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City Sunday: Two Bars on Belmont (and One On Hawthorne)

25 January, 2009

Okay, I lied about the three Belmont Bars. It’s just two. I’m bad at math. So I’m tossing in a Hawthorne bar just to make it up to you, my seven loyal readers.

First up: The Blue Monk

The Blue Monk is essentially my default bar. When I can’t think of where to go, I usually end up asking whomever I’m with “What about The Blue Monk?” They have an inspired cocktail menu that becomes quite affordable during happy hour (until 8pm Mon-Sat and all day Sunday), dropping to $4.50 a pop. My personal favorite is the Cilantro Tini. And it gets better: the food is exceptional. They have an $12 Antipasti Platter with the best fresh breads Grand Central has to offer alongside roasted garlic, peppers, italian meats and an ever-changing variety of cheese that nonetheless always contains a good Manchego and some Chevre. And the plate is drizzled with balsamic vinegar syrup. Yum. Also, the beer selection is outstanding, though I usually stick to Ninkasi Brewing’s Oatmeal Stout. The vibe is low-key, the happy hour is fantastic, and the downstairs hosts live music and poetry most nights. Three drawbacks: weirdly exposed upstairs bathrooms always make me double-check the locks, the music can be a bit loud for conversation upstairs and when the super-comfy and private booths fill up, you’re forced to sit at these gigantic family-style tables for eight, which feels pretty silly when you’re just two people.

Next Up: The Aalto Lounge

Fans of mid-century modern will get the designer pun. It’s a lounge named after a lounge! As with any place in Portland that sports mid-century vintage in the interior, our friend Christopher of Lounge Lizard had a hand in the lighting. When we went with him to the Aalto the other night, we found a comfortable corner in the back area and drank fairly decent dirty martinis kicked back on very low leather banquettes. The back deck, now the only haven to smokers here in Oregon, was serviceable, with groovy red Christmas lights, though it had an odd prison feel resulting from the chicken-wire fence, and I think if the pizza place next door had had any customers on their back deck, I would have felt like I was in a fishbowl, as Aalto’s deck is completely surrounded by the other. The food was good enough, though lacking the deals of the Blue Monk, and the wine list is extensive. The back room lends itself more to conversation than any part of the Monk, and the deck area is a must for smokers. There’s an adjacent coffee bar as well, if that’s more your style.

And the bonus from Hawthorne: Gold Dust Meridian

I have to confess. I haven’t eaten at the Gold Dust Meridian, but I hear good things. We’ve had martinis there. Actually, a dirty (really dirty) gin martini is the only drink I feel tremendously competent reviewing, and I’ll say they make one of the best I’ve had in a Portland bar. Absolutely full to the brim and sporting big, fat olives–three of them! The vibe is comfy yet sleek. Lighting yet again from Lounge Lizard, of course.  This is a small place and fills up early–we had difficulty getting a seat at 6:00 the other night. They’ve recently rearranged, moving the pool tables up to the front of the space, which is far less appealing than the corner booths they had previously. The best thing I can say about this bar, though, is that the first time I was there they were playing the greatest hits of Hall and Oates. And after one of their fabulous martinis, I had a hard time not singing along.

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