In summer 2015, patrons of Cathy Whims's Hamlet nibbled Iberico ham at $18 an ounce inside a sleek, red-bricked space at NW 12th and Everett. The niche concept was backed by Chefstable and right around the corner from Whims's Oven and Shaker. But just two years later, Hamlet oinked out; the next occupant, Chefstable bar Two Wrongs (home of cheap, pre-batch drinks and margarita pitchers), shuttered in under 12 months.
Pink Rabbit, as Tyler Stevens and Billy Wilson are quick to point out, is not a Chefstable venture. Scheduled to open Thursday, December 27, their bar (soon to be home to drinks with CBD "caviar" beads and funky chow mein) is a project well worth watching. Stevens, formerly the bar manager at nearby Teardrop Lounge and Tusk's founding barman, was GQ's "most imaginative bartender" of 2014. Wilson, the owner of exacting coffee shop chain Barista, is a national barista champion. And both have serious skin in the game. (Wilson even sold his home to finance the bar.)
Stevens and Wilson have shaped the bar around their own quirky personalities: bathroom doors wheat-pasted with event posters, bar dividers invoking swimming pool railings, "maybe some disco lights," and walls festooned with finds from Texas antiquing trips together. For the peckish, there'll be a small food menu of their own late-night go-tos: curried pork tonkatsu bites, tots with togarashi and "Thai ranch," nachos with tendon, and octopus-and-fungi fritters dusted with shaved bonito.
But Pink Rabbit's primary differentiator is its über-abstract drink concept. Check this craziness: to come up with their inaugural cocktail menu, Stevens and Wilson started with catchy phrases pulled from songs by Ohio band the National—"Uncle Valentine" from the song "Day I Die," and "Rosy-Minded Fuzz" from "Apartment Story." Next, they sent the list over to Portland creative agency Jolby & Friends, which drew up song-inspired poster art for each phrase. Then, taking inspiration from each poster—be it a warm, coppery pastiche for "What Did Harvard Teach You" (from "Sea of Love") to smudgy black blocks for "Suckers Luck" ("Exile Vilify")—Stevens crafted the actual cocktails.
"Suckers Luck is moody, deep, spiritual," Stevens says, noting that this particular cocktail concept also contains an Easter egg for video game nerds. The idea, he explains, is that customers will flip through the menu's visuals and select their drink by feel—even whim. It's a deliberate break from menus where cocktail descriptions come packed with obscure amaros and other unfamiliar ingredients—something Stevens, in his decade of bartending experience, has had enough of.
"For the guest, I see the look on their face—they just close the menu and say, 'What should I get?'" Stevens says. "The question I ask is, 'What are you in the mood for'? Our posters reflect a mood."
The National is just the first band that'll get the full Pink Rabbit visualization treatment, Stevens says. That's if, of course, Pearl District tipplers continue to feel it.