Posted by: acooksca | 07/15/2011

Craft Cocktails in Portland’s Pearl District

Teardrop Cocktail Lounge

In its recent issue Imbibe Magazine, the award winning publication devoted to liquid culture, lists cities that have changed the way we drink…New Orleans for its spirited rediscovery of unique classic cocktails, San Francisco’s bar chefs and cutting edge farmers-market cocktails, New York’s modern speakeasy cocktail dens and spirit-specific bars and Portland, Oregon. Portland? Imbibe sees Portland as “the truest of drink meccas”, with a strong micro- brew industry, experimental distilleries, small batch coffee roasters, tea blenders such as Tazo and now, hipster craft cocktail lounges. With yet another compelling reason to hang out in lovely Portland we went to do some “research” into what they are shaking and stirring in the Pearl District.

We sit at the curvaceous modern bar of the Teardrop Cocktail Lounge studying a specialty cocktail menu of 30 offerings. It has been a hot day. I look for a drink that’s tall and cool and order Joshua’s Moon (billed as a long drink, fantastically balanced, wonderfully robust):  Novo barrel-aged cachaca, Cointreau, Lillet Blanc, lime, agave nectar, club soda. Bruce opts for Twenty-Three Skidoo (deep and savory & rich): Four Roses Single Barrel bourbon, cherry digestif, rich demerara, Angostura and orange bitters. In a touch of Mad Men style nostalgia the bartenders crack their own ice and wear suit slacks, dress shirts and vests. Our drinks arrive in glassware my parents had in their home bar in the early 1960’s.

Treardrop Lounge Cocktails

The 1950’s and 1960’s are a strong influence in Portland’s Pearl District counter culture “hipsters”. Their fashion is straight from vintage clothes sellers: plaid short sleeved shirts and mid-century hats for men, and women’s shirtwaist dresses and stole sweaters. Hipsters are looking for value beyond the blandness of corporate America. They open “indie” businesses… unique, local and creative. Some of the Pearl Districts’ small lounges specialize in reproducing pre-prohibition drinks with hand-made ingredients while others build complex odysseys like Teardrop Lounge’s Walking on the Moon: Laird’s applejack, Domaine de Canton ginger liquor, roasted oranges, balsamic vinegar, cinnamon tincture, absinthe and Peychaud’s bitters.

“Portland restaurants have been wine oriented due to the proximity of the vineyards, but we have a growing craft cocktail industry to match our craft kitchens ” Nick tells us. Nick is behind the bar at Park Kitchen, a little gem of a restaurant that opened six years ago and helps define modern Pacific Northwest cuisine. The chefs are meticulous about choosing ingredients and orchestrating ingenious dishes. The bar builds cocktails to compliment the food.

Gilt Club

Bruce orders a St. Elizabeth Sour: Beefeater gin, fresh lemon, ginger syrup and Aperol shaken and strained into a glass sprayed with an allspice dram. Fresh and bright, it is a cocktail to accent a small plate of house cured anchovies and raw paper thin slices of summer squashes flavored with Douglas fir and pine. I order Ma Peche: a sparkling cocktail of Cava, peach wine from Burgundy, bitters and a sugar cube. The perfect partner for this drink is a meltingly tender pork terrine with delicate lettuce and crispy pig’s ear salad.

The Gilt Club looks like a late evening rendezvous spot, plush with deep-colored fabrics and touches of gold ornamentation. It is intimate with just 8 seats and an early sixties movie flickering in the back bar. Gilt Club is known for well crafted classics as well as contemporary drinks. My cocktail is a perfect rendition of the classic Blood and Sand: blended scotch, cherry brandy, sweet vermouth, blood orange juice and an Italian cherry. Bruce requests the bartender’s special and Jenna makes a cocktail featuring bourbon infused with local blueberries. We try the food matching experiment here also with satisfying success. Perfect crisp radishes with olive oil and truffle salt are simple and powerful alongside the Blood and Sand. Torchon of foie gras on a shortbread with wild strawberries tastes rich and sundrenched against the blueberry bourbon.

Jenna at Gilt Club

We were pleased with our research, delighted with Portland’s accomplished contemporary cuisine and craft cocktail scene. Yet our bartenders all mention another place we need to go, Clyde Common, on the edge of the Pearl District and Downtown. Clyde Common is an American brasserie, boisterous and busy, with enticing menu options such as olive oil poached octopus with chorizo and fingerling potatoes. But this night we have already enjoyed an exceptional steak at an indie steak house called Laurelhurst Market in East Portland.

We find stools at the long battered zinc bar and watch Junior, the bartender do a rapid fire shake and stir, strain and pour. I order a Tuning Fork: Johnnie Walker scotch, dry vermouth, orange, honey syrup and orange peel. Bruce tries an Andalusian Buck: gin, Amontillado sherry, lime, demurara syrup, house made ginger beer. These drinks require perfect balance and we sip our selections happily until the customer at the next bar stool borrows our drink menu and notices there are pages missing.

The bar at Clyde Common

Junior presents another menu and there in the middle page is something we have never seen before. *House Aged Cocktails*, Aged for two months in Tuthilltown whiskey barrels: Barrel Aged El Presidente Flor de Cana gold rum, Dolin Blanc vermouth, Grand Marnier, house grenadine, lemon peel $10. The whole thing is blended, aged in barrel then served with a quick shake to chill. As with wine this cocktail is made more complex by the barrel finishing, the alcohol more subtle with deeper integrated flavors. It was simply delicious, and a perfect example of why Imbibe includes Portland in its list of cities that change the way we drink.

Teardrop Lounge:
Park Kitchen:
Clyde Common:
Laurelhurst Market:
Imbibe Magazine:



  1. My sisters just had a long weekend in Portland and loved it.

  2. Fun article. Can’t wait to go to Portland again. Thank you.

  3. HMmmmmm makes me want to try them all. I have no idea what these
    taste like . nice article…..started me thinking about things I never think of soi

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