Review of the Week #4- The Liquor Store

Where: The Liquor Store, 3341 SE Belmont Ave. Portland, OR

“Oh hey, Matt! You just finish? Wanna come down to the Liq for a beer?”

In this neighborhood, everyone in the industry knows everyone. Restaurant workers finish their day, they go down the to bar their buddy works at for a post-shift. After two years, I can only say I’m a “regular” at a few bars- places where they know my face, and what drink I’m about to order. It’s a good feeling, and if I’m honest I hit the bars up in a rotation just so no one feels slighted.
If you know Victor, though- you find yourself a regular EVERYWHERE.

In every restaurant, there is (or should be) “a guy.” A man of means. Possibly crazy, possibly criminal, but with a good heart who’s been known to make things “appear” from time to time. A guy who can talk his way into and out of anything- and who has been thrown out of more places than you knew existed.
Victor the barista is our “guy” at the cafe. He’s the one that just recognized me on my bike after work.

Beer o’clock, it is.

To say that Victor “got me in” to the Liquor Store on Belmont is maybe giving him a bit much credit. I’d been here a few times before, and passed by plenty beforehand. Wedged in a little strip close to Mt. Tabor, Liquor Store is one of a gaggle of bars and restaurants where you can find a place for whatever food or environment you are feeling. 
Walking in to the Liquor Store, you want music, cocktails, and food- in that order.

Victor and I lock up our bikes and walk in. The wood paneled room and large horseshoe bar is immediately welcoming after a long day of work, and the wood is cool and smooth on my forearms as I belly up. Meghan is pouring tonight- fun and polite, but businesslike. She’s working, and you know it. Meghan doesn’t need to ask Victor what he’s feeling- he’s Victor.​ Before I can pull my wallet, Victor springs for a second PBR for me. 

Swigging from the cold can, my eyes roam over the room. Sparse on an early evening, but that’s common. The Liquor Store has a basement concert venue, and they have entertainment down there nearly every night. After 8 or so, the place is gonna fill up fast. I enjoy the peace while it’s there. On a small projection screen above the bathrooms, they are showing Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis.” They love showing old movies and retrospectives here- once it was Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator,” another time a Bob Dylan documentary. Music reigns supreme here- from their wall of vinyl, to their live concerts, to occasional live DJs spinning their collection, you really do show up for the music as much as anything.

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Yes, they are all real.

Victor is uncommonly twitchy over his beer. He’s waiting for the chef, our mutual friend Mike, to come out for an unclear reason. Something to do with losing his wallet last night… between one bar and another? Maybe in Mike’s car…. ah well. I pick up another beer for Victor, and this time a gin and tonic for me. They do a really good gin and tonic here.

PictureThe Really Good Gin and Tonic

For real, that’s how it’s written in the menu. Their own blend of flavors and liquor, with a floating garnish of juniper berries and hibiscus flowers, slowly turning the drink pink as it sits- mating the evergreen gin with the tart fruit of the flowers. You’ll never be so happy to nurse a drink in your life, rather than knock it back. It’s not alone, though- their award-winning cocktail menu boasts a few other noteworthy libations- the “Viejo Fashioned” and “Lower East Side Manhattan” (made with rye whiskey, of course) being personal favorites of mine.

Mike comes out at last- flat cap, loose t-shirt and sweatpants his version of kitchen uniform. He and I chat briefly about recent food trends in the area before he vanishes outside with Victor.  
​Mike has a flare for taking what he’s got and going in odd directions with it. 
How better to use ALL of the chips from their Iron Skillet Nachos? Sautéed Broccoli Crunch, of course. Happy hour is going slow on Mondays? A $2 personal pizza special, with crispy thin crust and toppings to change by the week.
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Locally-made booze get a place of honor behind the bar, of course.

6 o’clock slips into 7… and 7 toward 8. The bar starts to fill, with quitting time wandering over the area, and showtime approaching downstairs. Victor has since returned, chatting with other buddies. Mike has vanished into the back again- the crunch approaches. Restaurant workers can smell a rush like animals smell a storm brewing. As the sun goes down, the sidewalks of Belmont fill- there’s more people on foot than on the street of course, and crossing is haphazard.

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I knock back the remainder of my (VERY pink) gin and tonic. I’d better get home.
I catch Megan’s eye as she flashes past, and a simple “cut me off” gesture. She understands, and a few minutes later my check is folded up in a copy of “The Sound and the Fury” by William Faulkner- classic paperbacks being their favorite form of checkbook.

“Later, Victor- gotta get home.”

‘Oh okay, later man! We gotta do this again- have a good one!”

“You too, man. Be safe!”

“Aw, you know me, dude.”

“Yeah, that’s why I said it.”

When:  I find early evenings are best for a quiet drink. Look up their performance schedule for when it’ll get crowded.

Why: Because you just finished work, and you just want to meet a friend or two for a quick drink and maybe a bite. Not feeling dinner quite yet, but maybe a snack or something? Who’s playing tonight?

How:  Walk on in and sit down. Alternatively, you can go look for Victor…