At Pacific Standard in Portland, a star bartender is opening his own restaurant – Robb Report
Last year, the father of the Portland, Oregon cocktail community effectively retired.
That’s when by Jeffrey Morgenthaler ten year old house, Municipality of Clyde, winner of the James Beard Awards seven times, has closed its doors for good. Just like its sister bar, Pépé le Moko. Morgenthaler avoided announcing the closures and instead took the opportunity to quietly exit the bar scene. He spent 2021 consulting other beverage professionals and launching his own canned cocktail brand in conjunction with Eugene, Oregon’s Ninkasi Brewing Company.
“Maybe I was delaying the inevitable, but I didn’t want to go back to just running a bar,” he said. “There was no place I really wanted to work. And I wasn’t thrilled about going back to doing exactly what I was doing before. I wanted an exciting project.
Then, as they say, he got an offer he couldn’t refuse. ChefStable restaurant group asked the longtime bar manager and author open a place of its own in the KEX Hotel. So, in late June, he and his longtime business partner Benjamin “Banjo” Amberg did just that.
Pacific Standard, located in the lobby of the KEX Hotel, is their “Love Letter to the West Coast”. It offers a dozen specialty cocktails – interesting twists on classic “lobby” drinks – local beers and wine on tap, as well as dishes inspired by Morgenthaler’s childhood in central California and his 30s. years as an Oregon resident.
“I’m doing what I was doing before, which is great because that’s what I know best, but I also have a stake in the business, which is perfect,” he said.
(Interestingly, Morgenthaler and Armstrong entered into a licensing agreement on the project; they own the concept, brand, and ideas, but not the physical tables or chairs. That way, Morgenthaler said, he doesn’t don’t have to put their house on the line to start their own business. Plus, they can open Pacific Standard locations elsewhere, which they already plan to do in the future.)
To create Pacific Standard’s drink menu, Morgenthaler prioritized the space’s identity as a lobby bar, where all kinds of people pass. He embraced cocktails that can be enjoyed all day by everyone.
“This hotel lobby is all about accessibility,” he said. “So we didn’t want anything too esoteric. We wanted great drinks anytime, things people can really relate to and drink without feeling like they’re in a fancy cocktail bar. They are in the lobby of a hotel.
For example, he tackled the Bloody Mary, one of those great drinks from the hotel lobby bar that leans more towards meals. Morgenthaler joked, “I always thought if you drank a Bloody Mary after a certain hour you were a psychopath. I wanted to challenge this idea.
How, he wondered, could he turn a Bloody Mary into an all-day drink? Something tasty but light and shiny? He did the R&D in his home kitchen, boosting the acidity with citric acid and the umami with MSG, and refined the recipe down to the gram.
“Each drink is super accessible, but also appeals to nerds,” he said.
For the Irish coffee, he paired Jameson with local coffee, brown sugar-molasses syrup and fresh cream. Other cocktails include a draft Michelada and Aperol strawberry-rhubarb spritz, Ramos passion fruit fizz, and espresso martinis made with Spanish brandy. Its Negroni variation is clear, made with rosé vermouth from Spain, gin, Bitter Bianco, sea salt, bitters and lemon zest.
Its menu also includes the ABV of each drink – much like the number of calories displayed in burgers – which it hopes will spread to bars elsewhere.
“We can all make more informed decisions about how we drink,” he said. “Like me, I am no longer a heavy drinker. But when I come out, I can start with an Old Fashioned, which is 37% ABV. Then I might want to back off a bit and go down to something like 4% ABV and have one or two while I socialize. And then I might want to bump it up a bit. It’s really nice to be able to watch the ABV and plan my evening.
Pacific Standard also finally gave the team the opportunity to make a food menu. Morgenthaler was inspired by his family’s heritage on the Pacific Coast. He wanted to challenge the belief that West Coast cuisine is defined by Alice Waters and farm-to-table cuisine.
“There’s so much more to the West Coast that I’m excited about,” he said. “Like Dungeness crab, the great steakhouses of LA, the sourdough of San Francisco, the drive-ins of the 1950s…”
On the Pacific Standard kitchen menu, diners can expect plates like cider-poached Puget Sound mussels, French onion dip served with potato chips and Osetra caviar, and steamed artichokes served with mayonnaise and garlic butter. There are even warm chocolate chip cookies, made by Morgenthaler staff (viral) Recipe.
The reclaimed wood substructure and library-like decor of the Pacific Standard space were already there, remnants of its previous identity as an open-floor restaurant. Morgenthaler only had to rearrange details like the banker’s lamps on top of the bar, which he says was a way for him to finally put his interior design degree to good use.
Pacific Standard is open from 3 p.m. to midnight, daily. The team hopes to soon extend the hours from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m.
Later this summer, they will be opening the Sunset Room bar on the KEX rooftop. There, they plan to operate slush machines and sell beer bottles by the shovel to help locals cool off in the heat.
That seems like a lot to take on for a man who has just come out of retirement. And it’s.
“Oh, yes, I’m exhausted,” he laughed. “I’m losing my voice too, because I haven’t done anything but talk to the guests. It’s the most I’ve talked about in years.