The main bar at The Whiskey Barrel has barstools with backs and purse hooks underneath. Photos by Angie Bryan

When a new bar opens, we try to wait a few weeks before reviewing it to let them work out any kinks that come with starting a new business.

But by the time I went to conduct my official assessment of The Whiskey Barrel, Portland’s only live country music bar, I had already been there three times, including the grand opening, for which I may or may not have shown up early and waited outside like a stalker.

What do you expect? I’m a Texan who loves country music and lives down the street; there’s no way I wasn’t going to be there right from the beginning.

All four of my visits were fabulous, thank goodness. Owner Jay Ferrara is technically a first-time bar owner but doesn’t come across as one. The Whiskey Barrel is the culmination of his longtime dream to open a country music bar, and he’s deeply involved in every decision, from handpicking the live music acts to greeting patrons (many of whom already have become regulars) by name.  Despite living in Massachusetts, he’s a steady presence in the bar.

The first thing you notice is the large outdoor seating area, complete with cornhole. Sometimes the bands play outdoors, sometimes indoors.  The indoor part of the bar is even more spacious, with great air conditioning for hot summer days. Most of the seating is barstools with backs around the bar (which earns bonus points for its purse hooks), but there are also tables with backless barstools scattered throughout the room. A games area on one side features giant-sized versions of beer pong, Jenga and Connect Four. When there’s no live music, country music videos play on TV screens above the bar.

Rock Your Ride (Skinny Girl cherry vodka, Diet Coke, grenadine and a cherry) and a lean Old Fashioned (ginger lime, Bulleit whiskey and an orange slice).

A glass of whiskey runs from $7 (Kentucky bourbon Fighting Cock) to $25 (Japanese whiskey Nikka Taketsuru); there are also two cocktail menus with drinks ranging from $10-$12. One has six not-just-bourbon-based regular cocktails; the other has five “lean” cocktails ranging from 100 to 130 calories.  My drinking companion ordered the lean version of an Old Fashioned (ginger lime, Bulleit whiskey and an orange slice) and I went with the Rock Your Ride (Skinny Girl cherry vodka, Diet Coke, grenadine and a cherry).


My friend liked her cocktail better than a regular Old Fashioned, noting it was much less sweet and more refreshing. It didn’t remind me of an authentic Old Fashioned by any means, but was a nice summer whiskey-based drink that I happily would order again. Mine was sweeter, reminiscent of cherry cough syrup (but in a good way). More importantly, my drink was much larger than my friend’s.

The one thing The Whiskey Barrel doesn’t have yet is food, but a barbecue restaurant is scheduled to open next door in October. In the meantime, patrons are welcome to bring food or order from elsewhere.

If you stop by, look for a blonde at the bar – chances are good it will be me.

Angie Bryan is a former diplomat who is enjoying getting acquainted with her new home in Portland, one cocktail at a time.

Connect Four is among the giant games at The Whiskey Barrel.

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