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Home | Features | Portland: it's weird but we like it

Portland: it's weird but we like it

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The white stag sign has lit up Portland since 1941

World Brewing Congress host Portland has a lot to offer

With a metro area of only about two million people, Portland, Oregon is a medium-sized American city. However, Portland’s culture and reputation far outstrips its fairly modest population. Throughout the United States, and in the last decade especially, Portland has become known as a leader in fields such as urban planning, public transportation, sustainability, recycling, and the like. The city has a disproportionately young population and a thriving arts and music scene. Portland’s weirdness has become something of a cliché (a rather popular, somewhat tired bumper sticker proclaims “Keep Portland Weird”) and the city is known for odd events such as the World Naked Bike Ride and pirate-themed pub crawls. But Portland really is sort of strange. Its culture, attitudes, and values are distinct from much of the American mainstream. This city is unique.

Portland’s downtown is highly centralised and walkable. With small, easily navigable blocks, light rail, and streetcars, the central Westside area is very easy to get around. The Downtown area also contains, or is near, several well-known Portland landmarks. Powell’s Books, Voodoo Doughnut, the International Rose Test Garden and many of Portland’s well-known food carts are in or around Downtown. However, this is by no means the only worthwhile part of the city. Several Eastside districts such as Hawthorne, Alberta, and Mississippi also abound with restaurants, bars and shops.

Portland’s major industries are something of a mish-mash. Intel and Nike are the best known companies in the metro area, though several other high-tech and sportswear companies also call Portland home. Wieden + Kennedy, perhaps the most successful ad agency in the US, is based in Portland’s Pearl District, and tourism (bolstered by a seemingly endless stream of effusive, Portland-centric New York Times travel articles) remains strong. Of late, film and television has also taken off in the city. Three television shows (Leverage, Portlandia, and Grimm) film regularly in Portland, and several movies (for better or worse, the most notable may be Twilight) have been shot in the city.

And, with over forty breweries inside city limits, Portland is surely heaven to anyone interested in beer. Below, in no particular order, are the ten best beer bars that this city has to offer.

Bailey’s Taproom

2131 SW Broadway/ Baileystaproom.com

If you want a crash course in local beer, go to Bailey’s. If you want a good cross section of what brewers in the Northwest are up to, go to Bailey’s. If you just want good beer, go to Bailey’s. By constantly cycling beers through its twenty rotating taps, it showcases the best brews from the region. The staff is highly knowledgeable, and can generally wax eloquent about whatever it is that’s in your glass. The beer never seems to follow a predictable theme, and there’s almost always something there to suit someone’s taste.

Hopworks/Bike Bar

3947 N Williams/ Hopworksbeer.com

Hopworks Urban Brewing (often just called “HUB”) consistently makes some of the best organic beer in Portland.  Their brewery is in Southeast Portland, in a fairly remote location. The best place to drink their beer is at their satellite bar in North Portland, the Bike Bar. Hopworks is committed to cycling, including sponsoring bicycle teams and events, as will become clear when you step inside the Bike Bar. One of the place's more amusing gimmicks is that patrons can get on a stationary bicycle and actually generate electricity for the bar. It’s a bit cheesy, sure, but it also tells you a whole lot about the bikes ‘n beer vibe of the place.

Tugboat

711 SW Ankeny/ D2m.com

At a mere four barrels, the Tugboat is the smallest brewpub in Portland – an enthusiastic homebrewer could put these brewing facilities in their garage. Their beer is consistently good, and Tugboat also features several notable guest taps. Most notably, one of the bartenders has instituted a policy called “Cheer Mondays,” in which, every Monday, patrons are encouraged to cheer loudly whenever someone else comes into the bar, and jeer whenever anyone leaves. With its walls covered in old books, its tiny size, and ramshackle atmosphere, Tugboat is Portland’s best hole-in-the-wall for great beer.

Saraveza

1004 N Killingsworth/ Saraveza.com

While Portland obviously makes several excellent local beers, North Portland’s Saraveza is probably the best location in town for craft beers from both across the country and around the world. Saraveza stocks bottles from far-off lands such as Germany, Belgium - and even Delaware. Beer aside, Saraveza is also known for its pasties, meat-stuffed British pastries that go well with beer.

Blitz Ladd

2239 SE 11th/ Blitzbarpdx.net

Portland has no shortage of sports bars, but most of them are fairly standard issue. Blitz, though, is something else. The bar is huge, has several TVs, decent food, and a better-than-average tap list compared to most other sports bars. Blitz has another location near Powell’s books in the Pearl District, but the Southeast Location is a bit more expansive and has a better selection of beer. The screens will show anything Portland-related, such as the Trailblazers or the Timbers (the local basketball and soccer teams), but also anything else that might spark the interest of the management or the clientele.

Bridgeport

1318 NW Northrup/ Bridgeportbrew.com

Bridgeport is the oldest brewpub in Portland, occupying its Pearl District location since the mid-1980s. The brewery is situated in an old ropewalk – a building that made rope and other maritime supplies for the ships at the Port of Portland. Today, the old brickwork and massive timbers remain, but the Pearl District is no longer an industrial area. Instead, Bridgeport now sits in one of the most upscale neighbourhoods of Portland, and has become something of an elder statesmen of Portland breweries. The beer remains excellent, with special distinction going to their IPAs. The food is decent, with appetisers and entrees well above the level of a standard brewpub.

Horse Brass

4534 SE Belmont/ Horsebrass.com

The Horse Brass is Portland’s attempt at replicating an English pub. By all accounts, they’ve done pretty well. The bar’s dark, heavy timbers create something of a cozy atmosphere, and generally the bar has an active, sociable vibe to it. Beer is available in both ten ounce glasses and twenty ounce Imperial pints. The food is pretty good pub food and veers toward the fried side. Scotch eggs, bangers (British slang for sausages), and ploughman’s lunches are all on offer, much to the chagrin of anyone remotely worried about eating healthily.

Deschutes Brewery and Public House

210 NW 11th/ Deschutesbrewery.com

The Bend-based Deschutes Brewing Company (see link below) has a good track record of putting out some of Oregon’s best dark beers. Their Black Butte Porter and Obsidian Stout remain the go-to darks for most Portlanders, though they brew several other not-bad beers as well. Among brewpubs, their Portland location probably has better food than most other places, and their décor is a bit… well, there's a lot of chainsaw art. The carved wooden fixtures that loudly scream “Hey, we’re in the Northwest!” are a bit overwrought, but do they have a certain charm.

Henry’s 12 Street Tavern

10 NW 12th/ Henrystavern.com

The erroneously-named Henry’s 12th Street Tavern (It should be called the 12th Avenue Tavern) has quite the history. The building it occupies was, until 1999, the home of the Henry Weinard Brewing Co, and was previously the oldest and largest brewery in Portland. All of that changed in the late nineties when Miller bought up the Henry’s brand and closed the brewery. No beer is made at the former brewery, but Henry’s Tavern now boasts a whopping one hundred taps featuring local beer, all available in a sleek, upmarket atmosphere. And the macaroni and cheese is great.

The Green Dragon

928 SE 9th/ Rogue.com

The Green Dragon is something of a side project for the Newport-based Rogue Brewing Co.  While Rogue does have a brewery in Northwest Portland showcasing its various offerings, the Green Dragon is the better option. Far more beers are available there than at Rogue proper, and several of those on tap are from out-of-the-way breweries and tiny producers. The atmosphere is very casual and the best seat in the house (if it isn’t raining) is on the patio outside. The Green Dragon has frequent releases of new beers (usually on Wednesdays) and it’s a great place to sip weird brews with other overly-excited beer geeks. One major caveat: Don’t bother with the food. While the beer is all excellent, none of the edibles are on a par with the drinks.

 

Joe Streckert is a frequent contributor to the Portland Mercury and a tour guide for Portland Walking Tours (beer tours being one of his specialities).

 

Further reading:

Deschutes: profile of a craft pioneer

The US beer market: an update from Canadean

 

The Beer World Cup