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If you were a tourist, you'd probably be surprised to discover that Portland, a city with such a reputation for rain, is home to so much al fresco dining and drinking. But it makes sense. When the sun is out, so are we. And, whether we're ready to start the day or call it a day, we often flock to one of our city's many superb outdoor patios.
So, next time the sun is shining, here are some patios that you should visit.
This small, saloon-slash-gastropub specializes in two things: small plates of well-made food and strong drinks stirred by people who know what they're doing. For instance, that big ice cube in your glass? That's not their way of glomming on to the latest trend; that’s their way of making sure your bourbon stays cold without getting watered down. Seriously, ask the bartenders about their ice program, and how they aspire to have ice that's as transparent as a clean window, all in the service of keeping your drink colder, longer.
Forecast: This patio seats approximately 40 or 50 and is split in two levels, including a deck with five large brushed metal tables and a built-in, wooden banquette. The best time to grab a spot is during weekend brunches, otherwise you're leaving it to chance, especially if the weather's warm and sunny.
SPF: Trees, plants and a trellis with the crawling tendrils of a grape vine should shade you from the sun when it's directly overhead, but the buildings that surround the patio will shade you even more.
Advisory: If you and your tablemates are drinking Manhattans or Negronis, and you all know you'll be drinking more than one, Interurban sells them to share, already mixed, by the bottle. You can smoke, but only up top. Dogs are okay, and so are kids but only until 9 p.m.
Barometer: Dig into the Frito pie and "Portland's Finest Hand-Dipped Corndog," and pair them with either a Sazerac or an Old Fashioned, or both.
Interurban, 4057 N Mississippi Ave., 503.284.6669
For more than 40 years, VQ owner Dennis King has successfully run what has been one of downtown Portland's most esteemed eateries. And every week, you can find the man himself outside tending the plants that make up his secluded and very relaxing patio garden.
Forecast: The patio is large—it seats about 70—but your best shot at grabbing an empty table is either right when VQ opens or an hour or so before closing. Still, VQ does take reservations, even for outdoor tables. In fact, manager Erin Hokland says reservations are a safe bet, especially on nights when shows are happening at nearby venues like the Schnitz or Keller Auditorium. The patio is open 365 days a year.
SPF: The leafy branches of two, tall, old-growth oaks form a canopy that balances the spot's sun and shade. Plus, if it's too hot (or too wet), there are umbrellas for most of the tables.
Advisory: Children are permitted, as are well-behaved dogs if you keep to the first four tables on the 1st Avenue side. Smoking is not. Plus, if the weather's not so hospitable outside, VQ also has an indoor sunroom, with floor-to-ceiling windows, overlooking the patio.
Barometer: Go for brunch and try the VQ-8 (a beet-infused vodka Bloody Mary) and the Dungeness benedict. Or, if you plan to walk it off on your way back home, the Monte Cristo.
Veritable Quandary, 1220 SW 1st Ave., 503.227.7342
When you peer through its windows, you'll find that this classy and comfy pub looks like the perfect spot to hide from the rain with some good food and beer. What you might not expect is that the pub is also home to a rear patio that's easily twice as large as the bar area.
Forecast: The staff behind the bar says the best time to stake your claim to one of the patio's 49 seats is to show up during the first hour of happy hour, served daily from 4 to 6 p.m. After that, you’ll have to take your chances.
SPF: Tall trees loom above and hang over half the patio, shading you from the setting sun.
Advisory: The patio is partially covered and heated all winter. Plus, it opens at noon on Saturdays and Sundays. No smoking. No pets. Kids are permitted until 9:30 p.m.
Barometer: Serving about 20 Belgian beers and mussels prepared seven different ways, you should clearly order the national dish of Belgium: moules frites (mussels with fries).
North 45, 517 NW 21st Ave., 503.248.6317
There isn't a whole lot of seating inside Free House, but that's not why you're going. You're going to sit out back, because the patio seems almost more like a friend's backyard than a bar patio. Of course, since it’s surrounded by Sabin homes, you're expected to behave. You should anyways, because who goes to a friend's house and makes a mess?
Forecast: This patio—with its pavers, hanging plants and strings of party lights—feels small and intimate, but it collectively seats about 50 at eight picnic tables. Your best bet to find a seat? Bartender Benjamin Amberg sums it up thusly: "Get here when we open," especially if it's sunny.
SPF: About half of the seating is beneath a cantilevered roof so you can be shaded from the sun and protected from the rain, provided it's not blowing sideways.
Advisory: Smoking is permitted, and so are kids until 9 p.m., but the patio closes just an hour later.
Barometer: Sample some pork liver mousse with pretty much any of the cordial-inspired cocktails. And Free House has a partnership with Olympic Provisions, so expect the charcuterie plates to be carefully chosen and artfully cut.
Free House, 1325 NE Fremont St., 503.946.8161
When EastBurn’s retractable roof is not retracted, its outdoor patio almost seems more like an extra room than it does an outdoor patio. Amenities include swinging chairs that hang from wooden beams, overhead heaters to keep you warm, a flat-screen television for soccer games, gaslit fires that bloom from the centers of a pair of tables, and, when the roof's rolled back, (often) sunny skies.
Forecast: This patio may seem small, but it comfortably seats 40. That said, manager Mike Bender says those seats may be hard to come by, especially if the sun is out and the roof is rolled back. The earlier you show up, he says, the better off you'll be.
SPF: When the elements are in force, the roof is rolled shut, protecting you from the wind, rain and cold. But even when the sun is out and the roof is open, very little sunlight filters in from outside, so you'll never be too hot.
Advisory: Get cultured and let it show. EastBurn hosts a movie night and a trivia night (not at the same time) every Sunday night. Or if deals on drinks is more your thing, EastBurn does $2 pints every Tuesday followed by Whiskey Wednesday—$2 off all top-shelf whiskeys. Smoking is prohibited and so are dogs, but kids are okay.
Barometer: How can you not want to try the lobster mac and cheese, the elk sliders, or the Southern Russian (like a nutmegged, White Russian but with chocolate bitters and bourbon)?
EastBurn, 1800 E Burnside St., 503.236.2876
From the boozy, vegan minds that brought you the always-hopping Bye and Bye comes Sweet Hereafter. The SE spot more or less follows the formula of its NE Alberta predecessor: strong, interesting drinks, a menu chock full of vegan bar food, and an outdoor patio for sun-soaked sipping and primo people watching. BW
Forecast: Eight picnic tables seat about six each, so you and your friends shouldn't have too hard of a time finding a place. Plus, three of the tables are lined end to end to form one long one, meaning you can always sit with some strangers and make new friends.
SPF: This back patio is split in two: one on the inside, where tall walls and a vaulted roof protect your from the elements, and one outside. The two are separated by a roll-up garage door that can be closed in the winter, so this patio knows no season.
Advisory: Smoking is permitted on the patio's uncovered, outdoor side.
Barometer: Seeing as Sweet Hereafter is vegan, don't expect even an egg flip. But, you sure can find plenty of tasty treats that even the most evangelical carnivore will love: Try the tofu bánh mì and the vodka-bourbon-lemon-iced-tea-Hereafter cocktail.
Sweet Hereafter, 3326 SE Belmont St.
Want more patios? Check out parts two and three.