May 17th, 2024

Great Bartenders, Great Bars

Be sure to check out these hangout spots the next time you’re in McMinnville.

A long bar made out of a single flat slab of wood.  Baskets of citrus fruit are on one side, and classes full of striped paper straws and stirring spoons are at the end of the bar.  A mural of mushrooms and greenery are on the wall and plants hang from the ceiling.
The bar at Conservatory Bar is a great place to belly up, get to know your bartender and have friendly banter with the folks sitting next to you. Photo by Emily Teel.

With its walkable downtown tasting rooms it will surprise no one that McMinnville is a destination for wine lovers, but there’s a thriving scene of bars that focus on other libations as well. Classic cocktails and innovative ones, local beers and Belgian imports, internationally-sourced wines and those made down the street, and even creative non-alcoholic options, McMinnville has it. Here are a few favorite spots to put on your own personal pub crawl. 

Barman and owner Patrick Bruce draws patrons to Thistle where for years he’s served up a taut cocktail menu at an intimate, unpretentious little bar where anyone can feel like a regular. Expect flea market chic decor and esoteric, spirit-forward bevs like a Boulevardier and a Blood & Sand, served in vintage glassware. 

A vintage cocktail glass has a yellowish liquid in it.  You can see a blurred out candle and other cocktails in the background.  They all sit on a silver round table top.
The cocktails at Thistle will take you to another time. Photo by Sionnie Lafollette.

The Bitter Monk is a beloved Third Street beer bar and bottle shop with a tap list that’s tough to beat. On draft are dynamically rotating craft beers and ciders. Some are made right in town, others are from elsewhere, and as the bar’s name implies, this is the place to go for trappist ales made in Belgium and other imports. Though the Bitter Monk doesn’t serve food, they’ve got a takeout partnership with Pizza Capo only a half a block away. Manager Becky Tucker, with her cat eye glasses, electric-hued hair, and thorough commitment to Halloween, is a local celebrity.  

It’s tough to find a better margarita in town than those made by Jimmy Fernandez at Abuela’s Nuestra Cocina, a newly-opened, family-owned Mexican restaurant. Choose the classic, made with Teremana Reposado Tequila, or his signature version which has a chili-salt rim and includes the addition of pomegranate juice. 

Conservatory Bar, Isaac and Kelley Mabbitt’s woodsy bar on First Street, is the place to go for casual fare and original drinks inspired by local ingredients. All of the vodkas and gins they stock are made in Oregon, and half of the whiskies are, too. These they use to make an approachable set of cocktails.  Kelly takes particular delight in stocking unusual bottless, like a French orange blossom cordial, South African marula fruit cream liqueur, and a great amaro collection. In summer it’s not unusual to be served a drink garnished with flowers from bartender Kenny Conly’s garden. It’s a great place to find alcohol-free options, too. 

A rocks glass is filled with a pinkish red liquid and ice.  The rim is sprinkled with a red powder.  A yellow pansy and a slice of lime are garnishes on top of the drink.
Conservatory Bar serves some of the prettiest cocktails in town. Photo by Emily Teel.

James Beard “Best New Restaurant” award finalist Hayward is undoubtedly a great place for dinner, but it’s also a great spot for drinks. Matthea Brown and Marcos Romero’s food-friendly beverage menu leans in to familiar drink builds, including a paloma and a Negroni, adding unique twists. 

If you’re feeling flush, stop into the cellar bar at ōkta. Sommelier Ron Aciero directs the beverage program in gorgeously moody subterranean space. Go for conceptual, layered cocktails with the same ethos as the Oregon-inspired tasting menu and a curated wine list that centers the Willamette Valley. On Friday evenings the bar is hosting a ticketed series of winemaker takeovers sharing special pours of library wines. 

HiFi is McMinnville’s wine bar, where locals who make wine professionally go to pop bottles, which should tell you a lot about the ones that make the list. Go indulge yourself in an interesting glass of something made in France, Italy, or the Eola-Amity Hills; for the art installation-like chandeliers dripping with moss;  for the casually fancy menu of Dungeness crab spaghetti and potato chips with caviar; and for the weekend DJ sets. 

A man smiles and holds a bottle of wine.  Three women sit at a wood bar in front of him.  They each have a glass of wine.  One of them holds a record, A Love Supreme by John Coltrane.
If you play your cards right, you might get a bonus pour from Ben at HiFi Wine Bar. Photo by Aaron Lee.

Perhaps the most iconic of downtown building facades is that of The Blue Moon Lounge, a cozy local dive with a neon moon and stars marquee promising cocktails and a New York steak dinner. Thought to be the longest continually running bar in Yamhill County, it remains a fun spot with big, comfortable, horseshoe-shaped booths, pint glass-sized drinks,  and one of few options for all-day breakfast and late night eats. Heads up though, the bar is cash only. 

In the less rainy months, the bar with the best view in town is the Rooftop Bar at McMenamins Hotel Oregon. Enjoy a pint of Ruby or a Sidecar with a view of the twinkly lights and treetops of Third Street, and the coastal mountains beyond. 

Emily Teel writes about cooking and dining and develops recipes on behalf of national brands. Mom to a toddler, she’s also an avid gardener and loves to forage for mushrooms in berries in the Pacific Northwest.