Multnomah Whiskey Library is Worth the Wait

A new drinking parlor ups the ante (and the time in line) for sophisticated sipping.

By Benjamin Tepler January 2, 2014 Published in the January 2014 issue of Portland Monthly

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Through a dark entryway and up a flight of stairs leading to a frosted, monogrammed window, you’ll find a new kind of drinking parlor—or is it old? Inside Multnomah Whiskey Library, opened in October, dark oak paneling and exposed brick cover the walls, natty bartenders swoop on brass library ladders across 10-foot-tall, liquor-lined shelves, and vested servers push bottle-stacked wooden carts to their comfortably couched customers. The trouble is, getting inside isn’t easy—stories of devastating three-hour waits and lines to get in line have dominated the buzz on Multnomah Whiskey Library, alienating the casual brown-booze fan.

Once you’re in, all is dandy. For spirit obsessives, the 1,500-bottle “menu” is presented with evangelical fervor. Your whiskey of choice will arrive with snifters and gilded eyedroppers, in case you desire dilution. And if detecting the fiery subtleties of Islay, Lowlands, and Speyside doesn’t excite you, put down the bible-sized tome and turn to the more approachable tasting menu. Inside, you’ll find rotating recommended pours organized by spirit and region, curated under the watchful eye of “Library Curator” Tommy Klus. If you prefer your whiskey mixed, Klus’s menu of classic cocktails is sharply honed, and—if you’re lucky enough to be sitting in one of the buttery leather chairs—shaken tableside. 

Every so often, a green light flickers on across the room, and an inconspicuous sliding panel reveals a kitchen behind the woodwork. The food menu, organized into categories of Farmer, Monger, and Butcher, is loosely focused on cuisines served in whiskey-drinking regions. Comforts like creamy mac and cheese with bits of smoky ham hock share space with oysters on the half shell, drizzled with whiskey. It all satisfies, and we love that hidden kitchen—but it doesn’t quite match the ambition of the bar. 

For $500, an annual membership earns you tulip glasses and leather-bound tasting books, invitations to exclusive seminars, a dedicated liquor locker, and most important, the ability to make reservations. The way that line is shaping up, we’re thinking it might just be worth it.

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