This post is long overdue, but I’ve been very, very, very busy these past four months. In case you haven’t heard, I’ve finally opened my own bar – with my good friend, business partner, and former lead bartender at Clyde Common, Benjamin Amberg. And now that I’m finally able to come up for air a little, I’m excited to tell you all about it!
My boss finally made the painful decision to close Clyde Common after a long series of pandemic-related setbacks and most of 2021 for me was spent working on our Ninkasi Canned Cocktails, doing some consulting work for various clients and brands, and generally trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. Until late December, when I was approached by our now-partners at the KEX Hotel in Portland to open my own project in their hotel lobby. I love a hotel lobby bar, so I grabbed Benjamin and we began programming our dream lobby bar. And the end result is Pacific Standard.
I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’ve worked everywhere from really scary dive bars to fine dining restaurants (and everything in between). I made the move to fine dining a long time ago because:
- The hours are better. Working until 4AM every night just isn’t sustainable for anyone long-term.
- The clientele is – in theory – better. I’ve seen some rough stuff in fancy restaurants but it pales in comparison to the nightmares I’ve witnessed in dive bars and clubs.
- The product I get to serve is better. I’m really good at serving well whiskey and opening cans of beer, but I really love getting to work with delicious, high quality product every night.
But on the other hand, there are some trappings of fine dining bar work that I don’t love. Such as a host stand staffed by people rolling their eyes at everyone who walks in the door. A station full of servers ignoring their guests and playing on their phones. And temperamental chefs who become bored with serving our most popular items and feel the need to take them off the menu.
So those ideas became the base for our new concept: a restaurant bar without the restaurant. We created the food menu and kitchen recipes ourselves, and hired a skilled team of kitchen professionals to execute it. And the bartenders are all in charge of the front of house; we make the drinks, we run the food, we clear the tables. It’s simple and elegant. So let me tell you a little bit about the food and drinks!
This is not a tiny bespoke cocktail bar, but a huge hotel lobby. So the cocktail menu was designed to be easy to understand for the guest and quick to execute by the bartender – while being unbelievably delicious and fun. We spent six months developing and fine-tuning the drinks to be absolutely incredible, while only requiring two or three touches by the bartender.
Low-proof and alcohol-free cocktails are featured prominently on our menu, and the ABV of every drink is listed so that our guests have all of the necessary information to make informed choices about their drinks. We also worked very hard to come in at a price point that is, quite frankly, unheard of in cocktail bars post-pandemic. While I firmly believe in bar operators doing what they need to do to make ends meet, I have seen a lot of $20 cocktails lately and we wanted our bar to be affordable, and a regular stop for our guests. We also brought back happy hour, something that disappeared in Portland after the pandemic, and offer everything on the menu for $2 off from 3PM-6PM, every single day of the year.
Our beers are all on draft and are local to Oregon. We work with our friends, local craft brewers around the state who make – in our opinion – the best beers in the world. We have eight tap handles and can host a wide variety of different styles.
We have ten wines on draft and the list is entirely local as well. Most winemakers don’t put their precious product in keg format, so we work directly with them to get wines that often can’t be found in a bottle. And we can offer them all by the glass since there is no spoilage with our inert gas system!
I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what sort of food is mine. I didn’t grow up with an Italian grandmother who hand-made fresh pasta for me every Sunday. And we really wrestled with what kind of food to serve that would both represent us well, and also be approachable, delicious, easy to execute, and go well with drinking. And then it hit me.
I am a third-generation West Coast kid. I was born and raised in California, and I’ve lived in Oregon for thirty years. My father was born and raised in Washington, my mother in California. I’m obsessed with the steamed artichokes of Castroville, California, near where I grew up. I crave mussels and oysters from Puget Sound. I inhale the great drive-thru burgers of Southern California, and the old-school steakhouses of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Portland. I devour date shakes every time I’m anywhere near Palm Springs. My summers have been spent enjoying the fresh berry bounty of Oregon.
The West Coast has its own special food language, and I think there is a larger conversation in there about classic West Coast gastronomy that is deeper than the typical farm-to-table discussion. Pacific Standard isn’t Alice Waters; It’s James Beard.
So there it is. We’re located at 100 NE Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, inside the KEX Hotel in beautiful Portland, Oregon and we would love to see you. Over the next few weeks and months I will be sharing some of our recipes here – both food and drink recipes. And yes, the chocolate chip cookies are on the menu.