Best New Restaurants 2019

Scotch Lodge Is Portland Monthly’s Bar of the Year 2019

At Tommy Klus’s whiskey den, a daring menu lives up to the (rare, illuminating, transcendent) booze.

By Ramona DeNies October 18, 2019 Published in the November 2019 issue of Portland Monthly

A house scotch flight in vintage glasses at Scotch Lodge

Great bars breed comfort, familiarity, and personal rituals. At one, you always get the same boilermaker and tots, plug $5 worth of Beyoncé into the jukebox, and curl up with some rainy-day reading. Others, you’re there for the sublime sazerac, or maybe mead on tap.

But there are some bars—dare we say really great ones—where the comfort delivery system is unpredictability. Where your personal ritual might start with a prompt—let’s say scotch—but quickly strays from any playbook.

That’d be the advice, at least, of Tommy Klus at six-month-old Scotch Lodge, a dark-wood whiskey grotto tucked into the Central Eastside Industrial District space formerly occupied by ramen shop Biwa. Here, the burly “Namesake” cocktail (Bowmore 12, maybe, spiked with cherry and Cynar) is just a gateway quaff. Behind the deep marble bar are hundreds of coveted bottles, from a cask-strength Glenfarclas 105 (invoking “angels and cataclysms,” wrote our food critic Karen Brooks in August) to a Long-row Campbelltown single malt that meltingly complements that evening’s grilled, genmaicha-soused maitake mushrooms.

“You’re here, probably, to try new scotches,” says Klus, pouring a 12-year-old Glenkinchie (one of the last remaining Lowlands distilleries) into a delicate tulip glass. “My hope is that people come in and experiment with the food, too.”

And that’s the key to Scotch Lodge. Behind one counter, a brown liquor spirit world; behind the other, chef Tim Artale, tinkering with a haute-rustic, pan-Mediterranean menu heavy on foraged botanicals. Fully conceived, the food program here plays supporting cast to no one, with dishes as unexpected as seeing Scottish gin paired with 14-year single malt ... in a cocktail. (Yes, that’s on the bar menu here, too.) Artale dusts that maitake with crown daisy and wood sorrel, dazzles compressed stone fruit “salad” with umeboshi honey, and pats out chickpea “tortillas” to fold around tender bits of braised lamb and house-made sambal, labneh, and pickles. Unlike other niche drinkeries—wine bars, gin bars, mezcal bars (Klus co-owns one, in Mexico)—Scotch Lodge not only talks like a foodie but, so far, walks it. You might not love whiskey (yet), but you’d return anyway, for the fried brie enrobed in crunchy pumpernickel, or irresistible fettucine in fresno spice and chanterelles.

You’ll find no white linen pretensions here; just cocktails and comfort food rocking some subtle class. The signature is historical deep dives, and discovery. If Scotch Lodge were packed with regulars ordering the same old, same old? Klus would be fine with that. “We’re not really in the ‘no’ business,” he says. But the better ritual here is to arrive sans plans—to instead just turn to the barkeep and say, “Yes.” 215 SE Ninth Ave, Suite 102

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