These Are the Best Mussels We’ve Ever Had (Plus, More Snacks from Portland’s Best Bar)
Portland’s new Pacific Standard tells the modern story of food in the West, with smart, drink-friendly snacks and incredible cocktails to match.
Jeffrey Morgenthaler can get pretty philosophical when it comes to bar food. “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.”
There aren’t a lot of bartenders working these days who name-drop deceased East Coast culinary lions when riffing on the inspiration behind their latest project. But then again there aren’t many bartenders like Morgenthaler. He’s the guy who put Portland cocktails on the map, first at Clyde Common at the Ace Hotel, then at Pépé le Moko. He’s written two books on the subject. He’s an excellent maker of drinks with some 30 years behind the bar. And Pacific Standard at the KEX Hotel in Portland is his longtime dream.
Pacific Standard is, as Morgenthaler explains it, somewhat confusingly, “a restaurant bar without a restaurant.” Morgenthaler was tired of the 4 a.m. closing times, the rowdy clientele, and the limitations of simply making drinks in the bar world, and gravitated toward the refinement of a restaurant setting: well-behaved clientele, access to great produce and product, good food to keep people grounded and lingering. Pacific Standard has all of those things, but unlike a restaurant bar, as Morgenthaler likes to point out, the bartenders are running the show. Yes, there’s food, but instead of coming from a culinary mind, it’s a bartender’s menu. So the food is hearty and drink-friendly, personal, and reflective of Morgenthaler’s pan-Western tastes, not with hyper-regional specificity but in a meandering greatest-hits, road-trip sort of way: artichokes with dip as a nod to their spiritual home of Castroville, a drive-through burger with a hat tip to In-N-Out, a spiked date shake boozily saluting Palm Springs, or a Caesar salad from Tijuana with an optional Pacific Northwest Dungeness crab supplement.
The drinks are equally classic, though less overtly Western: subtle spins on old fashioneds, gimlets, and negronis, but all with a welcome twist—their ABV percentages are listed so customers know exactly what they’re getting into; a 37-percent ABV Old Fashioned, say, or a 9.99-percent “All-Day Bloody Mary.” It’s a brilliant public service that all bars would be wise to adapt. And for those who aren’t imbibing the hard stuff, he offers well-crafted zero-ABV drinks, such as the Tiger Balm, made with a nonalcoholic spirit infused with bay leaf, pepper, and lime, which we have included here.