Although many folks tout the Northwest’s cold and wet winters as a reason we have such great beer and pub culture, I do not find myself excited to seek out a killer happy hour deal when I punch out and it is already pitch black by 4:30. Therefore, I have held back this post until the sun returned, the days got longer and the mercury routinely rose above 60. The stars have now aligned, so I wanted to unveil my happy hour guide organized by day of the week. Each day of the week will have a designated spot to get a good beer with a short write-up supporting my selection. In a nod to Sheffield’s in Chicago that always had a ‘Bad Beer of the Month’ in addition to their stellar tap list, I will also mention another establishment near the main recommendation where a cheap beer can be had if budget is the primary focus. I do not claim that these are the ‘best’ happy hours, but I did have fairly rigorous criteria that each location had to meet;
- Pricing: The most vital aspect and the reason for being of any happy hour is discounted pricing on food and/or beverages. For this list, I required good beer to be $3 or less and bad beer to be $2 or less. I also required for those to be the advertised price as opposed to a very popular method of just discounting regular prices by 50 cents or a dollar. The reasoning behind this was two-fold. First, even though I am a CPA, once I hit happy hour I am off the clock. I am not looking to test my mental math skills by doing even simple arithmetic to determine if I am getting a good deal or not. Second, an actual price is durable, reliable and memorable. Most folks can probably name a place they have been to in the past that had dollar bottles on Thursdays or quarter drafts on Mondays, but very few will recollect a place that discounted their house taps by 50 cents on Tuesdays. Discounted food and/or other drinks for non-beer drinking colleagues led to bonus points, but this is portlandbeer.org so that was the main focus.
- Hours: Specials needed to run until at least 6 PM which is when the majority of the working public can at least get an initial order in by. I don’t know about you, but if I am drinking before 5 PM I will call it happy hour at any price. Major bonus points for all day specials on certain days because that ties in very nicely to the concept of this post and allows for even late comers to join in on the fun. However, disqualification for all day specials every day of the week because that is just dumb marketing. Minor bonus points for happy hour starting when a place opens as opposed to the typical 4 PM as it is nice on the rare occasion that a beer at lunch is not unprofessional to enjoy a happy hour drink, but I reiterate that drinking before 5 PM is always cause for celebration at any price.
- Selection: A well selected tap list was a basic requirement for any establishment to even grab my attention. Priority, though, was given to those establishments with happy hour pricing on the full tap list as opposed to select taps. I hate being put in a position where I need to choose between the lone happy hour pint versus the rest of the amazing lineup of beers that I have been looking to try. For my bad beer selections, the only differentiators were having something other than Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR). I have nothing against PBR, but you can stumble into almost any bar in Portland and find PBR on the regular menu at less than two bucks, so I was looking for something a little different.
- Food: Responsible binge drinking requires eating while drinking, so a good happy hour food menu scored bonus points. Often the happy hour tippler is just looking to grab a pint after work with friends, so lack of decent food did not necessitate exclusion.
Based on my research, I have decided to not make any hard decisions and take the easy way out by breaking up this list by quadrant. Today’s edition will feature spots in North and Northeast Portland. Subsequent editions will focus on Southeast and the West side.
MONDAY – Migration Brewing & Beulahland
Migration’s daily happy hour is a good deal at $3.50 for house pints, but on Monday they lower that price to the magic $3 and run it all day long (11 AM – 12 AM which is longer than it first appears). The year round beers are all solid from Clem’s Cream Ale to an English Old Ale called Old Silenus, then they always have some interesting seasonals and usually something on nitro. In a perfect world this post would have coincided nicely with a Blazer playoff run and the return of the Timbers Army, but instead we ended the season with one of the longest losing streaks in Rip City as our Blazers limped towards a potential high lottery pick that we will surely screw up. However, the Timbers are back and Migration has happy hour during all Blazers and Timbers games, so I usually need a Terry’s Porter in hand to enjoy the game. On the food front, I would recommend the excellent pulled pork nachos. Migration Brewing – 2828 NE Glisan Street
BAD BEER OPTION: Beulahland (118 NE 28th Avenue) offers $1 Old German 16 ounce cans during their happy hour from 4-7 PM.
TUESDAY – Fifth Quadrant & Eat Oyster Bar
The 5th Quadrant happy hour story is pretty similar to Migration – $3.50 house pints from 4 PM to 6 PM which is nothing to seek out. For ‘Tightwad Tuesday’, though, the price drops all the way down to $2.50 all day from 11 AM to 12 AM. Be aware that some seasonals are sometimes excluded from this deal, but the standard line-up is quite varied and well brewed with standouts being C-Note Imperial Pale Ale and LSD (Lompoc Special Draft). For food, 5Q has the standard $5 happy hour burger, but their’s includes fries which is a pet peeve of mine when the happy hour burger only comes with chips. Fifth Quadrant - 3901 N Williams Avenue
BAD BEER OPTION: Eat Oyster Bar (3808 N. Williams Avenue, Ste 122) has a regular price of $2 for your choice of Highlife, Rainier, Olympia or Old German. Now that is a selection!
WEDNESDAY – Mississippi Studios Bar Bar & Interurban
The tap list at Bar Bar is not going to set anyone on fire with choices from Lagunitas, Deschutes and Bridgeport among others, but the location itself is worth a visit. With the attached Mississippi Studios being a great place to see an intimate performance and the back patio being eclectic and dog friendly, I would recommend heading here any Monday through Thursday when happy hour runs from 12 PM to 7 PM. $3 pints and a regular priced $5 burger, you can have a cheap night out in a unique setting. Mississippi Studios Bar Bar – 3939 N. Mississippi Avenue
BAD BEER OPTION: Interurban (4057 N Mississippi Avenue) has a short happy hour (4-6 PM), but the $2 tap selections of Staropramen pilsner or Boneyard RPM IPA more than make up for it if you can get there in time. I know neither of these beers meet the ‘Bad Beer’ moniker, but at $2 the price is right so why slum it. Food specials are also decent.
THURSDAY – Swift Lounge
Swift Lounge is an unlikely spot to make this list. They are best known for their specialty cocktails served in Mason jars (either the ‘Fatty’ at 32 ounces or the ‘Sissy’ at 16 ounces) and they only have four taps. However, those taps are in constant rotation and the choices are usually pretty good. Plus, their Jolly Hour runs from 4:00 – 8:00 PM Monday through Saturday and all day on Sunday. They get the nod for Thursday, though, because as a favorite college professor always said ‘Thursday is the start of the undergraduate weekend’ and these specials are designed for that type of crowd. Select drafts are the requisite $3, but the Sissy Masons are only $5 and they have a great selection of food ranging from $2-$5, including pulled pork/meatloaf/burger sliders, fried chicken and fries. Swift Lounge – 1932 NE Broadway Street
BAD BEER OPTION: Honestly, Swift is the best dive bar in this area and can serve both roles for this post. Old German tall boys are always $2, but during Jolly Hour they pair them with a shot Old Crow Whiskey for $4.
FRIDAY – Aviary &/or Cruz Room
You may have noticed the and/or above between these two choices. The reason for the change is both of these locations on Alberta have standout happy hours that satisfy both my good and bad beer criteria, so they get dual billing. Aviary is best known for their innovative small plates menu, but hidden behind the restaurant is a great bar area. Their happy hour runs from 5 – 7 PM Monday through Friday and their three draft selections are $3. Currently the choices are Heater Allen Pils, Boneyard RPM IPA or Breakside Cascadian Dark Ale. Food specials run the gamut from Kusshi oysters for $2 each to a $5 slaw dog with brussel sprout nachos in between. Cruz Room would be your choice if you were looking for something a little more casual, although everything in Portland is on the casual end so it’s all relative. They call themselves a ‘taco lab’ because they serve tacos like you have never seen such as The Mac (fried pickles, applewood-smoked bacon, cheddar cheese, onions, slaw and their own secret special sauce). Happy hour only runs until 6:30 PM, but it is 7 days of the week. Their tacos are $2.25 and their microbrew drafts are $3, so you can get out of there with a high quality meal for under $10. Either spot is recommended to take out-of-towners to for a ‘Portlandia’ experience. Aviary – 1733 NE Alberta Street; Cruz Room - 2338 NE Alberta Street
BAD BEER OPTION: As I mentioned above, Aviary and Cruz Room can be one-stop shopping here. Aviary has a happy hour special on Old German tall boys for $2 (with all the Old German specials, I think I missed the passing of the torch from PBR to Old German here in PDX). During Cruz Room’s happy hour, you can get Rainier drafts for $2.
SATURDAY – Tabla & Tapalaya
Tabla Mediterranean Bistro was not on my radar as a beer place until recently when they hosted Breakside Brewery’s Spring Beer Extravaganza on April 9th. That event featured 16 beers, but you will only have a choice of two during their short happy hour from 5 PM – 6 PM daily. Currently, Breakside Pilsner or Burnside IPA can be had for $3 during happy hour accompanied by half price food from the bar menu. Despite the literal interpretation of happy hour, I decided to put them on the list to class the joint up a bit and it is Saturday so you should not have to worry about getting out of the office to get there in time. Tabla Bistro – 200 NE 28th Avenue
BAD BEER OPTION: Tapalaya’s (28 NE 28th Avenue) happy hour matches Tabla’s fairly closely running from 4:30 PM – 6:00 PM seven days a week. You can finally get your PBR fix here for $2, but they also have $2 martinis, $3 hurricanes (it is a cajun/creole restaurant) and $3 drafts.
SUNDAY – Crow Bar & Vendetta
Crow Bar is definitely a hipster bar with an amazing line-up of macro cans (PBR, Highlife, Rainier, Olympia, Coors Banquet and Amstel Light, which I love falls in this category) all for $2, but they balance it out with an equally impressive rotating local taplist of 12 beers. Happy hour runs a generous 3 PM – 8 PM daily and micros are only $3. Food is definitely an afterthought here, but they make up for it with pinball, pool and a great jukebox. Plus, you can hit the food carts in the Mississippi Marketplace on your way to a night cap at Vendetta. Crow Bar – 3954 N. Mississippi Avenue
BAD BEER OPTION: Vendetta (4306 N Williams Avenue) needed to be on this list for their patio and shuffleboard alone. However, they also happen to have a special on Rainier all night long on Sundays: $1.50 pints or you can be a hero grab a couple pitchers for the group at only $6 each.