1. What do you look for in a bar?
I like places that know who they are and what they do well. A sense of identity is important, whether I’m at a dive or a Serious Cocktail Bar for Serious Drinkers, so I tend to appreciate all kinds of establishments. Obviously, really great cocktails are the way to my heart, but I’m happy as long as there’s at least one delicious beer on tap. I also like to be comfortable, which is as much about friendly staff as it is about a decent seating arrangement, decor, and ambiance. Good music will always get me to stay longer than I otherwise would. Oh, and turn on the heater, please. It’s cold out there.
2. Here’s the scenario: your cocktail lovin’ friend is coming to your town for ONE night. You only have time for ONE bar. Which one is it?
This is tough because I’ve been in Portland for just two months and already have too many favorites, even though I have a lot of exploring left to do. I guess it depends on who my cocktail lovin’ friend is, but if he or she shares my tastes, I’d take them to the Knock Back in the Alberta district.
3. What makes this place so special you’d bring them here?
Incredible drinks, obviously, are priority number one. Theirs are seasonal, inspired, and perfectly balanced. You can’t go wrong with rock-solid Manhattans on tap, either. Jesse and Chris, the fellas behind the cocktail program, are serious about the craft, but will also happily serve you $2 Tecate tall boys. It’s like a Raven & Rose or Clyde Common disguised as a rock ‘n roll dive — because the people behind this bar know they can do it all very well. The place is everything that is wonderful about Portland, rolled into one: friendly, laid-back, styled with a lot of character and a little edge, unpretentious yet madly obsessed with good food and drinking.
4. What do you order for your friend? What do you order for yourself?
I would try whatever is seasonal. One of their winter offerings, Sage Against the Machine, is a particularly clever and delicious mix of roasted squash rum, St. Germain, demerara, sage, and a mezcal rinse. As for my friend, it depends on their tastes of course — but the Painkiller here is fantastic, so I’d gently suggest that. Or maybe we would just start with two of whatever is in the slushie machine (I heard rumors about frozen watermelon palomas this summer) and go from there.
5. Does the bar have food? If not, where would you go for a bite?
They do, and I recently learned that all bars in Portland are required to serve food. This is a mixed blessing, of course, but now that I think about it, you can usually tell by the menu whether the bar is serious about food (most are) or is just keepin’ it legal. The Knock Back is definitely the former — on one occasion I heard a fellow patron praising the homemade pozole with some combination of the words “best,” “ever,” and “had,” so I’ll have to try it next time. Other than that, it’s pub food done really, really well — think fried Brussels sprouts, dirty popcorn, fried chicken sandwiches, salads, and burgers. And like a true PDX establishment, they also have a stellar tempeh Reuben.
Photos courtesy of Danguole Lekaviciute.
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