Cocktailing: Why Brooklyn wishes it was Portland

I’m back from the IACP conference in Portland, Oregon, and I have to say, Portland is one city that knows how to get its geek on. I’ve never seen so many passionate foodies in one place (and I’m not even referring to the conference). Everywhere, there’s great coffee, great cocktails, great food. A sprawling greenmarket that makes my precious Union Square look like a postage stamp. Everyone seems to be making something or building a small business, and sporting a deeply personal tattoo while they’re at it. It just feels like a place where it’s easy to find one’s tribe.

In other words, it’s like the the best bits of what has become funky Brooklyn sprawl were all mashed together into one clean, rain-swept, bike-able small community, minus the Manhattan envy.

Let’s take cocktail culture, for example. (You knew I was going there eventually…) And it is indeed a culture.  Perhaps it’s because real estate prices are just so much lower than other metro areas, and scale is less of an issue, it seems like anyone with an artisan cocktail pipe dream can open a bar (hello, Beaker & Flask!) or start a business (hello, Trader Tiki and Aviation gin!)

My first day at IACP, I sat next to a local denizen who insisted that “Portland is a beer city located within wine country. Cocktails are a far third.” After spending some time in the local watering holes, I have to heartily disagree. Yes, there is plenty of great local beer and wine — especially the latter. I finally understand all of the references to “good bread” in France. The vinious equivalent of “good wine” surely must refer to the enjoyable, drinkable stuff made in Willamette Valley.

But the cocktails!  What I loved most about Portland’s cocktail scene was the  joy everyone seemed to take in experimentation.  I didn’t get to try every place I wanted (sorry, Teardrop Lounge…Saucebox…Belly Timber…Vault. next time, I promise).  But here are some places I did get to try, and highly recommend:

Cocktail shakers at Beaker & Flask

Beaker & Flask:  I was lucky enough to have Patrick Coleman, food editor from the alt-weekly Portland Mercury, as my tour guide for an evening. He knows all the bartenders and best tippling spots, plus he’s quite the snappy dresser so it was fun to be seen with him. Our first stop was Beaker & Flask, one of those spots where they embrace local brands and make their own grenadine, syrups, and coconut water ice cubes. I tried The Triple Lindy (Muscat Grappa, Riesling Syrup, fresh lime and lemon, demerara sugar). It was light and oddly floral, although it grew on me the more I sipped.

“It’s an intellectual drink,” Patrick quipped. “It’s like someone you respect, but don’t enjoy talking to.” His drink, Between the Posts (Rock & Rye soda, fresh grapefruit, Campari, Peychaud’s bitters), would have been the better dinner companion.  I swiped the menu on the way out -scroll down if you’d like a closer look.

Thatch:  A sweet little tiki bar, kitch, pupu platters and all. I was astounded that we easily scored seats at the bar, which would never, never happen on a weekday night in New York.  We were offered a preview of the new spring/summer menu, which hadn’t yet been printed up (nothing for me to pocket, alas). I tried a fabulous, fragrant rum drink called “The Broadway Baby.” It was also quite potent, as tiki drinks often are, so I can’t recall what else was in the drink.

Clyde Commons Negroni

Clyde Common:  I went later in the week, explicitly to try something with Jeff Morgenthaler’s famed barrel-aged spirits, and settled on a Negroni. And yes, everything you’ve read about it being the best Negroni you’ve ever had are true. About halfway through the drink, Morgenthaler slid over another drink, in a slightly smaller glass, and uttered those magic words that are like catnip to a drinks journalist:  “It’s not on the menu yet.” It was Robert Hess’s Trident creation, equal parts Cynar, Sherry, and Whiskey (here, barrel aged about 8 weeks). 

Again, I swiped the menu (last seen beneath my cocktail, in the photo at right). And again, I’m scanning it so you can view it below.

Bar Ten 01:  I went, but didn’t stay, since it was understandably packed on a Saturday evening. But since I saw charming barkeep Kelley Swenson at an IACP event earlier in the week and thoroughly enjoyed his Chamomile Sour cocktail there, I say it counts.

Beaker & Flask Cocktail Menu

Clyde Commons cocktail menu

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13 thoughts on “Cocktailing: Why Brooklyn wishes it was Portland

  1. Darnit Kara, when did you hit Thatch?

    The Broadway baby is my take on a Don the Beachcomber Drink, the Queen’s Road cocktail. We wanted to use Deco Ginger Rum on the menu (they’re local, and friendly) and this was one of the few gingery concoctions of Don’s I had to base this off of. It switches out ginger rum for the Gold Puerto Rican rum of the original, and Vanilla Syrup in place of the honey & ginger syrup.

    Glad you enjoyed it!

    -Blair

    • It was early-ish Wed night – sorry I missed you, was hoping to say hi in person.

      The Broadway Baby rocked! I wish I could remember what Patrick had – all I recall is that it was highly aromatic with cinnamon syrup. I think his comment was that “it smelled like Christmas.”

  2. we tried to make it to Beaker & Flask but had to call it a night at some point, and that was then… oh well, reason to return, especially after your warm endorsement and the scan of the menu. Clyde Common and Ten 01 had great drinks both. what a town!

    • I know…we need another week to hit ALL the great bars! still, too many good bars and not enough time is a nice problem to have, right?

  3. Couldn’t agree more..those Portlanders are passionate about food, wine and tattoos.
    I was skeptical about Portland and the cocktail culture, but after being repeatedly corrected that Portland is into Craft cocktails with a capital C, I started to get the picture.
    And I totally agree..the chamomile grappa sour was delicious.

    • Judith, I just read your blog posts on Portland (love your “top 10″ list!) and it looks like we both started with the same skeptical viewpoint, and wound up at exactly the same conclusion.

      LOL – “Craft cocktails with a capital C” – that is so right!

  4. Thanks for taking the time to visit the city! I’m glad you liked it! As for the comments about beer and wine, I’d amend that person’s statement and say that we’re a cocktail city, a beer town, and wine country wrapped in a forest.

    P.S. Psst, it’s Clyde Common. No s. :)
    P.P.S. Please mention the HORRIBLE weather here so that at least some percentage of your readers don’t fill up -all- our empty bar stools. ;)

    • “wrapped in a forest” – love it! (but sorry, Michael…we had lovely weather most of the week. shhh….)

      and thanks for the correction on the spelling of Clyde Common – I’m going to fix that right now.

  5. I have been dying to get out of NYC…this may be my ticket out! I want to poke out my eyes and move to Portland, to quote the Dead Milkmen.

    Please tell me there are still some single men left there?

  6. I’m not sure who recommended Vault to you, but you’ll do yourself a favor by skipping it.

    Don’t forget to hit up The Driftwood Room and Secret Society next time you’re back in town.

      • Driftwood is run by Michael Robertson, he does great stuff. Secret Society is set above Toro Bravo (amazing tapas) and features mostly classic pre-repeal era drinks in an intimate atmosphere.

        Vault is a meat market for Cosmo and Choco/Apple-tini drinkers (and it shows on the menu). It has its place, but I definitely don’t think it’s what you’re looking for.

  7. Pingback: The top 5 most-read posts on my blog, ever. And the winner is… « Spice & Ice, and more…

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