by Andrea Damewood
As I wandered out of Suckerpunch after spending a few hours chatting in the dimly lit space, with flashes of downtown views from its floor-to-ceiling windows, I joked to my friend that now that I’d had three drinks I was ready to dish a secret.
We both laughed, since we were as sober as when we started drinking. But the thing is, Portland’s first non-alcoholic bar still worked its magic: We had some complex yet balanced cocktails, and a cozy place to catch up. No booze was actually needed to loosen us up. (Bonus: I felt much better in the morning than if I’d downed three real drinks in short succession.)
Founder Andy McMillan, who himself does not drink and was desperate for better non-alcoholic drinking choices around town, has ridden a few waves while bringing Suckerpunch to its current home in the Goat Blocks on Southeast Belmont. First, there was the rising demand for zero-proof drinks. Then the pandemic forced his original 2020 pop-up to halt operations. Next, he used the opportunity to pivot and sell make-your-own home cocktail kits.
“I think the origin story for Suckerpunch is a few different things,” McMillan told WW in February 2020. “We started our own non-alcoholic bar program at the festival that I run here [XOXO] in 2015. It’s this sort of combination of working on it through the festival and quitting myself shortly after we started doing that, and then seeing these spaces appear around the country and starting to see this sort of coalesce as a movement.”
Since late February, McMillan’s team has been serving its three original drinks from the previous pop-up, though the menu is set to change May 5.
My personal favorite of those offered in the initial lineup is Island Time, a tiki-inspired blend of Forest Grove winery Montinore Estate’s Verjus, Pok Pok Som drinking vinegar, galangal, yuzu, lime, bitters and shiso. Often, drinks heavy on the vinegar give me heartburn, but this one is tart and served in a tall glass over ice that I’d like to enjoy on a patio.
Thank You for Being a Friend is both an excellently named drink and a delight, with Steven Smith Lord Bergamot tea, sweet notes of date and orgeat, topped with aquafaba (the starchy chickpea cooking liquid that is a dead ringer for egg whites). A third drink, Straight From the Fire, is the non-alcoholic answer to an old fashioned, swapping out whiskey and sugar for corn tea and smoked maple syrup.
You can order all three drinks, served with a few light snacks, as a prix fixe flight for $40, or you can pop in for one or two. Just don’t bring anyone under 18, because while there’s no booze, Suckerpunch is still intended to be an adult space.
And it very much is: To sink into a window table with views under the moody lighting and next to the sleek, wooden bar, feels very, well, sexy date night, minus the potential pitfall of overindulgence.
Right now, the space is temporary while McMillan continues to search for a location for a permanent Suckerpunch. But there are plans to open patio seating soon, and a retail space to sell some of the zero-proof bottles the bar uses for blending, so it’s safe to say it’s not going anywhere too soon.
DRINK: Suckerpunch, 1030 SE Belmont St., 503-208-4022, suckerpunch.bar. 6-10 pm Thursday-Saturday, 6-8 pm Sunday.