Those who have had a drink and/or some of the quality southern-style food at the Pope Bourbon House Lounge are virtually unanimous about the setting:
“I give Pope House a 5 star for ambiance alone! It’s the perfect place to grab a drink on a nice summer day in PDX. .” Yelp 5/10/15
“ Find your way there on a sunny day and it’s not so different than a Kentucky porch swing.” Willamette Week 2014 Bar Guide
And after “paying penance” recently at two dive bars – one, the Yamhill Pub, that was grungy beyond belief and the other, the Low Brow Lounge, in which the bartender and servers set new standards for surliness, it was a pleasure to visit this wonderful old Victorian house in NW Portland.
And Danielle, our server, was friendly and prompt – as was the case with Miles, the bar manager, who was very knowledgeable and helpful with background information. In fact, Miles, who has worked at the Pope for six years – after the prior martini bar (The Brazan Bean) closed and Joel Carson, a lifelong Portlander and his partner – a lady from Kentucky opened what became one of Bourbon Review ‘s “55 Best Whiskey Bars in America” (2013-14)
I was accompanied by two Beerchaser Regulars – Schwabe Williamson attorney, Dan Eller and Merrill Lynch financial adviser, Mike Jones, in addition to a novice – commercial real estate guru, Dan Swift of Cushman & Wakefield. On a sweltering afternoon, we thought it was a good idea to bring Dan because of his statement, “Bourbon is a good way to chase the taste of all that water I drink when it is hot.”
Miles is a celebrity, of sorts, and knows his spirits: “You may recognize Miles, the scruffy and amiable bartender who has appeared on local Fox network affiliate KPTV’s show “Good Day Oregon” to give some mixology pointers.” (About.com Travel)
One of the nice features of the old structure is the multiple room or alcoves which provide some muffling of the sound and allow a conversation. The patio is wonderful and on the ground level there is a separate bar – The Downs (open on Fridays and Saturdays and for private parties) that one reviewer labeled, “One of the closest things to a speakeasy type lounge (without being a speakeasy) we have in NW Portland.”
The cocktails (and the beer…) – the Pope has an impressive list of cocktails: “Ask Miles and the rest of the knowledgeable staff to send some of those pointers your way and to craft something for you based on your predispositions. And check on the special barrel-aged cocktails and various infusions in the works.” (About.com Travel)
We tried several of their nine Happy Hour Specials : the Palm Beach Special (gin, sweet vermouth and grapefruit), Black Ginger (jim bean black, ginger syrup and soda), the Hot Toddy (bourbon, lemon, honey and spices) and our group’s favorite – the Half Man (4 roses bourbon, vermouth, rocks, twist).
The Pope also has fourteen other cocktails and six Manhattans and Old Fashioneds. And for good measure, nine rotating draft beers!
The Bourbon Derby – while the cocktails are great, the Pope is very serious about its bourbon. As proof, check out the numerous horseshoe plaques hanging on the walls commemorating those who are “winners” of the Bourbon Derby – partaking of fifty different bourbons (not necessarily in one setting).
And there are formal rules to garner the plaque and a lifetime discount at the Pope, to wit: “Bourbon purchases must be full shots for full purchase price to qualify. Half shots, tasters, flights, and cocktails do not count…”
“Only bourbons count – Scotch Whiskeys, Canadian Whiskeys, American Whiskeys, and other liquors do not.”
The number of plaques affirms Mile’s statement that the Derby has been “wildly popular.” Derby membership comprises about an equal number of males and females and one can’t help but be amazed at Christine Vu, the only Three Bagger (150 different bourbons).
A little detective work reveals that Christine “walks the talk” as she is the Co-chair of the Portland chapter of Women Who Whiskey – an experimental whiskey club for women started in New York City and whose mission is:
“Both for amateurs and connoisseurs, Women Who Whiskey gives our members the opportunity to learn about varieties of whiskeys and cocktail culture, and to join a network of young women with a taste for curiosity and strong drinks. We host events in different venues around our chapter cities, where members can try new spirits, discuss mixology with seasoned bartenders, and enjoy the company of other whiskey-loving ladies.”
No one could question her commitment, most notably because a shot of traditional old standards (Four Roses, Old Crow, etc.) runs between $5 to $14 My favorite “Rebel Yell” was a reasonable $6 while the “Top Shelf” bourbons included A.H. Hirsch Reserve (16-year) where a 1 ounce shot would cost you $100. Or if you want to sample a variety of whiskeys, try one of their eight “Flights” ranging from $14 to $55 for three half-pours.
And at the Pope, they take their craft seriously with special events such as an Annual Kentucky Derby Party with “music, mint juleps, and the big race!” – also a hat contest. Miles even teaches a class – Bourbon 101 (“The class combines great information about ‘America’s Native Spirit’, samplings of different bourbons, and light appetizers in The Downs at the Pope House.”) So if you have a group of six, who for $60 each want to learn from the experts, sign up.
The Food – While we did not sample the food, reviews are very positive and those around us on the patio who were eating echoed their approval of the presentation and the menu selection.
It is a very nice combination with a “Down South” emphasis ranging from hush-puppies to Texas Frito pie to jambalaya to catfish and chips and a lot more. The prices are very reasonable especially during Happy Hour (daily from 4:00 to 7:00 and all-day on Sunday).
If one is looking for a criticism of this establishment, it would have to be that the parking can be a challenge. That said, after reviewing over 100 Portland bars, taverns and brewpubs on Thebeerchaser’s Tour since 2011, the Pope was clearly one of my favorites – combining a quality environment, knowledgeable and friendly staff, a great selection of beer, cocktails and whiskey and great food – definitely worth a short to moderate walk from your car.
That said and without Thebeerchaser trying to give management advice to a staff that clearly is ahead of the curve, the Pope might want to consider implementing a shuttle service from an area which would allow patrons to leave their vehicles away from the bustling NW 21st Avenue parking nightmare.
And what better method of shuttling than to use a vehicle based on an internationally famous prototype – The Popemobile. And no need on this model for bullet-proof glass or space for those transported to stand. It might be advisable to have the driver avoid wearing a white hat, but you get the idea.
2075 NW Glisan
* Sour mash is a process in the distilling industry that uses material from an older batch of mash to start fermentation in the batch currently being made, analogous to the making of sourdough bread. The term sour mash can also be used as the name of the type of mash used in that process, and a whiskey made using this process can be referred to as a sour mash whiskey. Sour mash does not refer to the flavor of the whiskey, as is sometimes thought. (Wikipedia)