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Bars pour on variety, drinks named for Bonds women

Bread and Brew
by: L.E. BASKOW, Invasion Cafe is a visually interesting spot with a coffee shop by day and a gay bar at night. Bar patrons arrive late — and enjoy the naked mannequins on display, furry throw rugs, floor shows and friendly wait staff.

The restaurant business is a high-stakes game, but you can't go wrong with a bar. Or at least it seems that new bars continue to open, while the old ones hardly ever close. I've been checking out the latest crop of new bars lately, and finding plenty of variety, although a few look awfully familiar.

The place that used to be a dining destination, the Alberta Street Oyster House, is now called Branch, A Whiskey Bar. It looks kind of the same, but brighter, with lots of brown and amber tones and plenty of votive candles.

Named for an old Kentucky term for fresh creek water, Branch offers a nice range of bourbons, as well as shorter lists of rye, Irish and Scotch whiskeys. Bourbon cocktails include a mint julep served in a silver cup, a sazerac and a hot toddy, and there are non-whiskey house cocktails as well. The Beet Goes On, for instance, is made with beet-infused vodka. Whiskey sampler sets are listed on a separate menu.

I ordered Old Bardstown, a bourbon that has just recently made an appearance in Oregon (the brand is an old and at one time obscure one). It's sharp and smoky, not too sweet or maple-y, and good with a little ice.

A jazz combo struck up in the corner. The place almost feels more like a café than a bar, and attracts a sedate, older crowd, although not too sedate to pack the place on a Saturday night.

Branch, 5 p.m.-midnight Sunday-Thursday, 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Friday-Saturday, 2926 N.E. Alberta St., 503-206-6266, www.branchwhiskeybar.com.

Another new Northeast Portland spot is Shaken, which also has a coffee shop feel to it, although it's billed as a martini bar with a James Bond theme.

As the cocktail menu points out, Bond indulges in much more than martinis, from the Vesper in 'Casino Royale' to the mojito of 'Die Another Day.' They're all on the menu, along with a long, long list of drinks named after the women of Bond.

The Vesper is surprisingly good for something that combines gin and vodka. The bar is quiet, with oriental rugs and couches arranged around a fireplace. In other words, it looks exactly like it did when it was Vicinato Wine Bar. No baccarat, no dames in bikinis, no spies - or if there are, they're in deep cover as neighborhood couples out for a quiet drink and a little conversation.

Shaken, Monday-Thursday 4 p.m.-midnight, Friday 4 p.m.-2 a.m., Saturday 11 a.m.-2 a.m., Sunday 11 a.m.-midnight, 4605 N.E. Fremont St. No. 102, 503-282-4007

The rainbow colors on the sign outside the Invasion Café indicate that it's a gay bar. When I walked inside, at about 9:30 p.m. on a Saturday night, I had the feeling not that it was a slow night, but that I was early.

I ordered a Hollywood Hills - local Medoyeff vodka, fresh grapefruit, honey and sparkling wine - and looked around me.

There are rotating lights that cast patterns on the walls, and naked mannequins, and a series of booths separated by beaded curtains. Each booth has couches, a furry throw rug, and a glowing cube for a table. By 10:30 p.m. the lights were dimmer, the music was louder, and the drag queens had arrived. They settled in to the side room, where a floorshow was going to begin, eventually.

Events at Invasion change from night to night, with the exception of Mondays, which are always Manicure Mondays. The cafe specializes in good coffee - Intelligentsia brand, from Chicago, which appears in several cocktails - and all the juice is fresh-squeezed. The staff is numerous and frisky.

Invasion Café, daily 4 p.m.-2 a.m., 412 S.W. Fourth Ave., 503-226-7777, www.invasionpdx.com.

Also downtown is the newly refurbished Brasserie Montmartre. The Brasserie closed several years ago, but its real heyday was earlier, back in the goofy, artsy days of the 1980s and early 1990s.

It's remembered so fondly, in fact, that some of its more well-funded fans decided to resurrect the place - checkered floor, jazz band, framed customer crayon art, and all. The Brasserie was hopping the night I went, and the mood was high.

I sat at the bar, looking at a big urn of water meant for absinthe drinkers, sipping a well-balanced Manhattan and taking it all in. Retreads are risky, but this one seems to be working.

Brasserie Montmartre, Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-1 a.m., Friday-Saturday 11 a.m.-3 a.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to midnight, 626 S.W. Park Ave., 503-236-3036, www.brasserieportland .com.

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