Where to smoke in Portland

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Today at Drink Portland, I’ve posted a guide to the city’s few remaining cigar bars. There are only eight of them, so click through if you’re looking for a place to escape the rain with a cigar and a drink. Since Oregon’s smoking ban only exempts bars that can demonstrate cigar sales from 2006, it’s essentially illegal to open a new cigar bar. These eight are all we have and all there will be. An update to the law a couple years later also capped the number of tobacco shops that can allow smoking.

Ban advocates predicted that Oregon’s law would drastically reduce the rate of heart attacks in the state. As I noted in the Oregonian, that never came to pass.

Pre-ban, my favorite place to have a cigar in Oregon was the Horse Brass Pub. My ode the Horse Brass is here. It’s still a great bar, but you can’t light up there anymore.


Eater’s 38 essential cocktails bars

It’s Cocktail Week across the Eater blog network, and as part of that series they’ve published recommendations of the most “essential” cocktail bars in the US. It’s a pretty solid list. I’ve made it to 19 of the 38, a number held down mostly by the fact that I haven’t visited New York since moving from the East Coast in 2008.


Señor Brown at Mi Mero Mole


A couple months ago I was contacted by Nick Zukin, local restaurateur and founder of the PortlandFood.org web forum, about a new Mexican place he had in the works. His Mi Mero Mole opened last week selling tacos de guisado, a style of taco less familiar in the US than the grilled meats found at most taquerias. Here’s how he explains it in a Portland Monthly interview:

I was familiar with tacos de guisado—or at least guisados—prior to my trips to Mexico City. Guisados or guisos are Mexican stews and stir-fries. Many large Mexican supermarkets and carnicerias (Mexican butchers and meat markets) will carry some in the United States, and a decent number of taquerias have one or two. One of my favorite places in PDX, Tortilleria y Tienda de Leon out on the edge of Gresham, specializes in them. But it wasn’t until I went to Mexico City that I realized the variety of guisados available or realized how strong a tradition there was for places devoted to them.

Guisados feature more prominently in Mexico City than any other place I’ve been in Mexico. I think it’s because guisados are really home cooking-style dishes. The people in DF, like other very urban cities, probably don’t cook at home as often and so these fondas and puestos serving a variety of home cooking probably sprung up. I rarely have seen a street stand elsewhere, even in large cities like Puebla and Guadalajara, selling tacos de guisados like they do in Mexico City. Some of my favorite stands in DF sell a dozen or more choices. Other than Super Cocina in San Diego, I don’t know of any place in the United States that really offers the type of variety you would see in Mexico City.

One of the things that will set Mi Mero Mole apart, even from really good places like de Leon, will be the variety. I already have several dozen recipes developed and expect to rotate through* 50 to 100 different guisados* in the first year. I’m focusing on dishes that are common in Mexico that you don’t see here enough and interesting dishes that you would really only find in Mexico—and a lot of those dishes are vegetarian and vegan.

This was a new style of taco for me, and having now tried about a dozen of the guisados I am a fan. I’m even ordering some of the vegetarian dishes, which if you know me at all is a pretty solid endorsement.

Mi Mero Mole is all about the tacos, but the place does have a liquor license, which is where I came in. Nick asked me to help select the spirits and create a few cocktails. We were guided by two considerations on this. One was that all of the cocktails would be made with only agave or sugar cane based spirits. The second was that the drinks should all be relatively easy to execute, so that they can be made quickly by multi-tasking staff.

Among the drinks we came up with are the Maldonado Punch, a refreshing mixture of tequila, hibiscus, grapefruit, and other ingredients; El Chingroni, our take on the Negroni with tequila, Aperol, and sweet vermouth; and the Plantain Margarita, which substitutes spiced plantain syrup for the orange liqueur. However my favorite drink on the menu is a last-minute addition we came up with, the Señor Brown:

1 1/2 oz Del Maguey Mezcal Vida
Sidral Mundet sour apple soda

Build in an ice-filled pint glass, stir gently, and serve. Sidral Mundet makes a really tasty sour apple soda that mixes well with the smoky mezcal. The assertiveness of the spirit and the sweetness of the soda balance each other nicely. Plus you have to like a bright green cocktail that actually tastes good.

Mi Mero Mole is at 5026 SE Division in Portland, Ore. It’s open Tuesday-Thursday from 5-9, Friday-Saturday 5-10. Go check it out.

[Photo courtesy of Allison Jones, who writes up a full opening report at Portland Monthly and makes the Señor Brown look ten times better than I could have done with my own camera.]


Metrovino’s new cocktail menu

Averna Stout Flip — averna, young’s double chocolate stout, whole egg, angostura bitters, nutmeg, up

Chios 75 — small’s gin, mastic liqueur, lemon, sparkling wine, flute

Cleared for Departure — aviaton gin, clarified lime, maraschino liqueur, crème de violette, up

Crystal Caipirinha — novo fogo cachaça, clarified lime, sugar, up

Dirty Grandma Agnes — ransom old tom gin, dolin dry vermouth, grandma agnes’ pickling juice, up

Ethan Allen — bourbon, apple cider gastrique, smoked apple purée, angostura bitters, rocks

Lazy Bear — smith & cross rum, rye, honey, lime, spiced bitters, rocks

Mexican Train — ilegal mezcal reposado, dolin rouge vermouth, chartreuse, mole bitters, up

Seigle Sour — rye, spiced plantain syrup, lemon, egg white, cherribiscus bitters, up

Thyme in a Bottle — gin, farigoule thyme liqueur, lemon, maraschino, up

Walking Spanish — bols genever, amontillado sherry, cardamaro, st. germain, up


In memory of Don Younger

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Last night Portland lost one of its legendary figures, Don Younger, owner of the Horse Brass Pub. If you enjoy Oregon beer, you should raise a pint to him tonight. As a relative newcomer here the story’s not mine to tell, but suffice to say that he and his bar did a great deal to nurture the brewing community that’s made Portland justifiably famous for beer. Imbibe wrote about that history in one of their first issues. John Foyston has more in the Oregonian, and Ezra is collecting memories of Don at the New School. Many more tributes will be rolling in.

I’d read about Don and the Horse Brass before I’d moved to Portland and made a point to visit the bar on my first trip out here several years ago. When I finally did move here the Horse Brass became one of the first local bars where I felt at home. I loved beer, but it was also one of the best places to enjoy a cigar. Knowing few people in the city, it was a place I could visit anytime and strike up a conversation with whomever else was there at the end of the bar where the cigar smokers gathered. On one of these early visits Don was holding court at his usual spot, and though I didn’t meet him then I still remember the night. There was a young guy a few spots down from me nursing a beer and reading a book alone. Don called him over: “What are you doing, you don’t come to a bar to read a book!” Just like that the guy was introduced to the group and welcomed into the pub community.

A few weeks later I tried to meet Don myself. The statewide smoking ban was about to go into effect and I wanted to talk to Don for some articles I was working on. Many bar owners privately opposed the ban, but he was one of the few who actively fought against it. I had no luck getting an interview though: The bartenders informed me that Don was sick of talking to people about it. I ended up writing about the ban in the Oregonian anyway, not expecting to hear from Don. Then I saw him at the Horse Brass a few days later and introduced myself. Amazingly, he knew exactly who I was, said he loved my article, and that if he’d known who was asking for him he would have gladly talked to me. I’ve never been more flattered to find out that someone had read something I wrote. As intimidating as he was by reputation, in person he was as friendly as could be, the perfect publican.

A few months later I noticed something that cracked me up: He’d posted a clipping of the article in the hallway of the Horse Brass, right by the bathrooms, with some patron adding a graffitied mustache to my headshot. It stayed there for about a year. I may never win a Pulitzer, but how many Pulitzer winners can say they’ve had their writing displayed outside the men’s room of the Horse Brass? I’ll take it.

Unfortunately I didn’t get to know Don well after that. I spent less time at the Horse Brass after the ban, and reportedly so did he. But I do have one more story. The final night of smoking at the Horse Brass was not, in fact, the last night one could do it legally. A few days after the ban took effect Don allowed his regulars one more chance to light up in defiance of the law. Though I hadn’t arrived for this part, I’m told by others that Don called for patrons’ attention a half hour before we lit up to let everyone know what was going on. He said he knew that smoking is illegal now, but that he’d promised his friends they’d have one last session together. Anyone could leave if they wanted to, and he gave them the phone number they could call to report him, but this was going to happen. The bar burst into applause. And, of course, nobody called the number.

What a man. What a bar. Long live the Horse Brass.


Bols and the boozy side of brunch

My friend Brandon Wise at Irving Street Kitchen is hosting a series of hands-on booze and brunch events in collaboration with local bartenders. On January 8 Dave Shenaut comes in for some hangover-curing cocktails, on January 22 Neil Kopplin whips up drinks with local ingredients, and to kick things off this Saturday I’m joining Brandon to talk holiday classics. We’re featuring Bols Genever, Damrak Gin, and Galliano in a welcoming wassail, a New Orleans Fizz, and a rich hot cocoa. $40 covers all the drinks and brunch from chef Sarah Schafer. Details for making reservations are in the press release.


Entertaining with cocktails in the O

I have an article in the Oregonian today and amazingly it’s not about smoking bans. It’s about how to entertain guests at home without spending the entire night behind the bar. Of the three drinks included, only one is a individually mixed cocktail. The other two are a liqueur-spiked hot chocolate and a punch excerpted from David Wondrich’s forthcoming book, Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl.

I can’t recommend Wondrich’s book highly enough. He’s done a tremendous amount of work tracking down punch recipes, obtaining obscure ingredients, and translating incomplete instructions into methods readers can reproduce at home. This is a fascinating part of drinking history that’s been largely forgotten, and Wondrich’s research into the culture surrounding punch is of even greater interest than the drinks themselves. The book is a game changer. If you want to serve punches at home, be sure to pick it up a copy. It comes out November 2.

I should also mention that I’m joining the amazing staff at Metrovino. This is one of my favorite restaurants in Portland, with fantastic food and an amazing wine list. Their cocktails and spirit selection have also been very good, but up until now they haven’t had a full-time bar manager. I’m happy to say that my friend Kyle Webster, formerly of Noble Rot, has come on board to take over that role and put even more focus on spirits and cocktails. I’m coming in to join him once or week or so. Kyle’s first menu is already live, so stop in soon to check it out.


DC food and drink highlights

The Columbia Room offers the best service I have ever experienced in a bar. Tucked behind The Passenger, this reservations-only bar seats only a few people in a cozy escape from the busy nightlife out front. A flat rate brings Champagne, a small plate from the kitchen, and two expertly crafted cocktails from Derek Brown. This is very much in the Japanese style of bartending: You’re greeted with a hot towel, the ice is hand-carved, and the drinks are made one at a time in a cobbler shaker. Everything I had here was excellent, standouts being the Hibiki whiskey sour and duck prosciutto.

Some speakeasy-style bars take themselves too seriously; I have been in one and watched the host make a customer search her Blackberry for her password even though her name was on the reservation and the bar was nearly empty. In contrast The Columbia Room takes you seriously. It’s all about creating the best experience possible for the guests, from meticulously taking care of every detail to customizing cocktails to suit their tastes. If you’re in DC this is absolutely worth visiting.

Another great surprise is the new restaurant Eventide in Clarendon. This is the kind of place I wish existed when I was there, standing out from the bro bars that have flourished in the neighborhood. The crowd’s a little more restrained, the food is good, and bar manager Stephen Warner makes some excellent cocktails with spirits that were often unavailable in Virginia before he convinced the state bureaucrats to carry them.

Finally, Churchkey lived up to its promise as a beer destination. With 500 bottles, 50 taps, and 5 casks, one would never run out of beers to try here. Fortunately they offer 4 ounce pours of all their taps and casks, making it easier to experiment without getting hammered. My favorites were one of BrewDog’s Scotch-aged beers on cask and Victory’s Scarlet Fire rauchbier.

Other highlights: It’s always great to see Gina at PS 7’s and James at EatBar, Crisp and Juicy still rules, and I couldn’t get enough Salvadoran food.


DC bound

This morning I’m heading back to DC for the Cato Institute’s first-ever intern reunion, a massive event bringing together veteran interns from the think tank’s long history. This will be my first time back in well over a year. On my last visit I’d only been gone a few months and it felt like coming home. This time the city and my lifestyle there seem more distant, though perhaps I’ll slip right back into once I’m there. I will say this for DC: Despite the political world’s constant careerism and its priorities that are often not my own, I do miss the intellectual engagement the city always had on offer and the camaraderie shared by libertarians living in the belly of the beast. Where else could one pack a bar to the walls by offering drink specials and airing a Milton Friedman documentary?

In any case, the weekend will be fueled with copious food and drink. I already have a reservation at Columbia Room and Sunday brunch plans at my old hangout Eatbar (even if we can’t light up stogies there anymore). The lure of pollo a la brasa is strong. I’d like visit all the places on my old list, though that’s impossible. Eventide and Birch and Barley have opened since I left and I would love to visit them. What else is new that I should seek out?


Upcoming events at Spints

One of my favorite new bars in Portland, Spints Alehouse, has a couple fun events coming up. First is the St. Patrick’s Day celebration, during which chef Alyssa Gregg is offering a different sausage pairing for every beer on tap. That’s 13 sausages, people! There’s no prize for getting through all the pairings but it will be fun to try.

After that, I’m getting back behind the stick for a week-long run as guest bartender. In addition to Spints’ own craft cocktail menu I’ll be serving up a few drinks of my own. The plan as of now is for me to be there Friday-Sunday this week and Thursday-Saturday next week, working 4-9ish each day. I’d love to see some familiar faces there and if you haven’t been to Spints yet I highly recommend it: Great German-inspired food, a really good beer list, and a very cool atmosphere. For more information on the beer and photos of the winter dishes, check PDXplate.


Last call at Carlyle


Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of being on the opening crew of several coffee shops and restaurants. Now it’s my turn to be on the closing crew. From Carlyle owner Bruce Goldberg:

Next month is Carlyle’s seventh anniversary. February also marks the end of our current lease. Both milestones are significant in that they factor into my decision to announce that Carlyle will serve it’s last meal on Sunday, February 14th.

I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the many loyal customers, employees, and friends who have made Carlyle special. Though saddened by the closing, I ’m comforted by wonderful memories, ,and the opportunity to have worked with some very talented people.

I hope that over the next two weeks you’ll make a point of joining us for dinner or a drink. In addition to some recent menu changes, Chef Martin will be presenting a special prix fixe dinner, offered on both February 13th and 14th, to celebrate Valentine’s Day, and to serve as our farewell.

I’m eternally grateful to Bruce and to Neil, who first hired me there, for trusting me with their bar program. It’s been a fun ride and great platform for me as a mixologist. I think we succeeded in turning Carlyle into one of the best places in Portland to have a cocktail. Unfortunately we’ve faced an uphill battle running a destination restaurant in a tough location and a down economy, so this closing is understandable.

If you haven’t been into Carlyle yet, do stop in soon. And if you’re among the many friends I’ve made while working there I hope I’ll see you at least one more time before we close. Last call is Sunday night, February 14. Fernet is on the rail.

[Photo courtesy of the unbeatable Mayor of Carlyle, Ron Dollete.]


Where to eat/drink in Houston?

I’ll be back in my hometown December 25-29. Obviously I want to stop in at Anvil, where bartender Bobby Heugel is serving up creative cocktails. And word is David Buehrer has finally brought great coffee to Houston with his Tuscany Coffee. Good Tex-Mex is a must and easy to find. I’d usually consider barbecue essential, but Podnah’s Pit in Portland is such a good fix that I might do without. Where else should I visit?


I are serious bartender

Willamette Week’s 2009 restaurant guide also came out today, with Carlyle making the list of “Five Restaurants with Great Bars.” The drinks get a mention in the main review too:

Both the wine and cocktails are worthy of the food (except for maybe the “Obligatory Pink Vodka Drink” — see? They have a sense of humor, too.)

Purists will be glad to know the OPVD didn’t make the cut on our new, trimmer cocktail menu. We’re super serious now.

Restaurant of the Year went to Beaker and Flask. It’s a totally deserved honor and it couldn’t have gone to a nicer bunch of people. Congrats, guys!


Three Portland restaurants to try

El Inka — Of all the food I miss from Arlington, there’s nothing I crave more than Peruvian-style rotisserie chicken. Restaurants serving pollo a la brasa abounded in my old neighborhood. The first place I’ve found it around Portland is way out in Gresham. Yet when the craving strikes the drive is worth it. El Inka isn’t quite comparable to the best in Virginia, but the crisp, flavorful skin is right on. The fried yuca, plantains, and grilled beef heart are also good. The fried hot dogs are less interesting than they sound. Why isn’t there a place like this closer in? I think it would do well.

Beaker and Flask — Kevin Ludwig’s long-awaited bar is finally open, significantly upping the east side’s cocktail cred. The cocktails are as excellent as expected. More importantly, beer isn’t just an afterthought here and the kitchen puts out some tasty fare. Good cocktails are easy to find in Portland, but places that are strong on mixed drinks, beer, and food are rare. Beaker pulls it off to become my new favorite after work spot.

Koi Fusion PDX — Actually a cart not a restaurant, but my search for cheap, delicious post-shift meals is a lot easier thanks to these guys. Think bulgogi, short ribs, or spicy pork served in a taco with cabbage, bean sprouts, daikon, and other veggies. Follow them on Twitter to find out where and when they’re serving.


Cocktails at Carlyle

Carlyle Bar

I’ve been waiting until things are official to post the good news, but I’m happy to report that my job search here in Portland is finally at an end. I’ve been lucky so far to pick up a couple shifts a week behind the nicely stocked bar at the Carlyle. I got even luckier last week when Neil Kopplin, our talented bar manager, decided to move on to a new job. I’ll be stepping into his shoes starting tomorrow. To go from underemployed cocktail blogger to lead bartender at a place like Carlyle is a fantastic opportunity and I’m excited to start leaving my mark on the place.

I’m inheriting a good cocktail program, so I don’t need to come in and make drastic changes. I’ll be gradually adding new cocktails to the menu over the next few weeks. If you’re in Portland, I hope you’ll drop in sometime to try them out. (If you’re in the industry we’ve got an added bonus for you: 20% off food orders for bartenders, baristas, and servers, happy hour excluded.)

Neil’s new home is behind the bar at Clyde Common with Jeffrey Morgenthaler. Clyde’s already one of my favorite spots in town and I look forward to seeing my two friends there. They’re open later than Carlyle, so I’ll be a frequent visitor for those oh so necessary post-shift drinks.

We’re celebrating Neil’s last shift with House Spirits’ Recession Proof Mixology event. Stop in today from 4-7 for a menu of $5 Aviation gin cocktails and stay even later for what’s sure to be a memorable night.


Back behind the stick

Carlyle Bar

This post has been a much longer time coming than I anticipated when I quit my previous job in July, but now I can finally say it: I am employed! Well, partially. I’m only working one night a week. But given the state of Portland’s restaurant scene right now and the fact that Oregon has the nation’s 6th highest unemployment rate, I’ll take what I can get.

Luckily, what I get is a pretty sweet bar. Starting next week I’ll be covering every Tuesday at the Carlyle, an upscale bar and restaurant in the northwest part of town. As bar manager Neil Kopplin described it to me when I first met him a few months ago, working here is like having a huge toybox at your disposal and the freedom to do whatever you want with it. He wasn’t kidding. Pictured above is our giant wall of whiskey and spirits, which doesn’t include the two shelves below it, the well, or the big cabinet full of bottles behind the bar.* Notice also that there’s no ladder, so reaching the high shelves requires a bit of monkey-like climbing. If you ever want to tick me off at work come in and keep changing your mind about which top shelf liquor you’d like after I get them down.

Neil has put together an excellent cocktail list with an emphasis on quality spirits and fresh ingredients. Below is my current favorite on the menu, the Envy:

Carlyle -- Envy

.5 oz Marteau absinthe
.75 oz green Chartreuse
1 oz Meyer lemon juice
.25 oz lavender syrup
.25 oz honey syrup

Shake over ice and strain into a Martini glass, topping with a bit of soda. Even though it has just a little over an ounce of spirits in it, they’re overproof, flavorful, and strong enough to stand up to the citrus. The Marteau is an excellent new absinthe distilled right here in Portland; it’s wonderful on its own and contributes pure herbal deliciousness to this cocktail.

I’ll be behind the bar Tuesdays from 4:00 to close, which is generally between 9:30 and 10. Happy hour prices on the bar menu run until 6:30. I’m having a great time mixing drinks professionally again, so come in sometime to say hi and enjoy a tasty beverage.

*Eagle-eyed readers will notice that the left-most column is actually a reflection, not a shelf. But that’s still a lot of spirits!