There’s art to making a cocktail.
Sure, most of us can make a decent gin and tonic — or vodka and orange juice — but when it comes to mixing a Manhattan, martini or bloody mary, it might be best to find an expert, because a proper drink takes special ingredients and skills.
Thankfully, the state of Oregon legalized to-go cocktails mid-December 2020. The decision is about eight months overdue for local restaurants with bars, says Bar Purlieu’s co-owner Joe Kiefer-Lucas. But the creative juices can now flow for restaurants that offer bar drinks. So throw away that martini that even Hawkeye Pierce from MASH wouldn’t drink and explore these creative options — such as playing with kimchi, selling mix-it-yourself kits, perfecting cocktail drinks and offering Eugene classics.
Kiefer-Lucas says he doesn’t like snobbery or pretentiousness in bartending. “I make dumb drinks for smart people,” he says. “I’m not here pulling my moustache looking down at you for not choosing the right drink.”
That’s what Kiefer-Lucas says drives him to give his drinks names such as Cat Video or Brown Fedora. The names harken to what the drink (Brown Fedora references Brown Derby) was inspired by, but it adds some fun to it, he says.
Before cocktails to-go, Bar Purlieu sold cocktail mixes when the restaurant reopened for takeout early in the pandemic. It was a way to re-enter the bar world during the pandemic, Kiefer-Lucas says. They still offer the mixes, which provide customers with instructions on how to make the drink, allowing them to be the bartender.
But for those who are looking for a drink to accompany their meals, Bar Purlieu now has some of its unique cocktails for sale. Kiefer-Lucas says the cocktail menu targets returning customers while not offering anything too weird for new people. “Because if you don’t like your drink, you can’t send it back like you could normally,” he adds.
But there’s still a sense of exploration available at Bar Purlieu. Back in the days when we could safely drink at bars, you could try out different liquors with your cocktail, and Kiefer-Lucas says the bar has brought back that spirit with its build-your-own Manhattan. It’s a way to try a liquor with the commitment of around $18 for a nine-ounce drink — which is better than sinking around $80 on a bottle of something you might not like. The build your own Manhattan ranges in price, depending on your choice of liquor, from $11 to $18.
For a more high-end take on the Manhattan, Kiefer-Lucas says he recommends names like Pikesville Rye or Van Winkle or George T. Stagg. But he says they also have some high-end special edition bottles, “some stuff that you just wouldn’t be able to find in a liquor store yourself.”
Bar Purlieu is at 1530 Willamette. Hours are 4 to 8 pm Wednesday through Sunday. Visit BarPurlieu.com for more information.
Seeing the word “kimchini” in a cocktail menu is a headturner. And house kimchi brine and gin together doesn’t sound like the best pairing, but it starts to make sense talking with Party Downtown co-owner and chef Tiffany Norton.
“Kimchi, bacon, cheese is a combination we’ve been doing since we were a food cart, which was 10 years ago” Norton says. “I always thought a kimchi martini would be so cool.”
The kimchini isn’t the only creative cocktail at Party Downtown. The bar menu has a template, Norton says. It has a gingery, tequila, whiskey, tropical and spirit-forward drink. “So you hopefully have something for everyone,” she says. The creative process for making cocktails is a collaboration, but Shannon Tarvin, the bar manager, tweaks the recipe until it’s perfect.
Since cocktails to-go started, Norton says business has been good at the bar, but not where it was before the pandemic. Norton says Party Downtown won’t open up for indoor dining until people are vaccinated, but it will have outdoor seating when the weather gets better.
Since Oregonians have to buy food with their cocktails (the same rules that the state’s strip clubs have if they want to serve liquor), Norton offers some pairing ideas for their drink menu. For the Candy Cap Manhattan, Norton suggests their fried chicken. If you’re buying smaller plates of food — like deviled eggs or the albacore toasted tostada — she says go with a tropical drink, like the Fruit Salad (mezcal, banana liqueur, pineapple syrup, lime juice and orange bitters) or St. Tropez Sunset (blanco tequila, passion fruit puree, citrus syrup and creme de cassis).
But what about that kimchini?
“You can’t go wrong with a burger,” she adds. “Or the lamb meatloaf and sandwich.”
Party Downtown is at 64 W. 8th Avenue and is open noon to 8 pm Wednesday through Saturday, noon to 5 pm Sunday. Visit PartyEugene.com for more information.
Soriah offers cocktails only on Fridays and Saturdays, but it’s what makes the weekends special. Andrea Walther, Soriah’s bar manager, says the cocktail menu often changes with the seasons. It offers traditional drinks that pay homage to a locally made bourbon drink, as well as a spiked Country Fair favorite.
Walther says seasons are key to deciding what to put on the bar menu, but the restaurant does put out surveys and offers samples to customers to get an idea of what to make next. The next drink that is likely to make it on the bar menu is the Paradox, she says. That’s a fall drink that is usually served in a martini glass. “It has a cinnamon sugar rim with fresh lemon and house-made ginger vodka.
“The Bourbon Renewal is a little bit of a traditional one,” she says. The Bourbon Renewal was created by former Eugene bartender Jeffrey Morganthaler, and it features Bulleit bourbon, creme de cassis, angostura bitters and fresh lemon.
Although COVID-19 canceled the in-person Oregon Country Fair in 2020 and presumably for 2021, you can still get a drink that’s usually offered at their Casablanca booth (though that one doesn’t have alcohol, per Fair rules). The Meditation is pomegranate molasses, tamarind syrup, fresh lemon and rose water with either vodka or gin. So run over to Soriah to get a taste of those Fair days to hold you over until we can go there in-person again.
Soriah is at 384 W. 11th Avenue and is open 5 to 10 pm Tuesday through Saturday. Visit Soriah.com for more information.
For Akira’s front-of-house and bar manager Thor Slaughter, cocktails to-go has been an opportunity to cut down on unnecessary ingredients in the drinks on the menu. “I retooled everything,” he says. “I wanted things to be instantly drinkable.”
It’s all a part of his mission to make drinks that have “extravagant minimalism.”
Slaughter’s minimalist approach to cocktails is a lesson he learned from his trips to Japan, where he observed some of the bartending culture. He says when American bars were going wild with cocktail ingredients a few years ago, he was in Japan and was “gobsmacked” by Japanese bartending practices.
There’s one cocktail in particular that he had there that he says blew his mind. He had just climbed Mount Fuji and went to a local bar. He asked the bartender to make whatever he wanted. “He takes 10 to 15 minutes,” Slaughter says. “It was like watching a ballet dancer, and then I get the cocktail. I’m so excited, thinking it’s going to be a mind-bending experience.”
Slaughter asked what the drink was, and the bartender replied, a gin and soda. Because of the attention to detail and the experience, “It was one of the best drinks of my life,” he says. “It sort of broke me.”
That’s when Slaughter says he got the bug. He started taking notes at bars and the drinks he had. It’s what taught him about the beauty of the minimalist drink, which guides him in his drink-making.
Slaughter says when he comes up with ideas for drinks, he starts taking out ingredients. “What I realize with myself is that I can take out two or three things out of every cocktail, and not only would it remain good, it would be better. You get down to what makes it interesting.”
With to-go cocktails, he says the flavor has to be in the front and immediate because he can’t talk with the customer at the bar to explain the drink. He points to the Shima Island Spritz, where the flavor is in the salted lemon. “All I need in that drink is to balance the alcohol and the salted lemon,” he says “When you pull everything back, that’s when your creativity explodes.”
For a good food and drink pairing, Slaughter recommends the fried chicken steam bun tacos and a whisky sour (there’s no “e” in whisky if it’s Japanese, Scotch or Canadian, he reminds me). “It’s perfect,” he says. “You get this nice salty fat from the fried chicken, and it’s a little bit of crunchy. But then you get this nice citrusy offset, but then the whisky is present enough to not get lost in the mix.” Japanese whisky is lighter and cleaner compared to bourbon, he adds. “Those wheat notes are something like fall, crisp apple notes — almost like a Pink Lady [apple],” he says.
Slaughter says he hopes Oregon allows the cocktails to-go program to continue after the pandemic and approach alcohol in a different way than treating it as a taboo. “I hope there’s a new market to tap into with to-go cocktails and bottle-and-can hard alcohol,” he says.
Stay updated on Akira’s hours at AkiraEugene.com.