On my recent trip, with less time on my hands than I'd have liked, I devoted one full evening each to drinks at Clyde Common
, where Jeff Morgenthaler
is now holding court, and at Teardrop Lounge
, where I enjoyed the work of the estimable trio of Dan Shoemaker, Ted Charak, and Daniel Shenaut. (Allison Dykes was also behind the stick but didn't make me any drinks, sadly -- not that I wasn't putting my head back frequently.) Both bars are serving world-class drinks from terrific bartenders who are really nice people to boot. Clyde Common
I have no idea what was happening at Clyde Common before Jeff recently arrived, but his uber-professional sensibility, mad skills, and terrific demeanor set the tone there now. (Props to Nate Tilden, proprietor, who brought Jeff up from Eugene and who gives a great BOH tour. I'll never tell where the super-old Pappy is, Nate.) Though he moves very quickly on a busy night, Jeff measures, tastes, and adjusts every single drink that goes out, and not just the cocktailian brews. His team's ability to handle a wide array of personalities was pretty impressive, too, never anything but friendly no matter the drink order and appropriately explicit with the drunks.
The drinks were all stellar. (Jason Barwikowski's food was great, too, especially the cocktail-friendly food I focused on: confit lamb belly, olive oil poached octopus, and one of the best cod dishes -- seared with razor clams and pickled celery -- I've ever had.) I really loved the Norwegian Wood (Krogstad aquavit, Laird's applejack, Cinzano rosso, yellow Chartreuse, Angostura) and think it would be off-the-charts good if Jeff had access to BIB Laird's. I also thought that the Bittersweet Symphony (Martin Miller, Aperol, Punt e Mes) was note-perfect, and Jeff's version of an Old Fashioned using the Evan Williams 1998 (from CC's remarkable rye list) was the best I've ever had, a truly superior match of spirit and preparation. Teardrop Lounge
I think I'm in love with Dan Shoemaker (and not -- full disclosure -- because he comped a drink or two). If it didn't happen when he said, "When I decided I had to open this place, eGullet taught me everything," it happened the moment when he handed me his version of an Improved Gin Cocktail, a breaktaking glass featuring Hayman's Old Tom gin and Marteau absinthe. In its evocation of both the classic lessons of the past and the remarkable state of the craft today, it was the most memorable cocktail I've ever had, and I'm damned if I can give you a word more description than that.
Dan, Ted, and Daniel have a passion for cocktails that would be somewhat hard to believe if their drinks didn't deliver on every promise, implied or otherwise. Over the course of my evening, I enjoyed samples of homemade libations including dry vermouth, Amer Picon, tonic water, grenadine, creme de cacao, ginger beer, kummel, and several tinctures, including costus and pau d'arco; a vodka flight, including one distilled from honey, that changed my mind about what vodka could be; eau d'Amis; and a gin flight.
I also had cocktails: a September Morn; a Modus Operandi (Sazerac rye, Amaro Nonino, Carpano Antica, sasparilla & clove tintures, Pau d’Arco bitters); a Dizzy Sour, with Depaz blue cane rhum, Sazerac rye, Bénédictine, lemon, and sugar; and a Sandcastles in the Sky, with Glenfarclas 12 year, Bénédictine, floc de gascogne, Marteau absinthe, and citrus oil. It was the most astonishing series of cocktails I've ever had, each topping the previous. I can't imagine better drinks than these.
I closed the evening with an on-the-spot invention by Daniel with Hayman's St. Germain, Dolin dry, orange flower water, and an orange twist; he called it an Ephemeral Cocktail, but it lingered well after I wandered out onto the Portland streets, as has the memory of that wonderful evening.
* * * * *
The two places are very different: Clyde Commons evokes an old, wood-grain Portland that probably never existed, with a bar set to the side of the main show in the dining room and open kitchen; Teardrop Lounge is all 21-century cocktail bar, with the well, the "droplet" shelf, and even the walls oozing tinctures, projects, books, and barrels. Coming from a town with not one solid choice for a quality bar, I would be happy in Portland never having to make a decision about which was better, given how fantastic both are.