Service industry professionals often work long, weird hours in dark, weird places, and the need to blow off steam after a ten-hour shift is almost universal. For some, that can mean slamming ill-advised tequila shots to a death metal Pandora playlist; for others, post-work respite may involve a Regency romance novel and herbal tea in a quiet back booth — the industry isn’t a monolith. In all cases, Portland’s food and beverage industry haunts nail the basics with minimum fuss and a bit of eclectic Portland ingenuity. Like a therapist’s therapist, these joints have to pass the professional smell test while keeping things straightforward and simple, which makes them especially prized in a city awash in flashier establishments. Below, find the bars Portland’s bartenders love, often in their own words. If none of these will do, you’ll likely spot a few industry vets at the city’s dive bars.Read More
Where Portland Bartenders Eat and Drink on Their Days Off
Portland industry bars beloved by the city’s bartenders and servers
Much like the brash-yet-charming patriarch of The Sopranos, this relatively new Interstate endeavor from the team behind Swift Lounge is a fascinating puzzle. The front door’s in the back, the back room’s in the front, and despite the low-key tavern look, the menu features a dozen Italian restaurant classics, from baked ziti to gabagool. “It’s the kind of place where everyone will talk to you,” says Allie, who came up in the Tampa club scene and currently holds down the bar at Lombard’s Mousetrap Tavern. “It’s just good vibes.”
This stylish midcentury lounge feels more like the kind of place where a late-series Don Draper would entertain clients than the cinderblock locksmith that used to occupy the space. Turkish rugs, neatly organized vinyl, and the amber glow of well-deployed Edison bulbs create a space that’s both sophisticated and living room-y. “You can really just tell walking into a place that the vibes are going to be good,” says Binks bartender Megan. “[Keys] is a good place for a date,” she notes, “I played cards there with my boyfriend by the fireplace. It’s so nice.”
Advice Booth is a swinging ‘70s rumpus room with all the necessary accessories, including a glorious life-size painting of Burt Reynolds iconic Playgirl spread. There’s even an actual wooden advice box for slipping late night queries into. This is one of the newer bars on this list, but it’s already established an army of loyal regulars and a thriving pub quiz ecosystem. This is very much a neighborhood joint, but the Rose & Thistle’s James likes to hit it up on his way home to St Johns.
An unpretentious gem that has survived Alberta’s endless waves of redevelopment and gentrification, Binks is beloved both by neighborhood regulars and service industry folks who serve Alberta and Killingsworth’s $16 cocktails. The compact space manages to cram in both indoor and outdoor fireplaces, a stately pool room, and even an analog jukebox. For Advice Booth’s Jac, it’s a home away from home: “I just feel like every time I get off work, [there’s] like an hour left before last call, we all end up at Binks. It’s super friendly.”
McPeets Portland Pub
A casual observer might rank McPeets as just another neighborhood dive, but they’d be very wrong to do so. While the place has been in continuous operation since the ‘70s, it’s gotten some significant upgrades over the years that tip it into the genuine class-act category. The art deco inlaid bar back and polished wood rail display some real elegance, while the extensive tap list and well-executed pub fare show a commitment to keeping things simple. “We liked it enough to keep going after we kept drinking,” says the Yukon’s Rachel Krom, noting the friendly atmosphere and good selection of nonalcoholic options.
Rose & Thistle Public House
Portland has a handful of British pubs, but none quite like the Rose & Thistle, affectionately referred to as the RAT by both staff and regulars. The Scotch eggs and tartan accents scream United Kingdom, but the tap list is all Portland. For Justin Jameson, an 11-year Beulahland veteran, it’s all about the simple things: the dog-friendly patio, the people-friendly staff, and the low key atmosphere. “I like easy. Nothing complicated,” Jameson says. “Cocktail menus are cool and all, but I’m a beer and a shot kinda guy.”
A 28th mainstay since before the street became a main drag for fine dining and trendy drinking, Beulahland is a rambling hodgepodge of mismatched vibes. Any given night will find drag queens, soccer fanatics, and neighborhood karaoke divas crowding around the slightly angled rail. Baby Doll’s Celia Nappi, who’s tended bar in Portland, Pennsylvania, and parts of Ohio, enjoys Beulah’s conversational atmosphere. “It’s very much like a Cheers-y type spot,” Nappi says. “Once you become a regular, it’s a nice thing after a shift to be able to talk about movies or music or whatever.”
Baby Doll Pizza
Both a longstanding neighborhood bar and quietly one of the best slices in town, Baby Doll Pizza checks a lot of boxes for a lot of service industry folks: carbs, conversation, and an in-house cheap beer (owner Old Town Brewing’s Old Baby). The space has seen some changes over the years, but for Heathen Brewing’s Fernando, it’s the people that make it special. “The Baby Doll bartenders are literally some of my favorite people,” Fernando says. “That’s not even a joke, they are some of my favorite people of all time.”
For Someday owner Graham Files, who’s been in the Portland bar scene since his days at Lutz Tavern right out of college, a good off-the-clock bar is the kind you can lose time in. “I could have coffee and lunch and a cocktail and maybe a glass of wine and then dinner,” Files says. “Just, like, the opportunity to get lost and accidentally spend a day in a spot.” For him Sapphire Hotel exemplifies this sort of candlelit timelessness, and the casual ambiance and inventive cocktail menu have made it a coveted date spot among Upper Hawthorne’s cluster of divider drinking destinations.
If the building from Only Murders in the Building was a bar, it’d be Thunderbird — minus the murders, obviously. Tasteful teal and muted cloudbursts showcase a gallery’s worth of modernist oil paintings and curated arcade amusements on the walls, and in the afternoon, the light passes just so through the trellised ivy onto the long, stately bar rail. For Stephen Pellnat, a professional cartoonist who came up bartending in New York’s East Village, Thunderbird’s right in the sweet spot between a punk basement show and a Michelin-starred spot. “It’s an excellent bar, really good food, very reasonably priced,” Pellnat says.