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Imbibing in Portland - to Bar or Not to Bar?

May 11, 2008
If that is remotely the question, then chances are you've already decided you're thirsty. You're just a little unsure about choice of quenching venue. And that's where Portland, Oregon's array of abundant imbibing options can concoct a double-shot of confusion. But just a little information and a few recommendations will have your bottom down in the perfect place to bottoms up.

Of course, as if the act of drinking alcohol weren't responsible for a bit of confusion in its own right, common classification of modern drinking venues can disorient even the sober civilian. So first of all, a little clarification of terms is in order. Not to be considered the Encyclopedia Spiritanica by any stretch, the following taxonomy is shared simply to mitigate confusion by ensuring that the reader is on the same page as the writer. The following definitions are then mere observations, albeit ones determined after a sampling of the goods.

In the context of getting your drink on, a "bar" is the most generic of terms with an overarching meaning that encompasses everything from the small slab in the corner of a restaurant where one waits for a table to the longer variety boasting the dull patina of cigarette burns, forearm grease, and tears -where one waits for a life.

A "pub" connotes neighborhood and friendliness and perhaps more beer than bourbon. The food is comfort as is the mandate of style and dress.

A "club" is where you dress up to sweat and gyrate just long enough to find a partner to take home to sweat and gyrate with some more.

A "tavern" or "saloon" is where you go the next morning to forget about the fallout from the "club" you went to the night before.

So, if you're all dressed up and the course ahead calls for clubbing, a few of the more popular Portland options include the Bettie Ford Lounge, Barracuda, and Holocene. The first, Bettie Ford, is an L.A.-esque club experience complete with celebrity sightings. Barracuda offers large-scale beats on its 15,000 square foot dance floor, or you may cozy up behind one of their curtained cabanas upstairs. And Holocene is a popular Portland destination catering to the stylish club set, featuring local musicians and DJs as well as modern decor, a nice sized dance floor, and several separate spaces including an indoor area for smokers.

The Portland tavern category is nicely characterized by Lizzie's Slammer Tavern, where the caustic sass of its namesake proprietor just makes you want to stay--which is what she did, having started out there as a waitress 26 years ago. She bought the place for herself 12 years later, and the rest is an ongoing history with her beloved clientele and staff.

At the mention of the word, "saloon", one often might think of the wild west or at the very least a venue where a person engages in watching their back more than drinking their beer. However, a friendly alternative to such definitions can be found within the inviting atmosphere of the East Bank Saloon. The restaurant side of this establishment features a warm dining room of cool brick, wooden tables, and a grand piano. East Bank also boasts a terrific outdoor deck area and a menu offering culinary delights like portobello mushroom ravioli, halibut and chips, and prime rib.

And finally, in Portland, when you're talking pub, you're likely talking McMenamins. Forming a local chain of creative spaces, these pubs are no less than legendary for their tasty homemade brew and vittles as well their makeover of places like an elementary school and a crematorium (yes, a crematorium), rebirthing them into hotels, restaurants, movie theaters, and pubs, pubs, pubs.

One particular McMenamins location offers three floors of choices. Popular touring acts play several nights a week on the Crystal Ballroom tier, which boasts a 90-year-old "floating" dance floor that literally moves in rhythm with the crowd, a sensation that is not to be missed. Beneath the Ballroom, Lola's Room is a smaller venue that offers live music and D.J. mixes. And on the bottom floor is Ringlers, where you may sidle up to the mosaic-lined bar for a casual sip of whatever strikes your fancy.

Though these tips on taps are just those of an iceberg, they should satisfy at least a thirst for Portland knowledge. Cheers!
About the Author
Come learn more about the great city of Portland, Oregon and all its communities. Lorri Ely is Co-Owner of
http://www.PortlandNeighborhood.com, a website featuring all the great neighborhoods of Portland Oregon.
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