Filling a half-mile gap in the craft cocktail scene between Laurelhurst Market and Hale Pele, a beautifully-themed new watering hole called Church opened earlier this month on NE 26th and Sandy. Replete with a photo booth disguised as a confessional, a promising menu of southern fare, and as broad of a drink menu as you could ask for, Church is run by a small group of Portland industry veterans and promises to be a stellar addition to NE Sandy's otherwise less-than-charming vibe along that stretch of the road. Minor kinks in my early visit will hopefully be resolved or at least compensated for - the music was absolutely deafening in the nearly empty space on a Monday evening, and a self-serve water station failed to impress (I'm ready to pay $10 for an amazing cocktail, but a good bartender should pour my damn water before I do). I'm sure Church will find a loyal following of regulars that don't mind or notice such conditions, but I hope they amend those particular details. Service was otherwise prompt, courteous, and well-oiled for an establishment so fresh, and the space itself is delightfully dark and medieval.
I sampled the fried okra off the food menu, which now stands as my favorite bar snack in town, a generous portion of perfectly battered and fried vegetable seasoned well and not yielding an ounce of crunch to added Louisiana hot sauce. Other options on the extensive dinner and happy hour menus are promising, spanning every dietary restriction and price point. Church's specialty cocktails don't try to revolutionize anything, a refreshing if uninspiring approach—the Hang Your Cross, featuring Bulleit Rye, Fernet, angostura, and Ferrand Dry Orange Curacao is the spirit-forward punch in the mouth that you should expect when ordering, not fussing around with subtlety for a second. The Great Fire offered more balance and just as much fun with a lively mix of Tequila, lime, grapefruit, sugar, dill, and cayenne. Other drink options are as varied as the edible side, from $3 beers to some stellar French and Italian wines by the glass and everything in between. Church already trumps most bars in town in terms of versatility of offerings—it would be just as easy to spend $6 for a beer and a snack as it would $30 for a full dinner and wine. Check it out before it gets incredibly busy—I promise you, it will.