Describing his Pearl District hot spot Pink Rabbit, Collin Nicholas reaches for more of a feeling than a theme: “Loud, bright, neon, pop-y, you know, high volume.” The follow-up, a Paniolo-centered cocktail bar/restaurant next door called Fools and Horses, carries a similar energy, but has a tighter focus and dresses things up just slightly.
At Monday’s soft opening, friends, family, influencers, and media types gathered to see what’s behind the floor to ceiling windows on NW 12th Avenue. Jenny Ross, who runs the Instagram @eatrichordietryin, was nursing the Blackbelt in Origami, a gin-based cocktail rounded with sake and savory notes of fennel and cardamom, topped delicately with a miniature shaving of celery tied in a knot. A few tables down, a server in a brimmed hat and silk button down delivered a miniature gold tray bearing a DIY martini kit, with a picked apple garnish and an atomizer of lemon oil for personal drink doctoring (on the menu as How About them Apples).
Nicholas was making the rounds, playing host and keeping an eye on the bar. He’s been tapped into Portland’s bar zeitgeist for years: first with a gig at the Hoxton that brought him to town from San Francisco, consulting on all three of the hotel’s bars; next, he helped open the always-packed G-Love in Slabtown. When he took over Pink Rabbit mid 2021, Nicholas kept the buzz flowing. “There’re like lines around the block to get into Pink Rabbit!” says Ross. The question now is, can he do the same with Fools and Horses?
“We’re never gonna get rid of that kind of ‘hipness’,” says Alex Wong, chef of both Pink Rabbit and Fools and Horses. Wong’s voice is deep and reassuring, the voice of someone you want to tell you about cowboy cuisine. He’s also (fittingly) ambivalent about said hipness. “We know what kind of brand we have over there. And, you know, that’s great, because some of those younger folks want to grow up a little bit. How about that? We’re the next-door neighbor, and, if you want to wine and dine, come here” he says.
“The age bracket feels a bit higher than next door,” notes Ian Vitek, a 25-year-old chemist who lives in Northeast; his friend nodded in agreement, sitting at the bar that spans the room's north-facing wall.
Wong, an Oahu native, uses his intuition when cooking the Hawaiian cowboy cuisine, asking above all, “If someone from Hawaii came here, would they recognize and appreciate my connection to [the culture]?” The first Paniolos came to Hawaii from Mexico in the 1830s to help with a boom in cattle ranching; towards the end of the century, both Portuguese and Japanese immigrants adopted the tradition. As a result, Wong’s menu is excitingly diverse: pipikaula, soy-cured and air-dried beef shows up twice, both as a snack of “Hawaiian jerky,” and as an entree of slow-roasted short ribs. The custard tart pastis de nata and malasada doughnuts come by way of Portugal.
The menu has plenty of breadth to make a meal, but Fools and Horses isn’t a “restaurant-restaurant,” in the sense that it feels like a party more than a private dinner. Nori De Vega (@nomnom_nori) called the room “martini-y.” With its dark olive curtains, mix of high-top tables, low, cozy banquettes, and a pressed-tin bar back, it certainly is. But Fools and Horses is a distinct flavor of vermouth-rinsed. The Paniolo focus is carried through in the décor, like the charcoal drawing of a horse from local artist Bryce Wong that looms over the fireplace, and the taxidermy bull skull that hangs on the opposite wall. The walls, carpets, chairs, mantel, everything is a cool and subdued black, making details like the light-radiating pressed tin, wallpapered alcoves, and eclectic antique-y lighting fixtures and bar wares pop.
Cocktails incorporate some Hawaiian ranch flare, too. The Paniolo softens bourbon with a whisper of orange liqueur and bee pollen—served with honeycomb-textured ice, in case you forget what you’re drinking. The Cash & Curry, a proud drink served up in a wide faceted coupe with a large cube, blends gin with lychee, a touch of miso, and a curry leaf for good measure.
In a lot of ways, Fools and Horses is the opposite of Pink Rabbit. It isn’t visually loud or pop-y, there’s not a speck of neon or millennial pink in sight, but there is the distinct feeling of the buzz that Nicholas has built his reputation on. Is the Pearl ready for ranch life? I guess we’ll find out.
Fools and Horses is open to the public Wednesday, October 5