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Bread & Brew: Holiday is the time to imbibe, whether Cupid's a friend or foe

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Nick Gusikoff, who is the owner of the Richmond Bar on Southeast Division Street, makes The Honey Suckle drink - made of bourbon, Drambuie, lemon and rooftop honey syrup.Whether you’re celebrating or drowning your sorrows, this weekend brings plenty of reasons for imbibing. And if you’re in the mood to do some exploring, there’s a new crop of neighborhood bars worth checking out:

n In all the ferment on Southeast Division Street, you may have missed the quiet switchover of the Matchbox Lounge to the Richmond Bar. It looks similar, especially from the outside, but myriad subtle upgrades make the interior more comfortable and charming than it was before.

A reception table and banquettes keep the one-time thrift store from feeling too mercantile. One wall is covered with gorgeous crimson and gold wallpaper, and the ceiling above the bar is textured with a puzzle pattern of wood blocks.

The menu also has been upgraded. The spot is partly owned by Nate Tilden, who also partly owns Olympic Provisions, so look for great charcuterie and close attention to detail. A ham hand pie, for instance, holds juicy OP sweetheart ham, smoked cheddar, and — instead of predictable root vegetables — roasted cauliflower. But the garnishes may be the best part: two zippy mustards and a little dish of excellent pickled vegetables.

The cocktails don’t suffer from their trendy ingredients. The Honey Suckle (bourbon, Drambuie, lemon, and “rooftop honey syrup”) is nectarous. The Strong Waters, rye whiskey with assorted bitter and herbal additives, is a cheering cocktail that falls somewhere in the Manhattan family.

In short, the Richmond Bar is clubby and cozy, a great place to stop in for a nightcap after a dinner date at any of the many nearby restaurants.

4 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily, 3203 S.E. Division St., 503-208-3075, www.therichmondbar.com.

• Another new bar that’s developing a symbiotic relationship with its neighbors is Wilder, on Northeast Killingsworth Street at 30th, in the cluster that includes Beast, Yakuza, DOC and Autentica. A former storefront, Wilder’s look is stripped-down, literally: lathe and plaster walls, and a ceiling crisscrossed with joists and ducts.

On a Saturday night the place was full of people, almost all of whom had brown hair, black-framed glasses, and looked about 32 years old. Even at capacity, the place is pretty mellow, except for the traffic jam at the bar.

There’s no table service, leaving the bartender to take all orders and mix all drinks from an overly ambitious cocktail menu. Traditional drink recipes have been tweaked, to their disadvantage. A travesty of a sidecar was a harsh mix of cognac and orange zest — very small, and with no actual sidecar. Scotch flavored with a coffee tincture just didn’t work.

There’s a good tap list, and a simple dish of mussels and fries was very satisfying. The mussels were cooked to a T in a balanced broth that also made the generic fries taste just fine.

4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday-Monday, 4 p.m. to midnight Wednesday-Saturday, 5501 N.E. 30th Ave., 503-704-8332, (no website)

• Everything is big at Ecliptic Brewing, including the reputation of head brewer John Harris. Harris started out at McMenamins back in the early days, and went on to craft several of Deschutes’ most successful styles before moving on to Full Sail, where he was responsible for the Brewmaster Reserve line of beers.

His new laboratory is in a huge warehouse, perched on the steep hill just below the Mississippi Avenue business district. The name comes from astronomy. After doing a little research, I can tell you that the ecliptic is a scientific concept that has something to do with the sun, and orbits, and the zodiac.

More information comes from the beer menu, which explains not only that the Mintaka Stout has “a full roast flavor hitched with slight toffee notes,” but also that the star Mintaka, part of the constellation of Orion, is “some 90,000 times more luminous than our Sun.” I wouldn’t call the stout luminous — it’s dark and chewy, more toffee than coffee, with a bitter cocoa nub edge.

The flagship Arcturus IPA (also named for a star) has a full spectrum of bitter, hoppy flavors in the Northwest style. A seasonal IPA called Filament, after the arcs of plasma that explode from the sun, is more fruity and spicy. They’re all big, fairly aggressive beers, and worth seeking out, although honestly, I felt a bit lost and cold under the two-story-high ceilings.

The pub menu includes an above-average burger and pretty good fish and chips. It’s definitely more of a place for larger groups, with lots of parking and lots of room. Not really a date spot — which may be all the more reason to head there this Friday.

11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-midnight Friday-Saturday, 825 N. Cook St., 503-265-8002, www.eclipticbrewing.com

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