The Global Barfly’s Companion #12 by Scott Gilman
Bar: The Knockback
Location: 2315 NE Alberta Street. Portland, OR 97211
On vacation in Portland, Ore., I am taken by my companion to a bar called The Knockback. I’d like to tell you what part of town we’re in, but it’s my first trip to the Northwest and my bearings are shot.
We park on a side street and on the way to the bar peek into the houses, alive and active with Saturday night gatherings. It’s a warm night after a bright sunny day. We move past the outdoor patio (well equipped with heathers and a fire pit that weren’t needed on this night) and into the bar, dark reddish light illuminating the entrance, some fine taxidermy greeting us as we make our way to grab two seats at the bar.
A bowl of punch of what appears to be spiked lemonade sits just to the right of my companion.
The place is busy but not too crowded. We each had two cocktails while there, both of us ordering the same thing as we were in the mood for gin. The Bee’s Knees, which we had first, was our favorite, and then a Rosemary Gin Fizz, which neither of us liked. More on that in a bit.
I complimented the bartender on their selections of bourbon and whiskey, and was told the place had spent months carefully crafting their options. I could tell they had put a lot of thought into it. Our bartender had moved to Portland two years ago from Wisconsin, where he used to work in a distillery. He was friendly and seemed to know many of the patron’s names. On the wall was a picture of the Customer of the Month. We ask how one became so distinguished and what the reward was; we were not surprised at either: frequent visits warranting such special recognition, which allowed for the first drink for free during happy hour for the month. A bar with a rewards program? Exciting…yet dangerous.
We’re talking now, about our day, about the vibe in Portland (my friend having recently moved there), the challenges and rewards of starting over in a beautiful, cool new city. As we’re chatting, someone behind us gets our attention and alerts my friend her bag is on the floor, which she picks up and places on a hook underneath the bar. Chalk one up to friendliness and good behavior.
Despite the impressive cocktail options and Manhattans available on tap, a surprising number of patrons are ordering tall boys of Tecate. It appears to be the drink of choice for those sitting outside. The jukebox takes on a distinctly British flair for awhile: The Clash, David Bowie, The Cure.
We finish our first round and, even though we said we’d have just one, we decide to stick around for one more. The bartenders are nowhere to be found, so we continue our conversation and patiently wait. I’m turned around, looking at my friend, when I see a tall man standing at the bar beside her. He’d been waiting awhile, like us, but not terribly long. I see him scope the bar, leaning over it to get a sense of where the bartenders are. Feeling secure, he scoops some lemonade punch into the silver ladle and drinks directly from it. I’m shocked, impressed and disgusted. Chalk one up for poor public manners. He then orders two Tecates, innocent as a puppy. There’s always someone watching, pal. Note to self: never order punch at a bar.
In prepping our next drink, the bartender applies flames from a blowtorch to the rosemary.
It’s the first drink I’ve ever had in my life requiring a blowtorch, so that feels kind of cool. It’s a long sprig of rosemary and when I get my drink it’s poking me in the face like an awkward straw. Also, it stinks. I suppose that’s the way rosemary smells, but it’s so distracting and odorous it prevents me from enjoying the drink.
So there you have it at The Knockback: fire pits, taxidermy, a wicked whiskey collection, hooks at the bar to hang purses, punch robbers, blowtorch-yielding bartenders. We each use the restroom before leaving, and we both have to wait. The bathrooms are multi-sex, so first come, first served. As it should be.
I appreciate the correction in the way our society manages bathroom lines. They appear to mostly have a good handle on things at The Knockback.
Scott Gilman lives in Austin, Texas and enjoys exercise, reading, writing, eating and drinking. He is working on his first novel and a short story and essay collection. More of his writing can be found here.