Havana Cotton Club • The Winchester • The Sandy Bottom Tiki Lounge
The Get Down Lounge • Stocking Your Booze Bunker • Cocktail Recipes
Havana Cotton Club
When Sanjna and Adrian Varela remodeled the basement of their 1910 Irvington Craftsman in 2013, they didn’t stop at new flooring. Inspired by the 1920s-era dance troupe Sanjna performed with around town, the couple partnered with designer/contractor John Burris to create a time warp back to the Prohibition era. Edith Piaf trills over the speakers; friends sip at a custom Doug fir bar backed with leaded-glass-door cabinets from the Rebuilding Center. “I love the feel of this era—the richness, the warmth. We went all the way to keep it authentic—down to the push button light switches,” says Sanjna, who notes they dropped $20,000 on the buildout. A bookcase packed with Goodwill-sourced classics swings open to reveal a secret speakeasy and wine cellar (see below). “The family loves to come down here for cocktails and play board games. My kids use it as their ‘Harry Potter Hideout,’” she says. “It’s where you can feel fancy in your PJs.”
Dean Eisenbraun was not impressed with the Hollywood neighborhood English Tudor cottage his real estate agent begged him and his wife, Trish, to check out back in 2009. “It was cold, it smelled like garbage,” he remembers. But then, they saw the basement—an ersatz log cabin, with a stone fireplace and hulking wood bar with a foot rail made from old steel piping. “Our eyes were like dinner plates—it was like a mini Timberline Lodge,” says the financial adviser. “We hoped to have a baby and knew then we’d be homebound. This would be our bar.” Today, the Winchester has made good on its frontier promise—a brawny saloon hosting costumed NYE balls and the Eisenbrauns’ annual “Mini Holiday Ale Fest.” Lit, scalloped shelving shows off Dean’s deep bourbon collection and jars of sucker-punch-strong moonshine he distills in the garage. (He’s got a permit.) The walls are festooned with Old West heirlooms—horseshoes to branding irons and gold panning equipment—often donated by imbibers. “When people come in they’re always like, ‘Oh! I have the perfect thing to go in here!’” Thankfully, the Winchester takes all comers.
The Sandy Bottom Tiki Lounge
“For me, I think it goes back to the Tiki Room at Disneyland,” explains Greg Clapp, his hand sweeping wide to encompass a hazy constellation of globe lights, overflowing shelves of tiki mugs, tufted beach scene tapestries, and a working phone made out of coconut shells—just a smattering of the tropical wonderland he and his thrifty partner, Justin DuPre, have collected and constructed over nine years in the basement of their 1960s-era Parkrose Heights ranch house. The madcap space is anchored by a huge, one-of-a-kind bar that, neighborhood legend says, the home’s original owner, a seaman, built in the ’70s using mahogany from the galley of the World War II Coast Guard ship USS Vance. Clapp and DuPre, who have run the citywide Portland Tiki-Kon event for five years, clad the ceiling in thatched mats and bamboo poles from Portland’s defunct Trader Vic’s. They saved yards of nautical rigging from Vancouver’s old Quay Bar to decorate their blood-orange mai tai–fueled nirvana. The only problem? Where to put their newest tiki finds. “The house is at 99 percent capacity,” says Clapp. “Now we have a rule that if something comes in, something must come out.”
The Get Down Lounge
When Mandy and Curt Allan moved into their 1950s-era Arbor Lodge home in 2013, they didn’t want to change a thing—from the basement’s original checkerboard floor to its wood-paneled walls. The serial collectors just ... added a few touches. Vintage beer trays. A pinball machine. Framed band posters, like the Muffs and Joan Jett. A huge 1993 Satyricon calendar. A mini-fridge stocked with Rainier beer. A Toy N Joy vending machine—the list goes on. The result? A nostalgia-soaked midwestern-meets-PDX indie rock dive bar and playroom, perfect for after-hours whiskey shots and raucous baby showers. “I love this old bar top. See the cigarette burn right there? We’ll never buff it out,” says Mandy, who fronts Americana band the Stubborn Lovers. “The people who sold us this house said that when they were kids they would use the bar as a diving board, just jump right off it over and over again.” She continues: “Now, there’s always someone playing pinball, playing darts, standing by that same bar. We play lots of Cards Against Humanity—because we’re delinquents.” One warning, though: “A home bar is great,” Mandy says, “but last call tends to be very late.”
Stocking Your Booze Bunker
Locally Made Essentials for Your Basement Tavern
VERMOUTH Manhattans are mandatory, so first on the list is vermouth. Bitters book scribe and salt merchant Mark Bitterman (The Meadow) swears by two local versions: for sweet, it’s L’Afrique, a spice-driven, woodsy liquor from Hammer & Tongs; for dry, Ransom’s herbal, sherry-like quaff with hints of verbena and spearmint.
GIN Rum Club owner Michael Shea sings the praises of Aria: a locally distilled London dry–style gin. Made with juniper, coriander, and cassia bark, among other bits, this well-balanced spirit whispers soft, floral notes.
RYE WHISKEY While most bartenders admit it’s hard to beat Kentucky at whiskey or bourbon, Matt Mount of mobile bar outfit Merit Badge extols Stone Barn Brandyworks Straight Rye Whiskey—a soft collision of sweetness and oak that’s light on the tongue and blazes a trail of warmth throughout the body.
COCKTAIL BIBLE Many, many pros agree; local barman Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s The Bar Book must be a permanent exhibit at your house bar. Not just recipes, this love poem to spirits and mixology delivers sharp, boozy insights on every page.
MIXING GLASS Bartenders citywide can’t get enough of this locally blown mixing glass from Bull in China in Northwest Portland. Unfazed by temperature fluctuations and blessedly tough to break, this is a solid first step to legitimizing your basement bar.
BITTERS For local bitters (an absolute must for that true manhattan) Bitterman suggests aromatic tinctures from Portland Bitters Project and the Bitter Housewife.
Bonus: ante up for PBP’s decadent lavender* or cacao bitters, too.
*Add lavender bitters to Aria gin and Maraschino liqueur, and you'll have Bitterman's famed negroni. Its name: I Am Love. —Arlo Voorhees
The Sandy Bottom Tiki Lounge
According to Sandy Bottom co-owner Greg Clapp, every tiki bar must serve a mai tai— it’s the standard by which he and partner Justin DuPre judge bars. The Sandy Bottom’s house mai tai leans on Appleton rum and adds fresh blood orange juice. DuPre also serves his signature Black Coral, a riff on a Corn and Oil brightened with ginger beer.
Sandy Bottom Mai Tai
Shake 2 oz Appleton Estate VX rum, 1 oz fresh-squeezed lime juice, ½ oz orgeat (almond syrup), ½ ounce simple syrup, and fresh squeezed juice from ½ of a blood orange with crushed ice. Serve in a 15-ounce double old fashioned glass with a sprig of mint.
The Black Coral
Shake 2 oz blackstrap rum, ½ oz falernum, and ½ oz fresh-squeezed lime juice with crushed ice and top with 2 oz ginger beer. Serve in a double old-fashioned glass, or your favorite tiki mug.
Havana Cotton Club
Sanjna and Adrian Varela collect plenty of tinctures behind their custom Doug fir bar, but their three go-to bottles never change: Old Overholt Rye Whiskey, home-distilled gin from a friend in the neighborhood, and, of course, Cuban Havana Club Rum. Sanjna’s house old-fashioned (see below) makes use of that first bottle, while Adrian is partial to daiquiris based on Michael Shea’s recipe at Portland’s own Rum Club.
Havana Cotton Club Old-Fashioned
Combine 2 oz Old Overholt Rye Whiskey, 1 tsp simple syrup, 2 dashes Angostura bitters, and 2 dashes orange bitters in an old-fashioned glass and stir. Garnish with orange peel and drink.
The Get Down Lounge's Ancient Bloody Mary Bastard
For the Bloody Mary mix
- 24 oz tomato juice
- 3 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tbsp Sriracha
- 1 tsp pickled jalapeño brine
- 1 tsp raw cane sugar
- 1 tsp prepared horseradish
- 1 tsp smoked sea salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- ½ tsp celery seed
Mix all ingredients in a vessel and refrigerate the whole thing. Then, serve as follows:
Salt the rim of a pint glass with kosher salt. Pour in 2–4 oz Volstead vodka* and fill glass to top with ice cubes (not crushed ice!). Pour in refrigerated Bloody Mary mix to top and stir. Garnish with lemon wedge, lime wedge, and pepperoncini. (Other additional garnish options: pickled jalapeño, pickled asparagus spears, celery stalks ... go nuts if you like!)
*amount dependent on desired level of intoxication!
Dean and Trish Eisenbraun’s bar is devoted to bourbon and moonshine (Dean distills his own). But what else does he drink when he’s down there? Very, very specific old-fashioneds—complete with big cubes. A tip? “I use a ‘mid-shelf’ bourbon, like Eagle Rare, or Woodford Reserve in my old-fashioneds,” Dean says. “I keep mixers out of my top-shelf stuff.” Cheers.
The Winchester Old-Fashioned
Combine 2 shots mid-shelf bourbon, 1 tbsp simple syrup (do not use sugar cubes or granulated sugar), and 3–4 dashes Fee Brothers orange bitters* with 1 large ice cube (Dean uses the large silicone trays that make 2-inch cubes) in an old-fashioned glass. Use a large sliver of orange rind (1 inch across or better) as a twist—and use it to stir the cocktail.
*Dean says: “Yes, it MUST be Fee Brothers. All the others I've tried taste like medicine.” —Kelly Clarke