By Andi Prewitt
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
Higgins Restaurant and Bar
It’s all too easy to get seduced by the hottest new restaurants in Portland while longtime favorites are taken for granted. Like an old, comfortable relationship, we just assume they’ll always be there when we need them. And at more than 20 years old, it doesn’t look like Higgins is going to up and abandon you when a warm corner bistro is what you’re looking for in the heart of downtown. But February might be the perfect time to renew that spark with the farm-to-table establishment, though not a brewery it has always boasted an impressively long beer list. Forgo the white tablecloth side of the house and slide into a well-worn, high-backed booth enveloped by floor-to-ceiling dark wood paneling. It’s a little cozier among the beer handles, cask engine and hurried keg traffic that crosses the bar floor every time one empties. Beyond the 12 taps are dozens of bottled varieties, including more than 40 Belgians on a recent visit. And if you need to impress that special beer geek in your life during a night out, Higgins has you covered with a $326 bottle of 2001 Chimay Grand Reserve. However, a $10 pour of Chimay Cinq Cents White Label will probably hit the spot, too.
1239 SW Broadway
Kells Brew Pub
If all you think of when you hear the word “Kells” is the Old Town location known for its slotted ceiling stuffed with dollar bills, raucous St. Patrick’s Day celebration and proximity to bro nightlife — blocks teeming with clubs for 21-year-olds looking to blackout the day they can legally drink — then you’re missing out. The original Portland site can be a hell of a good party on a Saturday night, but it’s not necessarily the most romantic venue — at least in the traditional sense. However, the Brew Pub, which opened on Northwest 21st Avenue in 2012, offers a more intimate experience with its oversized cobblestone fireplace and booths with hinged doors that provide you and your date unparalleled dining room privacy. Those secluded seats could be hard to come by since they’re kind of like a VIP section — everyone wants in and you can’t help but wonder what’s going on inside those wooden partitions. Ornate details also help set the mood: stained-glass windows stamped with a green clover, wrought iron-style chandeliers and even a handful of throw pillows in each enclosed area should you find yourself in need of a cushion mid-embrace while waiting for the check. In the case you can’t score a booth, sink into one of the supple leather sofas positioned next to the glowing hearth. There’s a view of the brewery in back as you share a sampler tray of Kells’ house-made beers. And if the fire isn’t enough to ward off that winter chill, nothing beats a hearty Irish dish like the velvety Shepherd’s pie or crispy Fish and Chips. You can also rely on the warmth of your lover, but don’t get too handsy -- St. Patrick is watching from the bar.
210 NW 21st Ave.
McMenamins Kennedy School
Admit it — as an adolescent you always dreamed of someday making out with your crush under the bleachers on campus. Well now as an adult, you can actually get past first base inside the school’s walls. McMenamins should hold a special place in any Pacific Northwest resident’s heart because of the franchise’s dedication to restoring historic properties. And of all the Portland locations, Kennedy School is the best because the story of its unique past is prominently displayed throughout the building and the array of rooms offer a unique drinking experience as you explore the sprawling property. Start your night in the now-unrecognizable cafeteria adorned with funky, mismatched pendant lights and mahogany booths. No miniature cartons of milk here. Just think how much more entertaining fifth period math would’ve been had the lunchroom come equipped with a bar. Although you may think you’ve experienced all the McMenamins beers — from Ruby to Terminator — don’t forget that each brewer has the freedom to create unique recipes that are only produced at that particular site. Do your homework and be sure to sample those offerings in The Courtyard Restaurant. After dinner, grab a pint to-go and roam the long corridors that have been transformed into a museum dedicated to mosaic art and the history of the school, which was founded in 1915. Then have fun discovering what kind of student you are. Skipping class and smoking? Head to Detention. Teacher’s pet with a penchant for opera and subdued debate? Honors Bar is the place for you. Remember: if the date goes really well, Kennedy School has overnight accommodations.
5736 NE 33rd Ave.
Occidental Brewing Company
Who says sausages aren’t sexy? Occidental’s Wursthaus may not be an obvious pick for a date since it lacks many of the amenities associated with the typical night out: dim lighting, table service and at least some seclusion from other diners. Instead, the space that opened this past summer has walls bathed in a bright shade of canary, wursts served six ways that you order at the counter and a long, narrow dining room with sturdy bench seating — but no booths. Now if you’re a couple with kiddos, this is actually the perfect place to get out of your house for a few hours when the babysitter falls through. You’re likely to find toddlers squirming away from their parents’ grasp since the place allows minors, unlike Occidental’s Tap Room across the parking lot. Urban Germany Grill, long a popular vendor at beer festivals and farmers markets, now provides a menu for both kids and adults at the Wursthaus. However, even if it’s just you and your partner, the sweeping view of the city’s most romantic span is reason enough to visit. Order some hot, melted cheese in the form of fondue and head to a table near the back wall covered in German beer signs. The gothic arches of the St. Johns Bridge suddenly come into view, with one end of the road disappearing into the rolling hills covered in pine trees across the river. A patio that runs the length of the second-story business awaits nicer weather. It could be the perfect spot to plan a wedding ceremony at Cathedral Park, which sits under the beloved bridge.
6635 N. Baltimore Ave.
Old Town Pizza & Brewing
It’s reportedly the site of a murder and the victim still haunts the space where she took her last breath. Sounds romantic, huh? Old Town embraces the scandalous past of the building it inhabits, and the possibility of running into a ghost is a draw for many customers as well. There’s that and the perfect date night pairing: pizza and beer. If anything, a haunted taproom is reason to hold onto your partner a little tighter, so take a deep breath, stay alert and walk through the low-clearance dining room toward the back of what used to be the Merchant Hotel. You’ll find a seating area partially enclosed by a brick wall. This is the former elevator shaft where the body of an enslaved woman was found. Legend has it that two missionaries tried to help her out of a life of forced prostitution in exchange for information about her captors. However, the woman named Nina was pushed to her death before the planned escape could take place. Fortunately, the scene there now is far less grim. Get comfortable on the red velvet couch (if you can) and as you wait for your pie from the kitchen, search for her name carved in the wall nearby. If the glowing crimson table lamp happens to flicker while you’re there, it’s probably just a coincidence…
226 NW Davis St.
By Jim McLaren
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Alex Kurnellas remembers the first time he and Shawn Stackpoole said “I do.”
“I think, she was hesitant. I was really gung-ho … then I got really, really scared — like ‘Oh my God, what if this doesn’t work?’”
At the same time, Shawn was thinking this was the last chance to back out.
“Yeah, I couldn’t see what was in his mind. The idea he had. The passion. Not that I doubted him, but I doubted if it was going to work or not. You know, there’s so much beer already.”
On a January afternoon, there is a light snow dusting Southeast Division Street in Portland. Despite steel-gray skies, the glass-walled Imperial Bottle Shop & Taproom is bright and comfortable. And Shawn and Alex are telling their love and beer story.
Their “I do’s” involved signing a lease for their shop space.
“There was really only one moment when we looked at each other — right before we signed the lease and thought, we could back out now. That’s the only time we ever talked about it.” But they decided, “We’re so close, let’s do it. You live once. If it doesn’t work, we’ll learn from it. If it does work, we’ll learn more from it.”
Shawn and Alex were a reluctant couple to begin with. They met through friends while living and going to school in Santa Barbara, Calif. Their friendship was built on similar interests and liking the same music. But romance took longer. After several years, despite the prodding by friends, Shawn thought, “Why ruin a good friendship?” Eventually, she relented. “We enjoy each other. He makes me laugh and that was six years ago…”
The change in relationship status included the move to Portland; the couple was a little bored by Santa Barbara. The beer lovers also thought the Rose City beer scene was more diverse. That, along with Alex’s childhood, should have been a clue about what would come next. Raised in New Jersey, he had seen both his father and grandfather open and run diners.
“I grew up in a restaurant for the most part,” Alex says. His intuition for operating the taproom impressed Shawn and most likely led her to follow him willingly into an arrangement that can be treacherous for a personal relationship. People often advise against mixing business and love. But think of this way: the business is like marriage, the store is like a child.
Shawn admits, “It’s been a challenge, as is anything in life but…”
Alex, as what often happens with couples, picks up the thought. “Because not only are you working with that person, but all of sudden you got in an argument at work and you take that home because you are with that person. So it’s your whole life. At first it was hard for us. I was working 100-hour weeks, Shawn was working 60-, 70-, 80-hour weeks, so all the time we spent together was at work. Our relationship really suffered. We had a work relationship, but not much of a loving relationship. But after a year, a year-and-a-half, we started to find time for us. I started learning to not talk about work when we went out to dinner.”
“But we’d get about 30 minutes into dinner and something would come up. We’d have to reel it back in,” Shawn adds.
Both credit their long, pre-romance relationship with laying the foundation for how well they work together. Alex says, “I could not imagine doing it without Shawn.”
Shawn sighs and says, “You’re going to make me cry.”
Success with the 4-year-old store has added something else to their lives.
“We are lucky,” Shawn says. “We’ve been accepted by the neighborhood. I enjoy hanging out with people I’ve met at the bar.”
Alex continues, “It’s been a really enriching experience for both of us. A lot of the people that are our friends, that we see on a daily basis, are people who we met here as customers — are people we would never have met because they are different ages, have different interests. But we got to meet them through the business.”
So, you’re probably asking — what about saying “I do” at the altar? Well, Alex says he’s ready. But Shawn? “I can’t commit to what I want for a wedding. Do I want to just run off? Do I want to have a big party? I can’t decide.”
*** When you go to Imperial, ask about the “Star Wars” mural inside the front door.
Imperial Bottle Shop & Taproom
3090 SE Division St., Portland
By Erica Tiffany-Brown
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
If you’ve never had the chance to attend BridgePort Brewing’s Ebenezer Pub Crawl, you might be feeling a little bitter.
The brewery may have just hosted its eighth annual event in Portland’s Multnomah Village on Dec. 1, but if you missed it I’ve got just the idea that will lift your spirits.
Perhaps you’re looking to celebrate BridgePort’s seasonal Ebenezer Ale or to simply check out all the cheerful bars this neighborhood has to offer. The good news is, it’s never too late to recreate the pub crawl on your own!
Described by the brewery as “an appropriately rich and complex winter warmer,” Ebenezer Ale is quite the old guy — he’s been around for 17 years now. So it only makes sense that the 6.4%, 40 IBU seasonal comes from the self-proclaimed “Oregon’s Oldest Craft Brewery.”
Much like how “A Christmas Carol’s” Ebenezer Scrooge is tipped off that he’ll be visited by the spirits of past, present, and yet to come, I’ve outlined a (much less stressful) evening for you to get the most merriment out of bar-hopping this holiday season.
The pub crawl is divided into five stops. Interestingly enough, Charles Dickens’ novella is also divided into five chapters, or staves. Coincidence? I think not.
Pro Tip: Although the below stops are listed in the same order as the official pub crawl, I’ve made a few suggestions that will please all the penny-pinchers out there. It isn’t called “happy hour” for no reason!
3535 SW Multnomah Blvd., 503-244-2617, johnsmarketplace.com
While you may have missed out on the special pouring of BridgePort’s 2011 Old Knucklehead Barleywine during the first stop of the pub crawl, I have a feeling this market’s massive selection of more than 1,000 different bottled beers “and a heck of a lot of cans” will help numb the pain. I’d recommend returning here to make purchases at the end of your crawl (they’re open until at least 10 p.m. every night). That way, you won’t have to drag your stash of rare and exciting bottles with you everywhere you go like some heavy chains.
0.1 mile, 3 minute walk to:
7771 SW Capitol Highway, 503-929-0229, multnomahvillage.org/listings/journeys
Since this cozy pub doesn’t open until 4 p.m., I’d recommend starting your crawl at Renner’s or O’Connor’s. But save room for happy hour at Journeys — which lasts until 7 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. The pub’s several variations of cheese bites (grilled cheese sandwiches cut into bites and served with dipping sauce) are so good, you’ll want to order more than just one kind. My favorite? The “Pickle.” Dill pickles, havarti cheese, spicy brown mustard and ranch are combined to make the perfect snack for a night of beer-drinking. If weather permits, be sure to sit by the fire pit on the ample patio.
295 feet, 1 minute walk to:
7819 SW Capitol Highway, 503-246-9097, rennersgrill.com
The oldest continuously operated business in Multnomah Village, Renner’s Grill was established in 1939 and is affectionately referred to as a “five-star dive bar.” It’s easy to see why — the bar may be unglamorous with a laid-back, no-frills vibe, but their hearty food, generous drinks and friendly service would put a smile on even the grumpiest of faces. All beers are proudly served in 20-ounce imperial pints, which feels like a steal when you order Full Sail’s Session as a $2.75 buffer beer during happy hour.
190 feet, 1 minute walk to:
7850 SW Capitol Highway, 503-244-1690, oconnorsportland.com
A lot has changed since O’Connor’s was originally located in a different area of Portland as a “service-to-men-only” establishment in 1934. Now in the Multnomah neighborhood for more 20 years, both men and women alike can saddle up to the bar and shoot the breeze. As soon as I sat down, I felt at home with the regulars. Maybe it was the beer, maybe it was some kind of premature holiday spirit. Between that and the abundance of $3 to $5 happy hour food specials, I wish I could have stayed longer. But alas, the night must go on...
410 feet, 2 minute walk to:
7827 SW 35th Ave., 503-244-7345, mvship.com
The building that houses this tavern was originally part of John’s Marketplace, and as with most stops on this crawl, has a long history. But like Ebenezer himself, it has gone through a lot of changes, especially since being purchased by new owners more than a year ago. There used to be only one beer on tap and a few in the cooler, and now there are 24 beers displayed on a digital menu (many of which are from Oregon). From the outside, it might look a little divey, but on the inside, it’s a lot of fun. End your pub crawl with some pool or Big Buck Hunter and order a half pint of one of the Oregon beers on tap (you’ll thank me later).
Once you’re all gamed-out, head back to John’s Marketplace next door for more supplies to keep the festivities going at home. As of press time, Ebenezer Ale was sold in both 22-ounce bombers and six-packs at the bottle shop. As BridgePort warns, “Make sure to stock up before the holidays. If you thought Scrooge was angry before, you should see him when he’s out of beer.”
Note: Every year, the pub crawl features a different charitable partner and encourages participants to donate. This year, the brewery partnered with LifeWorks Northwest, which promotes a healthy community by providing quality and culturally responsive mental health and addiction services across the lifespan. This is a friendly reminder to not be a Scrooge and to spread some holiday cheer this season!
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.