So let’s say you live in a city with a lot of bars, and you want to open another one. What would you do? Open another smoky dive in which 20 somethings could acclimate themselves to adult society? A fancy beer haven with the ambience of an office depot? A hipster den, replete with hummus and Bulleit bourbon (the milk and honey of the edgy crowd)? Oh, how about a third floor dance complex for out-of- town “white hats” and the slutty little things that love them? Any of these ventures would provide a steady stream of low- investment, easily- managed income to just about any sleazeball in the country who’s willing to show his sallow, sagging, dirty little face around the place once a month or so. They have two class of prey: the old and stupid, and the young and ignorant (and probably stupid) .
Why pay $4.75 American for a pint of the same beer that’s available in every convenience store and supermarket in the city? “To meet members of the opposite sex, gangster, to impress them with our sophistication and prowess”. This is not enough, especially for the married among us. I expect something special from a bar.
I want atmosphere. “Lived in” is nice, as is “bizarre”. But the seating needs to be comfortable, and preferably leave me with a similar point of view to that which I had while standing. Simply fancy is not good enough, unless it’s really fancy and has character. Like the Maria Cristina in San Sebastian. If your going to be fancy, I want to feel a little mentally uncomfortable. The fancy bars here are a bit of a joke in that, if your fleece is expensive enough, you’ll fit right in. Now I’m just wearing a flannel amongst the nouveau riche which is only mildly amusing.
But mostly what I want is a truly knowledgeable selection of drinks. By which I definitively do not mean a collection of cocktails made with major brand liquors. A bottle of Grey Goose and some Lillet Blanc doth not a cocktelier make. I don’t care if you have the hoppiest IPA from Vancouver BC to Salinas nor that you make your own “bitters”. Here’s a hint: bitters should actually be bitter, if you infuse vanilla pods into grain alcohol, that’s just a liqueur.
A competent, thoughtful selection of esoteric liqueuers from the farthest flung corners of Europe is a reason to go out. Especially when they come at a reasonable price. If you refuse to pollute or cheapen them by mixing them into clever little “creations” and referring to yourself as a “mixologist”, then we’re speaking the same language. Unfortunately, that sassy little hussy that Mr. nine to five just picked up from behind the counter at the tea shop is not in accordance with my views, hence the demise of Apotheke. Really the best bar in the city for a time. Zwack Unicum, Chartreuse (several varieties), Rip Van Winkle 15 year; they had it all. Not to mention a selection of esoteric, yet delicious draft beers not to be found elsewhere in the city. I like to think that the Pearl District location was their downfall, but I know better. That place wouldn’t have fit in anywhere in Portland.
And now it’s gone. So where to drink? Where to take the friends? Higgins has a nice selection of bottles, but it’s a little pricey for just any old night. Pix, well chosen beers, wines and liquors, they even got the Rip Van Winkle. But it is always so incredibly crowded, totally understaffed and just hipster, hipster, hipster. Enter Saraveza.
My new favorite bar is smartly located in an underserved neighborhood and right next to Portland Community College (these people are savvy) and has just the right mix of up and downscale. Best of all, its never busy when I go in. Even at night one can find a seat. The selection is thoughtful, the service is friendly and the food is good and best of all, it’s American.
Saraveza serves about eight beers on tap and countless more in bottles. the selection rotates often and usually features a couple of European brews in addition to the obligatory Northwestern IPA and pales. Resin covered bottle cap mosaics in the tabletops, dark wood and lots of really truly vintage midwestern beer paraphenalia make up the decor. The tables sit at bar height, which is what I like, but they got a handful of chairs that are ridiculously uncomfortable (hope you all see this) like they’re just broken. The food though.
The speciality of the house is the pasty. An Upper -Midwest staple, it is essentially a savory turnover. Think mom’s potroast, only wrapped in shortcrust. This they serve with a doctored up bottle of Heinz chili sauce and some house-made pickles, and some ambitious pickles at that (maybe balance the acid little more please?). They also got deviled eggs, the whites being pickled, chex mix, summer sausage with cheese and crackers (just like home) and a trio of Old Country Meats sausages with mustard. Not my favorite sausages in town, but better than most.
So what’s so special? Nothing, except it’s thoughful and that’s rare. And by thoughtful I don’t mean really ambitious or super- creative or niche- driven. I mean details are almost effortlessly orchestrated to give an overall impression of ease and abundance. No need for homemade “bitters” when you got beer and atmosphere.