Pacific Standard Time
Jeffrey Morgenthaler Opens Up a New Portland Bar.
The Covid pandemic robbed cocktail fans of many of their beloved bedrock institutions, bars—like Pegu Club in New York, Eastern Standard in Boston and Bar Agricole in San Francisco—that helped inspire and sustain the cocktail renaissance of the last two decades. One of the hardest losses to take was that of Clyde Common, the lobby bar and restaurant in the Ace Hotel in Portland, Oregon. If you knew only one cocktail bar in that city, Clyde was likely it. It was a destination for residents of Portland, of Oregon and the entire country.
Clyde Common’s bar also had the unique distinction of being led for all of its twelve years by one person. Modern cocktail bartenders are restless folk who tend to skip from one post to the next, rarely staying at any bar for more than two years. But when you went to Clyde Common you always knew you were either going to see Jeffrey Morgenthaler or at least drink his cocktails. During his tenure there, he invented beloved drinks like the Bourbon Renewal and his personal, bourbon-laced interpretation of the Amaretto Sour; instigated the barrel-aged cocktail trend that eventually girded the globe; and opened a second basement bar called Pepe Le Moko, where he embraced his affinity for under-loved cocktails like the Grasshopper and Blue Hawaii.
While at his post, Morgenthaler also transformed himself into a national figure, authoring a popular bartending blog, writing two books, and collecting a host of awards and nominations.
It was something of a shock, then, to see Morgenthaler suddenly without a perch when, in May 2020, Clyde Common owner Nate Tilden curtailed his restaurant and bar’s services. After limping along in various forms over the next year and a half, Clyde Common officially and completely closed in January 2022.
Morgenthaler kept busy. He partnered with the Eugene-based brewery Ninkasi and released a line of RTD canned cocktails. But for one of the nation’s most famous bartenders to not have a bar to tend felt strange and wrong.
It was a great relief to drinkers across America, then, when it was announced recently that Morgenthaler would once again assume his place behind the stick. He, along with his longtime bar partner Benjamin “Banjo” Amberg, are the owners of Pacific Standard, the new lobby bar and restaurant inside the Scandinavian hotel KEX. It opened in late June.
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Perhaps the only good thing about Clyde Common closing is that, if it hadn’t, Pacific Standard never would have happened, because Morgenthaler never would have left. “There was no way I was going to leave Clyde,” he told The Mix. “I’ve always been anti-lateral moves.”
KEX is an Icelandic hotel chain, and Portland is their first location outside the island nation. But its opening was unfortunately timed: November 2019, just a few months before Covid shut everything down. “They just never got the chance to get off the ground,” said Morgenthaler.
Morgenthaler was busy trying to figure out the next chapter of his career when KEX called. However, he was skittish, having seen the financial duress his Clyde Common boss had endured.
“I just never thought I would own my own restaurant, especially after seeing what my boss went through,” he said. “He got royally screwed. Some people made it. It all depended on who your landlord was. The people who made it through the pandemic had lenient landlords. I’m thinking, ‘I’m never going to own a bar, because I’m watching him worried that he’s going to lose his house.’”
But Morgenthaler and Amberg eliminated that risk by entering into a licensing deal with KEX. They own the name and the concept of Pacific Standard, and have creative control, but are saddled with none of the financially burdensome infrastructure or equipment.
The arrival of Pacific Standard has given Morgenthanler the chance to shed some of the things he’s best known for and try out some new tricks. You won’t see the Bourbon Renewal and Amaretto Sour on the menu—though the bartenders can make those drinks if you like. (The Bourbon Renewal is also available as a to-go canned cocktail.) Instead, there’s an All-Day Bloody Mary, Fun-Size Gimlet, Rose Negroni, Seville Orange Sour and Terra Firma (recipe below).
“I didn’t want to trot out some greatest hits menu,” explained Morgenthaler. “At Clyde, I could never take those things off the menu, they were so popular. We had people who came in from Europe once a year to have their Bourbon Renewel. I feel very strongly about not taking your more popular items off the menu. So this was a nice opportunity to press reset. I have other ideas!”
Among those ideas:
68 Olympic. The name of this mix of Tequila, mezcal, grapefruit juice, agave syrup and cinnamon mixture is a reference to the 1968 Mexico Olympics. It’s also a nod to local Portland hero Dick Fosbury, who displaying his unique high jump style at the games, a “back-first” technique that came to be known as the Fosbury Flop.
Fun-Sized Gimlet. In a world where mini Martinis have become all the rage, Morgenthaler is debuting a mini Gimlet. The three-ounce drink is pre-batched, served quickly and costs only $8; $6 during happy hour. “I’m seeing $20 cocktails out there,” he said. “I just can’t do that. That was really imporatant. You can come in at happy hour and get a cocktail at $6.”
Passion Fruit Ramos. Responding to a dearth of quality orange flower water on the market, Morgenthaler replaced the ingredient in a Ramos Gin Fizz with passion fruit, which is integrated into a housemate sour mix. “I always wanted to do a Ramos, I love the Ramos,” he said. “And I always loved passion fruit.” The drink is already selling well.
Irish Coffee. With characteristic cocksure confidence, Morgenthaler lists this drink on the menu as “engineered to be the world’s best.” He uses Good Coffee, a local brand; Jameson Irish whisky, his favorite whisky for Irish coffees; and a brown sugar syrup with a hand-tweaked molasses content.
Espresso Martini. Pacific Standard’s stand-in for the Zombie, as customers are only allowed to order two of them. Morgenthaler uses overproof vodka, Spanish brandy, Kahlua and cold brew extract.
In a flip of what is usually the case at most restaurant bars, Morgenthaler and Amberg got to design a food menu that suited their drinks program, rather than the other way around.
“We spend a lot of time thinking about: what is bar food; what is most bar food; what do we want bar food to be?,” he said. “We didn’t want everything out of a deep fryer. We wanted light, snackable things.”
The line-up ended up being a collection of things they grew up eating and enjoying on the west coast, including Willipa Bay oysters, a jumbo prawn cocktail, Puget Sound mussels, Oregon berry cast iron crumble, Walla Walla French onion dip, and the very popular Castroville artichoke, which is steamed and served chilled with umami mayo and garlic butter.
“It’s super exciting that I got to write my own food menu,” he said. “I’ve always loved cooking. I always had strong opinions on the food menu at Clyde, but they were always like, ‘Fuck off! No bartender’s going to tell us what to do.’”
What with summer rushing in pretty quickly, Morgenthaler and Amberg—their hands full with Pacific Standard—may go lo-fi with the hotel’s yet-to-open rooftop bar, serving buckets of beer and slushies. “Nobody cares here,” said Morgenthaler. “Everybody wants to be on a rooftop. Nobody’s going to come and say, ‘I don’t understand the menu concept.’”
And, in case you’ve missed him, Morgenthaler will be behind the bar every day.
“I’m not a clipboard manger,” he said. “I manage from the service well. I’m most happy getting in there making cocktails”
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Jeffrey Morgenthaler, Pacific Standard, Portland, OR, 2022
¾ ounce Suntory Toki whisky
¾ ounce Laird’s Bonded Apple Brandy
¾ ounce Dolin Blanc Vermouth
¼ ounce Benedictine
1 dash Angostura bitters
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice cubes and stir until cold, about 15 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon twist.
Odds and Ends…
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