Illustration by Patrick Corrigan
By now you probably know a thing or two about Portland bars. They’re all part of a broad, glittering constellation, each maintaining a different character, clientele, and selection. But it’s a mistake to think that these spots are entirely original. No way. Each of the city’s drinking establishments has its roots in some primordial myth.
To prove it, I gathered a crew together on a cold, unremarkable Tuesday in February and went on a Tequila Odyssey. I’d never been on an official bar crawl before, but I imagine this was just like that, except with two rules: 1) that the evening’s destinations correspond as closely as possible to the thirteen primary episodes of Odysseus’ journey in the sequel to Homer’s Iliad, and 2) that one full tequila drink must be consumed at each of those thirteen locations.
Why tequila? Because it’s very, very good. The distilled beverage form of blue agave is undoubtedly a magic drink, arguably moreso than any other spirit (containing, in pure form, a more natural sugar than other alcohols — see page 27 for more). The Aztecs believed it to be a gift of gods; and modern bros are still perplexed when their beer nights are derailed by a single shot of cheap Sauza. Besides, everyone has a tequila story, they just all usually end the same way: with the storyteller in some way finding the proverbial floor. With an august crew of eight and a plethora of high-character destinations at hand, I set sail to find a story with a more resonant ending, walking in Odysseus’ footsteps to create a truly epic night.
1. Calypso’s Island
At the beginning of the Odyssey, Odysseus first visits the remote island of Ogygia, home of the nymph Calypso, who uses him for sex and offers him the gift of immortality in exchange for becoming her husband. (At this point in the story, I’ll note that the connections between the Homeric Odyssey and our own are chiefly metaphorical.) A dark, bustling bar in the Longfellow Square, LFK isn’t exactly remote — unless of course you park it on the sofa in the back, where I met my helmsman Wombcastle (don’t ask) at 6:30 pm. He had already begun digging into a bowl of mac ‘n’ cheese, nestled snugly into the sofa. In the Homer, the gorgeous Calypso was flanked by a chorus of beautiful women. At LFK, that might describe the clientele — smart, sexy artists, musicians, punks, and students — or equally, the servers and bartenders. Tonight, Calypso wasn’t one figure but the whole communion. One beauty brought us each a vial of Vida organic mezcal, an elegant, smoky potion which didn’t even need the hunk of lime it came with. As Wombcastle and I plotted the journey ahead, we could feel the dull grip of endless comfort clasping onto our bodies. Why would anyone leave this place? What lay in the cold, dark beyond that could match the treasures of Ogygia? We didn’t have a proper answer. Yet as two more of our crew arrived, Doug the Poet and Pat the Wise, we saw an innocent hope in their eyes, untouch’d as they were by the incapacitating pleasures this isle had to offer. We climbed into Wombcastle’s vessel and were off.