu.
Brewery – Commons Brewery – 630 SE Belmont
This is Commons’ brand spanking new, 30′ ceiling-sporting brewery. Room is tight here, and there aren’t many tables, so you might end up standing, but that’s okay as it’s basically a bar with a bunch of great farmhouse beers on tap, plus a kitchen booth called “The Cheese Annex.”
Pro Tip: There is no AC and it can get quite brutally hot.
Bar – Loyal Legion – 706 SE 6th
LL came to Portland to serve two things: beer and sausages, and they’re almost out of sausages. Just kidding, the meat tubes are good and plentiful. Both beer and sausages are $6. That’s $6, CASH, no tips, no exceptions. Any beer from the ~100 on the tap list? $6. Any sausage on the menu? $6. It’s reassuringly simple, even if it does mean you wind up with a giant pile of singles in your pocket at the end of your visit.
Pro-tip: Like all cash-only places, they provide an ATM… for a hefty price, best to come prepared.
Brewery – Cascade Barrel House – 939 SE Belmont
Sours are just taking off in Vancouver, but Cascade is a brewery focused on making nothing but for many years. This is one of the best sour beer houses in the world, period, with a list of sours cellared 2-3 years as long as your arm. That, plus they have one or two beers being served straight from the oak barrel at all times.
Pro-tip: No AC, but not as bad as Commons. Giant patio.
Bar/Brewpub – Green Dragon Bistro – 928 SE 9th
Just across the street from Cascade is that venerable Portland institution: Green Dragon. Green Dragon is the bar side, and Buckman Botanical Brewery is the Brewpub half of business. Buckman’s beers are solidly okay, but if you get the desire to stray there are about 50 other beers on tap, plus one of the best garden patios anywhere.
Pro-tip: Green Dragon, HotD, Loyal Legion, Commons and Cascade form a tight little brewery/bar circuit that just begs for you to spend an afternoon in it. Or two.
Bottle Shop/Bar – BeerMongers – 1125 SE Division
Okay, LCLB, listen carefully to this. The BeerMongers are one of many establishments in Portland that serve as both a bottle shop AND a bar. The room is lined with coolers, out of which you can pick a bottle, take that bottle to the counter, pay, and then open and drink it. Society has not collapsed. Children are not harmed in any way. Instead of dangerous, it is simply awesome. Get it? No, didn’t think you would.
Bar – APEX – 1216 SE Division
Do you like metal? I SAID, DO YOU LIKE METAL? If you screamed YES in answer while holding out the horns with one hand and a heavy test beer in the other, then man oh man do I have a bar for you. Metal, motorbikes and craft beer come together in delicious, loud harmony at APEX, a bar so hardcore the name itself is capitalized so it can shout itself at you from the page. The inside is tiny, and cramped, with most of the space being taken up by a long bar of absolutely amazing craft beer. Luckily for you, though, outside is a giant patio featuring row upon row of picnic tables.
Pro-tip: APEX is loud. Deal with it. There are free ear-plugs available the bar if you can’t. Cash-only.
Bar/Brewery – Lompoc Hedge House – 3412 SE Division
Lompoc Brewing operates a number of tied houses in the Portland area, and Hedge House is one of them. Yet another Thing That Can’t Happen in Vancouver, the Hedge House is literally a house that’s been converted into a bar, surrounded by other, people-still-in-them, houses. The food matches the semi-rundown exterior and interior, but the beers are surprisingly decent given their surroundings. Not a bad pre-Pok Pok rest stop.
Brewery – HopWorks – 2944 SE Powell
As much as I hope the Highly Hopped Beer Trend will never end, at least I didn’t go out and start a brewery with the word “Hop” right in the title. Luckily for HopWorks, the trend doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon, and luckily for us that means we can continue to enjoy their excellent lineup of beers. They’re far enough out in SE Portland that getting there is a bit of a trip, but believe me they’re worth the effort.
Pro-tip: Happy Hour Pretzels. Do it.
Bar/Bottle Shop – Belmont Station – 4500 SE Stark
Let’s get one thing out of the way right off the bat: the food is terrible. Whatever you do, do NOT order the food. Drink extra beer if you have to. Okay, now that that’s done, the bottle shop isn’t terribly cheap either. Okay okay, so what’s good? Selection and rarity. The bottle shop is subject to the whims of the public like any other, but even so rare and/or excellent beers seem to dot their shelves with some degree of regularity. However, the thing that keeps me coming back is the taplist. Obscenely rare beers are tapped with shocking frequency. Just keep an eye on their Twitter account.
Pro-tip: Seriously. Don’t. Eat. The. Food.
Last time I gave you all sorts of tips on how to get to Portland, and get around the place once there. What next? You should eat. I’m quite fond of food, myself. I eat it most every day. You’re likely the same, and Portland has lots of food to cram in your nutrient intake orifice of choice. So gander below, at places I’ve been that apply heat to deceased flora and fauna, then put it on a dish for you.
Note: I might have missed your favourite place, but that’s just because I haven’t eaten there yet. Leave me a tip in the comments and I’ll visit said place, then pan it in a future review.
Map: If you’re getting lost, here’s a handy dandy map I put together. It’s swell.
Restaurants – Food carts – Around
Food cart pods are ubiquitous downtown and offer cheap eats in a variety of cuisines and qualities. Generally the food is pretty good, though, and definitely has a leg up vs Vancouver and our tiny-but-growing fleet of mobile carts. Check online frequently for the hot, new, shit.
Outside of downtown, the carts form mini pods on vacant lots, circled like covered wagons in the old west. Strings of fairy lights and lanterns provide illumination, bands often play, and usually one or two of the carts is selling beer and/or wine. It’s basically heaven, or a BC LCLB Inspector’s worst nightmare (amazing how those two things are usually the same). Again, these pods change and shift frequently, so keep an ear to the e-ground. Definitely take the time to track them down, though, as this is the quintessential Portland experience.
Restaurants (Brunch) – Kenny and Zukes – 1038 SW Stark
Do you want pastrami? No, I mean, do you REALLY WANT pastrami? If you screamed Yes at the top of your lungs, go to Kenny and Zukes where something huge awaits you: the line to get in. At the end of that line, though, is a pastrami sandwich the size of your head. It’s pretty tasty, too, as is the kosher pickle you get with it.
Restaurants (Brunch) – Mothers – 212 SW Stark
In a season 2 episode of Portlandia, a group of locals wait in line for brunch so long that they develop their own rituals, customs and society. I would bet that the inspiration for this episode is the outside of Mother’s Bistro on Saturday morning. The food is fantastic but, is it worth the wait? You have to try it once (hint: I have not been back). They do accept reservations, but with quite a few hoops to jump through before one is granted.
Restaurants (Wings) – Fire on the Mountain – 708 E Burnside
FotM is a somewhat legendary Portland institution, and that reputation is well deserved. The secret is truly in the sauce here, as the wings themselves, while pretty good, are not best-in-class. The hot wings I had on my first visit were neither the hottest wings, nor the best wings-in-general I’ve ever had, but they definitely were the best hot wings I’ve chowed down on, specifically. Lots of heat and flavour options, coupled with a rather decent lineup of custom-brewed craft beer, makes a happy Chuck.
Restaurants (Dinner) – Pok Pok – 3226 SE Division
Okay, let’s get this out of the way: the wait times are absurd. Downright shocking. On my most recent visit I was quoted 2.5 hours, and they don’t take reservations, to boot. However, unlike the pool of suckers slowly growing outside Pok Pok’s SE Division address, I simply marched across the street to the associated Whiskey Soda Lounge and instantly scored a patio seat.
WSL will let you know when your time comes at Pok Pok and, in the meantime, you can enjoy a variety of cocktails, beers, wines and even most of the appetizer menu from Pok Pok. Do yourself a favour and start dinner early.
Is it worth the wait? Unlike Mother’s, I go back every single time I go to Portland. I was also dropped on my head a lot as a child, so it remains unclear what weight this endorsement holds.
Restaurants (Dinner) – Luc Lac – 835 SW 2n
Luc Lac is NOT amazing food. It’s simply pretty decent Viet grub, even though the Pho is quite bland. What Luc Lac IS, though, is a fun twist on what you expect a restaurant to be, and one of those “so cheap you leave smiling” Portland experiences that are harder and harder to find. They keep prices down by keeping the seats full: order when you walk in, get a table given to you as your food becomes ready, and walk out the second you’re done, because you’ve already paid.
Go for Happy Hour between 4 and 7pm, and you’ll find a menu of pretty decent $2 and $3 food items. You can leave stuffed to the gills with perfectly okay Viet food for sub $10 and, remember: no tax.
Restaurants (Dinner) – Little Bird – 215 SW 6th
For something a bit higher end and definitely more French-ish, Little Bird is a must-try. Reservations fill up early, so plan your visit a few weeks out. Prices are a bit higher than perhaps we’re used to in Vancouver, with entrées generally being in the mid-to-high 20s USD (32-40ish CDN), but sometimes you just can’t wait until you’re back in Lotustown for your next fix of Foie Gras or Duck Confit.
Restaurants (Dinner) – Deschutes Brew Pub – 210 NW 11th Ave
I’ll keep the rest of the breweries, brewpubs and bars in a different post, but Deschutes goes here. Why? It’s not a bar. It’s a family friendly restaurant in a big-budget room. It is definitely not a bar (although the bar half feels bar-ish, it’s not enough to get over the vibrating reservation discs and queue of strollers out front). Couple that with overtly cheery, prompt service-with-smile and a room crammed full of over 200 patrons and I have to hate it, right? Wrong. I **want** to hate this place. I really do. It’s Disney’s version of a BrewPub. However, the food is very good, the beers are excellent, and the price is downright cheap. Oh, how easily I sell out my standards.
Okay, that’s enough for this post. Next time: Bars and Bottle Shops. I might even do Breweries then, as well, but I think those guys might just get their own post.
Portland. Land of myth and barley. A brewing utopia so foundational to the Craft Beer Renaissance that its breweries and brewpubs are known even to those who have never been: Rogue, Deschutes, Cascade, Upright, Breakside and many, many others.
I try to make it down at least once a year, if not more, and strongly suggest that anyone seriously interested in craft beer do the same. If someone decides that brewing beer with cat fur is the next hot thing, that decision will be made in Portland.
So, let’s breakdown my most recent, most epic trip to date, item by item, with tips, tricks, and recommendations. Below you’ll see some product recommendations from me for non-brewery services. I have received absolutely zero promotional consideration for anything written here; I’m just sharing services that I’ve used with great success in PDX. For a change of pace, let’s start off by talking about everything BUT the beer, and focusing on things I actually like.
I’ve written about this before, but of the four main options for Vancouver to Portland conveyance, the train wins my vote most every time. Read the link for more details and options. About the only update is that all modes of transport are slightly more expensive now, and the train now has free WiFi, allowing you to work remotely on your way down instead of burning a vacation day.
Hotels in Portland are freaking pricy. AirBnB offers a bit of relief, but there are less options; plus, your booking might just up and cancel on you three weeks before your trip, as happened to me once.
When in PDX, I generally stay at the Hotel Vintage, downtown. It’s a nice enough hotel, and they have a complimentary wine hour every day from 5-6pm. However, given the quality of the wine I’d say they’re only taking a modest loss at the price of $0.00 per glass. Beyond that, there’s nothing too special about this place vs other similarly priced spots.
Avoid the Ace, which is overpriced and a fairly loud party hotel (unless that’s your thing), and avoid the Benson unless uniformed bellhops holding out their hands for tips is your thing.
Generally, I like to stay downtown around Broadway/Burnside as it’s central to most of my destinations, and makes Bailey’s Taproom my local. Most of the great breweries are east of the river, so if visiting those will be your focus, definitely consider AirBnB and a bike rental on the right bank.
Pro-tip: When browsing hotel and travel sites, by the way, do so in Incognito/Private mode on your browser. To create a sense of urgency, the sites will show a widget with something like “Only 2 seats left!” and, if you keep coming back to gawk at the same seats, that number will go down and the price will go up. Clear your cookies, or look at the site via Incognito, and the price/counter will often reset.
Most cellular providers offer a cheap-ish daily plan for the US, but nothing beats the deals you can get by unlocking your phone and buying a SIM just for travel. If you travel a lot, pick up an off-contract plan from one of the US providers. If you only dabble occasionally, check out US travel-focused providers.
Roam Mobility is your best bet for short term, travel-focused plans on unlocked phones. CDN$4 a day gets you unlimited phone, text and 400MB of daily data usage. You can even change your number to a PDX area code for free in about 15 minutes.
Car2Go is also available in Portland, and your card/smartphone app works just as it would up here. Rates are the same, just in USD, but the parking rules are slightly different. Importantly you CAN park at metered spots in PDX, and CANNOT park in residential permit spots.
Car2Go is fine for getting to the brewery, but for getting back to your hotel I recommend having someone else drive. When it comes to a vehicle you can safely nap in the back of, you have three Portland choices: transit, cabs, and Uber.
Transit isn’t so bad if you’re on one of the main street car lines, but the extended bus network will remind you that this isn’t Vancouver. Love or hate Translink, the bus frequency in Vancouver proper is pretty good. Less so in Portland. Fares are $2.50 for a 150 minute pass, or just $1 for a streetcar-only fare.
Cabs are friendly and cheap, but are not incredibly reliable outside the downtown core, even when you call them (and forget about flagging one down). I once stood outside Belmont Station for 90 minutes in February waiting for a cab that was “just around the corner” the entire time. When they do show up, though, the fare is typically about 2/3 what you’d expect from a similar Vancouver fare.
Why take a cab when you can Uber, though? Uber and Lyft are currently coming up on the end of a 120 day trial in Portland, but sentiment is that the trial will be made permanent. Stories of Uber drivers barely able to pay for gas aside, the ability to flag and track a ride from your iPhone makes my inner moral compass stop working. The ~33% discount off the already-chreap cab fares (and no-tipping policy) didn’t hurt either.
If you’re looking to sign up, get a friend to give you their referral code so you both benefit. If you don’t have any friends (and, let’s face it, you don’t) you can use mine (uberbarleymowat). I promise to promptly reinvest all transit-related savings from this into the local brewery scene.
Somehow, people in Portland can build a bike lane without all the rural folks losing their shit. Or, maybe they still do and we just don’t see it. In any event, there are bike lanes everywhere, and the city is basically prairie-flat compared to Vancouver.
Some AirBnBs come with complimentary bikes, as do some hotels (include the Vintage), but bringing your own is probably the best bet. If you’re not driving, you can always bring a bike onto the train for $5 in ready-to-ride condition, or box it up and check it as luggage for free.
That’s it for the non-eating/drinking parts. Come back next week for updates on all my favourite breweries/bars, and a couple new spots.