The decor has hints of bowling alley, diner and something else entirely. Photos by Angie Bryan

When my friend and I walked into CBG, we didn’t quite know what to make of it. We knew that the interior had been completely redone when new owners bought what was Congress Bar & Grill, but the wooden paneling on the walls made it look like it had been that way for years. We struggled to describe the vibe, which reminded us of a cross between a bowling alley (possibly due to the enormous photograph of a scene from The Big Lebowski) and a diner (thanks to the checkerboard floor). Some of the walls had hunting trophies on them, some of the chairs had wheels, and I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a mob boss sitting in the corner. (Just for the record, I did not.)

While we were taking it all in, from the soft cushioned barstools with backs to the U-shaped booth in the window, a server immediately welcomed us. The great service continued throughout our visit. There were several groups of people there, but the folks taking care of us made us feel like we were the only ones.

Creative cocktails come in vintage glassware, which was surprising with the decor.

My friend and I were delighted to discover a cocktail menu that went on for five pages, one of which was devoted to vintage cocktails and another that focused on dessert cocktails. I went for the $11 The UFO (rum, coconut cordial, cucumber, lime, pineapple and sesame oil). My friend chose the $10 Part & Parcel (gin, elderflower liqueur, grapefruit, lime and bitters) followed by the $11 Maximillion Affair (Mezcal, elderflower liqueur, an Italian vermouth called Punt e Mes and lemon). Our drinks arrived in delicate vintage glassware – not what we had been expecting in that atmosphere, but perfect for the drinks we had chosen. The Part & Parcel reminded us of a grapefruity brunch drink. The Maximillion Affair was less Mezcal-forward than we had expected and was even verging on sweet.

The clear standout, though, was The UFO, with its three glistening drops of sesame oil on the surface giving an enticing olfactory introduction to the cocktail before tasting it. It was light and refreshing, without any one flavor dominating the others. After a few sips, the coconut came through, and the drink continued to evolve as I worked my way through it. Creative and delicious, just what I like in a cocktail.

We weren’t there to eat, but we took a quick glance at the food menu, which is even more eclectic than the décor. In one page, it ran the gamut from burgers to tempeh larb salad to falafel to chicken noodle paitan to steak frites. Oh, and there was something called Garbage Plate, featuring french fries, American chop suey, fried egg, hot sauce, onions and spicy aioli. It was as if one person had designed the décor, another had come up with the cocktail menu and a third had come up with the food menu.

By the time we left, we still didn’t know what the owners were aiming for, but we knew that we had enjoyed ourselves and that we’d happily go back again.

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

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