Northwest Travel Magazine: Happy Hour on Portland’s Historic Mississippi Avenue

3 11 2012

In the latest edition of Northwest Travel Magazine you can read all about my Happy Hour “research” on Mississippi Avenue. Here’s a taste, but you’re gonna have to subscribe or pick up a copy if you want to read the entire piece 🙂

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Happy Hour: Sidecar 11

27 05 2012

If you’re not paying close attention, it’s easy to walk right past one of the best bars in North Portland. The space occupied by Sidecar 11 is no wider than the entrance to a prohibition-era speakeasy. Like their drinks, however, the space is deep, sophisticated, and well thought out.

I met Sidecar 11 owner, John Cooper, and bartender, Erin, a couple of weeks ago for drinks and a set of appetizers. Admittedly, I had been to Sidecar 11 several times before this visit. Not just because their drinks are top notch, but also because their happy hour food menu is delicious and inexpensive. What I hadn’t realized prior to this visit though, was the fact that John doesn’t have a kitchen. He has a refrigerator, a small area for dry goods, and a convection oven down at the far end of the bar. But instead of viewing this as a hindrance, John saw the unconventional setup as an open invitation to get creative. And while he did his thing at one end of the bar, Erin was doing hers at the other.

The first drink that Erin produced was the Mississippi Sidecar. This interpretation of the old standard contains brandy, orange liqueur, and lemon, served up with a sugar rim. I should mention that Erin created the drink menu at Sidecar 11. A fact that might explain why she produced each of my drinks with the care and attention to detail that a mother might lavish upon her children on the first day of school. Think I’m exaggerating? Order any of her original menu drinks and tell me I’m wrong. It was also around this time that John brought out the first appetizer, a Tapenade Plate that features basil pesto, roasted red pepper, garlic and olive tapenade, and crostini. This was delicious as expected, but the next plate John presented was outstanding.

Look at that! That right there is a combination of the Garlic Steak Skewers and the Marinated Chicken Skewers. The steak skewers are baked medium with green bell pepper and served with spicy peanut sauce & green onions. The chicken skewers are baked with red bell pepper and served with sweet chili dressing & black sesame seeds. Incredibly well cooked, flavored, and presented, John nailed it with that skewer plate.

Next up drink-wise was the 20 Fountains. Named for Portland’s famed Benson Bubblers, this concoction has Bulleit Rye, Carpano Antica, Peychaud’s Bitters, and Regan’s #6 Orange Bitters. Classy, right? Simon Benson may have been a teetotaler, but I bet he would have stolen a sip or two of this fine beverage when no one was looking.

John then decided he wanted me to love him forever. He gave me a new potential menu item he had been working on, which was more or less the Sidecar 11 version of a Chile Relleno. A roasted Anaheim chili stuffed with prosciutto, mozzarella, cheddar, provolone, bread crumbs, and caramelized onion. Roasted Anaheim chilies are somewhere in the top 5 of my favorite things on this planet. Needless to say this offering made me giddy as a school girl.

Not to be outdone, Erin whipped up two cold weather drinks that were originally created by some of John’s old bartender friends. The Nana’s Nip, which has ginger juice, lemon juice, Laird’s Apple Jack, and hot water, was sweet and flavorful. And the last drink of the evening, the Oh Fidel, You Cad!, was as delicious and gut-warming as its name is creative and giggle-worthy. Comprised of a healthy dose of rum, Falernum, lemon juice, and hot water, the Oh Fidel was the perfect capper for the evening.

Sidecar 11 was a great way to finish off the “research” I’m doing for the upcoming Happy Hour piece in NorthWest Travel Magazine. I want to thank John and Erin for being fantastic hosts. It was a real pleasure to get a thorough sampling of what was already one of my favorite bars. I win!





Happy Hour: Bar Bar

19 05 2012

Housed in what used to be a Baptist church, Mississippi Studios is one of the premier music venues in Portland. Long known for its choice acoustics and knack for booking similarly thought of music acts, Mississippi Studios has also managed to garner some renown for its drinkery, Bar Bar.

Like an alcohol slinging conjoined twin, Bar Bar sits connected at the hip next to Mississippi Studios. As you might expect, the musical influence spills over from next door. The staff at Bar Bar is a tight-knit bunch with close ties to the local music scene.

As a drinking spot, Bar Bar features a couple of its own headliners. For starters, their burgers are easily some of the tastiest in North Portland. And if that weren’t enough, you can take that burger and a stiff drink out onto one of the finest, most expansive patios this side of the Willamette. If you live in Portland, you know that outdoor seating means almost nothing for 9 months of the year, but for the other three it means almost everything. Bar Bar’s patio is epic.

Burgers and patios are great. They’ll perhaps get you through the door, but you’re not staying unless the drinks are up to snuff. A couple of weeks ago Kassidy and I made our way down to Bar Bar where we were met by Publicity Coordinator, Stephanie, and Tender of Bar, Arian. Both ladies were very easy to talk to, and I hope they don’t mind my saying, rather easy on the eyes as well. I’ll admit I don’t tire of attractive barkeeps.

While Kass and I chatted up Stephanie, Arian went about the business of assembling a series of memorable/memory erasing bevies. Among them was the Upside Down Margarita. Featuring one of the agave plant’s gifts to humanity, el Jimador Tequila Reposado, and a bounty of muddled citrus, this drink was a tall delicious glass of get you there.

Another star was the Basil Sweetness. Comprised of basil, grape, ginger ale, and 42 Below vodka, this was one of my favorite drinks of the last month. There was nothing overly cute or fancy about it, just a fine drink that’s definitely more than the sum of its parts.

And since all this “research” was for the fall edition of Northwest Travel Magazine, Arian finished us off with a Hot Toddy. Orange juice, whiskey, honey, and hot water garnished with a cinnamon stick and an orange wedge. Kassidy is by no means a whiskey gal, but she tried to bogart this particular toddy, which tells you something about it.

Many thanks to the fine staff at Bar Bar; in particular, Stephanie and Arian. If I ever tire of really good drinks and conversation, I’ll stop coming.