The tequila odyssey

By NICHOLAS SCHROEDER  |  February 20, 2014

2. Nausicaa and the Phaeacians
It wasn’t a physical nudity we four experienced on the shores of Pearl, but there was no question we were feeling vulnerable in this part of town, often the rowdiest in Portland. Our version of the land of the Phaeacians, where Odysseus and his men were nakedly washed ashore before being clothed and sheltered by the beautiful maiden Nausicaa, was nearly empty at this hour. Eerily, the barkeep at Pearl Tap House fit the prototype, whom Odysseus likened to Artemis the huntress, perfectly: a keen and very pretty brunette who, truthfully, didn’t look a day over 19. Odysseus had a complicated relationship with Nausicaa, whom he recognized as too young for him and yet, oddly, considered a sort of maternal figure. Our relationship was much simpler. It was, Nausicaa told us, $2 Tuesday, which meant that shots of Old Mexico silver for the entire ship would cost under $10. I didn’t expect to be lured toward a mixto (a tequila that isn’t 100% agave -- a/k/a hangover city) this early in the journey, but it had to be done. (Nausicaa doesn’t translate to “burner of ships” for nothing.) As we sat at one of Pearl’s large wooden tables to sip our drinks, Wombcastle played the part of Demodocus, the blind Phaeacian poet who sang songs which brought Odysseus to tears, and recited a few lines from Nabokov’s Lolita. A silence fell over the table. “That was maybe a bit heavy-handed,” he remarked. We nodded, bit into our limes, and departed.

3. The Lotus-eaters
After Nausicaa, Odysseus’ ship was blown by fierce north winds to the isle of the lotus-eaters, a peaceful people who drew sustenance from the narcotizing lotus flower. It felt only natural that we were blown to J’s Oyster Bar. For a cold Tuesday night at 7:30 on the outskirts of town, J’s was packed. Now six (we were met here by Lisa the Fierce and Robert the Sage), we sat at a table in the corner near the windows. Our kind waitress brought us Hornitos margaritas and a half dozen oysters (we figured one apiece wouldn’t be enough to tranquilize us). My drink was delicious, yet I knew that margaritas and their boozy embellishments of sugary liqueurs would be troublesome if I aimed to hit thirteen destinations. “What is it about this place that makes people willing to grow old here?” asked Robert. The question arrived with the night’s first flush of wooziness. Not fully invested in learning the answer, we pushed on.

4. Polyphemus the Cyclops
Arguably the most celebrated chapter of the Odyssey, the parallels we found at Zapoteca to the island of Polyphemus the cyclops were subtle. The one-eye thing is too obvious—but make no mistake: Zapoteca is a monster. We pulled into this high end, Oaxacan-inspired restaurant a little past 8 pm — again, on a cold February Tuesday — and struggled to find room among the herd of dinner guests. The host assessed our party of six without asking for a name, oddly echoing Odysseus’ famous trick of introducing himself to the cyclops as “no man,” and when Lisa pointed out the sculptures of primitive-looking animal heads mounted on the walls, we were legitimately freaked. How could we escape this Epicurean banquet once we sat down? Could this beast really devour us? We sat and scanned the massive new Latin menu, and I was possessed into selecting a $14 Milagro anejo — a silky vanilla-smooth drink sipped from a snifter — and three orders of chips and guacamole to keep morale high. All were delicious, but we were soon able to see the beast we were feeding, and the price it aimed to exact from our mere mortal selves. With a bill for one drink and three orders of chips and guac nearing $50, getting out alive here has a different meaning than Homer could have imagined. We sheathed our wallets and fled.

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