“Is it local?” asks almost every Portlander.
While some cities’ cocktail bars have taken their cues from New York and San Francisco, reinterpreting the classics, swapping in high-quality ingredients, and exploring obscure whiskies, Portland (Oregon) went straight for convenient craft spirits, seasonal infusions, and community support right out of the gate.
“While there are countless ‘tools’ or options in the spirits world, we [Portland] have a commitment to incorporating as many local options as we can,” states Collin Nicholas, mix-master and founder of the Pearl District’s conjoining cocktail bars: electrifying Pink Rabbit and fresh-faced Fools and Horses, in the former Vault Cocktail Lounge space. “The romantic idea that ‘what grows together, goes together’ applies. The incredible talent and attention to craft coming from our local spirit producers [who] offer some of the world’s best ultimately make our job as cocktail creators easier!”
From Westward Whiskey reimagining American Single Malt to Bull Run Distillery developing barrel-finished products, and Wild Roots Distillery infusing natural fruit distillates all are born and raised (and poured) in Portland.
Rose City’s cocktail bars – both old and new – continue to prosper, especially post-lockdown. Pink Rabbit returned reinvigorately in July 2021 as Nicholas’ first solo project. The playful hangout pushes out vibrant, ingredient-and technique-focused bevvies to Portland’s quirky (and thirsty) Gen-Zers, who are equally enthusiastic about uncovering and contributing to the compelling cocktail culture as the bar team.
“Portland supports Portland,” states Spencer Sollom, bar manager at Driftwood Room, a dim-lit, half-heart designed lobby lounge set in Hotel deLuxe since 1954. “We know what a wonderful place [Portland] not only was [pre-pandemic], but is; and if we stand together and support one another, we can make it a [drink] destination.” The landmark bar stands as a pioneer of Portland’s cocktail movement serving fizzy flutes, a Manhattan sampler and absinthe fountain from a traditional drip tower at table-side. “We try really hard to give exceptional [guest] service,” Sollom admits.
Nicholas carries out guest interaction through “escapism” by sharing the inspiration behind the cocktail style or flavors that transcend the tried-and-true. Spotlight on Bird is the Word starring Oregon-rooted Lewis and Clark Silver Rum. “A sip from the perfect spiced pineapple jungle bird riff may just transport you from downtown Portland to somewhere fifty-yards from a beach, we are painting a picture with flavor,” he explains.
With the recent debut of Fools and Horses next-door, Nicholas premiered another space for the Portland “spirit” and community to spread into on the shared city block. A dark and lush one, unlike Pink Rabbit, with an emphasis on table service and “insider elements” (cough membership club). The sweeping cocktail menu prepared by Nicholas yet performed by bar manager Ben Purvis covers conscious offerings “with a ton of range” under two sections: Spirit Forward and Refreshing. Each recipe contains one special ingredient like a seasonal shrub or syrup (or produce and proteins in the kitchen) that delivers the freshest expressions while reducing the carbon footprint.
Led by the M.O. “good bar culture creates great community,” Nicholas believes a well-rounded sense of hospitality, from sight to smell; flavor and fulfillment, for regulars and returnees is the way of the future for Portland.
“We are not reinventing the wheel, we are just creating a better one,” Nicholas reassures. “We are working to redefine the landscape of Portland’s hospitality-cocktail scene.”