One of the rules I’ve established for myself in my short (legal) drinking career, is that silently tolerating abysmal service in the name of a good buzz is just not happening. Even if I find myself at the diviest of dives, a rolled eye or annoyed huff when I politely ask for another gin and tonic isn’t going to fly. Luckily, I am able to say that one of the newest additions to the Portland bar scene, Dig A Pony (SE Morrison & Grand), apparently feels exactly the same way.
The first things you notice upon entering the former Niki’s Diner is the bar’s distressed, old-school saloon look. The booth tables and giant u-shaped bar top have a rough, unvarnished look, and the floors of refurbished tile and wood maintain a beat, weathered look. Braided rope hangs from sections of the bar; one wall contains a smattering of dusty bookshelves, and air vents crisscross the exposed ceiling. The turntable at the end of the bar was spinning soul and UK garage records, a rather overt hipster touch that still worked without pretense.
The happy hour menu greets you with a $3 pricing system that can’t help but make this already happy hour downright ecstatic. The drink specials include all well drinks and a nicely curated list of 8 beers, ranging from Caldera IPA to the Anthem Cherry Cider. One member of my table jumped at the Anthem Cherry for her drink of choice, which we all agreed was quite a tasty, dry cider that eschewed the overpowering sweetness found in most run-of-the-mill ciders.
With my thirst mood driving me toward the cocktail list, my eyes landed on the 96 Tears ($7), a more subdued Moscow Mule-esque mix of muddled ginger and lime, vodka and ginger beer. If you can only risk trying one more buoyant, summer-inspired drink before the cold embrace of October hits, this one will serve you very well.
The food menu also contains an impressive and thoughtful selection for the meager $3 asking price. We started off with hand-cut French fries with malt vinegar mayo. While our eyebrows were slightly raised at the notion of combining malt vinegar and mayonnaise, we found ourselves nothing but pleasantly surprised at the pleasant, citrusy tartar sauce taste. The sauce also had a very nice consistency to it that coated the fries nicely without being overly thick and rich. The fries themselves were wonderfully seasoned and cooked, not a single spud ran the risk of tasting over or under cooked.
We continued the comfort food vibe with the Warm Corn Bread served with Chili Honey Butter. The rest of my group, no strangers to the classics of southern cuisine, noted the texture of the corn bread to be spot on, not overly dense or fluffy. The butter worked wonderfully as an accompaniment, a very light, whipped texture sprinkled with chili flakes that gave it a formidable heat.
Veering slightly away from the happy hour selection we ordered up the Four Cheese Mac & Cheese with caramelized onions and jalapenos ($8). Right away the smell of jalapenos smacks you upside the head, though they’re used more as garnish than ingredient. This also resulted in an inconsistency in terms of heat, with some bites registering nothing and others packing a punch. The sauce had a an agreeable texture, but was a little over salted.
I once again must tip my glass to the lady and gentleman behind the bar on this particular Friday afternoon. Even with our handful of questions about everything from the menu to the beer selection (10 on tap, 21 by the bottle), they were more than willing to explain and answer our multiple queries. It’s a little sad that such standards of good service are hard to come by these days, but makes us appreciate the places that break the mold.
Happy hour runs from 5-7 pm, and toward the end we did find the bar’s hipster population begin to soar. Depending on your tolerance of irony, let this be a warning or welcome sign. Otherwise, this is a solid choice to add to your happy hour routine, and we’ll even spare you the “you’ll dig it” puns (…oops!).