Interurban up on Mississippi is about as reliable a bar as you can ask for. It has the feel of an old-time western saloon, where you can swing wide the door and swagger down the length of the dark gleaming wood bar, nod to the bartender and order that shot of straight bourbon whiskey you’ve been hankering for all day.
Of course, that bartender might be a slinky-lean blonde with a silver loop in her lip and a wicked gleam in her eye or a suspendered-and-bearded hipster. Because this is, after all, Portland.
And that shot of straight bourbon might be a Pappy Van Winkle 23 yo. Because this is, after all, the Interurban.
There is a constant friendly babble of conversation here, fueled by those bartenders furiously supplying beers and cocktails of surpassing range to the thirsty gregarious crowd. You don’t go to Interurban for sulky solitude and nursing your woes; it’s more the mezcal and bourbon and sitting around firepits making new friends kind of bar.
Interurban debuted its new seasonal drink list (in time to celebrate its four-year anniversary on November 27th.), and it’s an eye-opener, not so much a list of what there is on offer as a manifesto of style, a declaration of not just what to drink, but how to drink as well.
You don’t see a simple list of cocktails at Interurban; your eye is captured by the precisely arranged categories. There are the tried-and-true Interurban Standards, new cocktail Creations, blasts from the past from The Official Cocktail Mixer’s Manual, circa 1934, By-the-Bottle Cocktails to Share, Regional Presentations, and again because this is the Interurban, rotating Jello shots.
In the four years Interurban has been satisfying the liquid desires of Portland, some drinks have become so identified with the bar they’ve reached iconic status. Seymour continues that tradition with the Interurban Old Fashioned, made with Eagle Rare 10 yo bourbon; the premier cocktail of New Orleans, the Sazerac, with its blend of rye and absinthe; the Suffering Bastard, a stunning combination of gin, brandy, lime, Angostura bitters and Cock ‘n Bull ginger beer; and the Sword Fight, a simple and powerful combination of rough and rustic Fighting Cock bourbon and Cock ‘n Bull ginger beer.
(Pictured: the Sazerac Cocktail)
The bar crew at Interurban are always coming up with exciting new cocktails, and the new menu features three bartender favorites: Bramble On, with gin, lemon, raspberry syrup, and a sweet/tart/fruity blackberry shrub; Battle of Puebla, a tequila hot toddy with Olmeca Altos Reposado tequila, Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur, made with roasted poblano peppers, black tea syrup, Scrappy’s chocolate bitters, and Regan’s Orange bitters; and The Italian Diplomat, a draft cocktail served by the cocktail or by the bottle, with Punt e Mes Vermouth Bitters, Carpano Blanco vermouth, Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur, and Regan’s Orange bitters.
(Pictured: the Battle of Pueblo)
The Official Mixer’s Manual 1934
The Official Mixer’s Manual, circa 1934
Seymour enjoys paying homage to the great bartenders that came before, especially the ones who ushered in the first great cocktail trend. Here he features some cocktails from 1934…sort of a spirited time machine. Six cocktails make the cut. The Scoff-law is a rye whiskey and dry vermouth sour with a splash of grenadine and a dash of orange bitters. The Alaska is Beefeater gin, Yellow Chartreuse, and orange bitters. Dubonnet Fizz is Dubonnet bittered wine mixed with Cherry Heering, orange, lemon and soda. The Coronation Cocktail is a fascinating mix of Lustau Amontillado sherry, Dolin dry vermouth, Luxardo Maraschino and orange bitters. The Old Pal is a deceptively simple rye whiskey, Campari and Dolin dry vermouth combination that seems so much more complex than the three ingredients would suggest. And the Applejack Rabbit is an aromatic, fruity Laird’s Bonded applejack with maple syrup, lemon and orange.
(Pictured: Old Pal by Kari Young/@Meatballssmama)
By The Bottle To Share
By-The-Bottle To Share
Interurban thoughtfully provides a couple of draft cocktails, pre-mixed to perfection and served by the bottle for 2 to 5 people. The Hanky Panky is a classic dry gin mixed with the pungently herbal Fernet Branca and Cinzano rosso sweet vermouth; the Improved Whiskey Cocktail uses iconic Old Forester bourbon, Luxardo maraschino, absinthe and highly aromatic Boker’s bitters.
Regional Presentations: Olla de Mezcal
Regional Presentations: Olla de Mezcal
Jeff Seymour, Bar Manager, has come up with a brilliant “new” way of making new friends over drinks: he turns back to old established traditions of the people that make the exotic spirits. What better way to enjoy a traditional spirit than the way the natives do?
In Oaxaca, the Mexican state that makes the finest mezcal, the traditional way of consuming this agave spirit is with friends gathered around the table, mixing their own drinks in small amounts. Interurban honors and emulates that Oaxacan tradition with its Ollas de Mezcal. Once you make your preferred choice of the excellent del Maguey Single Village Mezcals (Vida, Chichicapa, Minero, or Santo Domingo), it is served up in an olla (a traditional fired clay jug) alongside sliced oranges and kosher salt or Sal de Gusano for a mix-your-own communal sipping experience suitable for up to four people.
Drink the way the Oaxacans do: it is a wonderfully relaxing and convivial way for a small group to drink, and nosh, and chat. The cups are small, and the mixing of your mezcalitos slows down consumption and provides a languid atmosphere for socialization.
Regional Presentations: Ti’ Punch
Regional Presentations: Martinique Ti’ Punch
On the sun-kissed French Caribbean island of Martinique, there is a special tradition for drinking the Rhum Agricole, fruity, rich rum made only from raw, fresh sugar cane juice. From just after breakfast to just before bed, and one every occasion in between, the sophisticated islanders indulge in Ti’ Punch, a simple concoction of muddled lime, earthy brown-sugar-spiced cane syrup and rhum.
As with the Ollas de Mezcales, your party of 2—5 is served a bottle of Rhum Clément of your choice: Rhum Clément Blanc “Canne Bleue” or Première Canne, Rhum Clément Vieux VSOP, or the Rhum Clément Select Barrel, the sugar cane syrup and lime, and encouraged to mix and muddle your own drinks—you control the dryness or sweetness to your own preference…or, as the French saying goes, “Chacun prepare sa propre mort” (Each prepares his own death.)
Interurban Reserve Spirits List
The Reserve Spirits List
For the discerning drinker, Interurban has gone to great lengths to acquire some of the finest spirits in the world, with a clear focus on whisky/whiskey. Pappy Van Winkle 12, 20, and 23? You can try all three. George T. Stagg? Interurban has the 15 yo. Parker’s Heritage Series? Yep. Rittenhouse 23 and 25 yo, the most legendary of rye whiskies? Try them side by side if you wish.
The Jello Shot
The Jello Shot
Last, but not least is the famous Interurban Jello Shot.
“Why a Jello Shot,” you might ask, “on such a sophisticated cocktail list?”
Because the customers keep coming in and asking for it. The Interurban Jello Shot can’t be—and won’t be—taken off the list. To the contrary, each season the shot remains, but changes, gets tweaked in interesting ways, and continues to delight the drinkers who throng the bar each night.
So what’s the Jello Shot this time? Guess you’ll just have to go to the Interurban and find out.