"Investment whiskies are a thing now," says Tommy Klus, waving to two Yamazakis on the shelf above him: a sherry-casked 2016 that won "Whisky of the World" status in 2017, and an 18-year Mizunara single malt in 100 percent Japanese oak. Of the latter, Klus says, just one case entered Oregon last year. "I don't know anyone who still has it."

And Klus would know. As a buyer for some of Portland's geekiest cocktail bars—Multnomah Whisky Library to Teardrop Lounge—Klus combed the world for rare spirits, building his own collection on the side. 

Starting May 2, you'll find many of his boozy treasures at Scotch Lodge, Klus's new 48-seat subterranean cocktail bar in the space previously occupied by high-end ramen shop Biwa. Those collector-ready bottles won't be there for show. On Scotch Lodge's new white marble bar counter, Klus regards a bottle of 60-year-old aperitivo, label sepia-tinted with age. "We will absolutely sell that old Campari till it's gone," he says, "and look for more."

Scotch Lodge, says main barman Matt Kesteloot (most recently mixing at Rum Club), is conceived as a "cocktail bar with a scotch problem." More than 300 international and domestic whiskies—some from distilleries that no longer exist—will line the street-facing back bar, alongside "gins that we like and vodkas that we tolerate."

Unlike the Biwa space, which flooded with daytime natural light from its north- and east-facing street-level windows, Scotch Lodge is a dark, dreamy, drinking den: walnut paneling, peacock-green banquettes, a blue ceiling evoking deep water or night skies, and a heavy curtain walling off the bar proper from an entry stairwell papered in lush, cupped flowers.

"There are elements of Biwa still here, like the copper backsplash," says Klus. That backsplash now frames chef Tim Artale, who previously cooked at Portland favorites like La Moule, Aviary, Proud Mary, and St. Jack. Artale's menu, developed in consultation with his old boss Aaron Barnett—aims to be restrained, elegant, and highly crafted. He plans to infuse everything from starters to large share plates (like a whole Thai snapper with tomato ginger beurre blanc and green papaya) with his proprietary spice blends, house-made vinegars and nut milks. A peek at Artale's sample menu promises dishes like black trumpet fettuccine, grilled octopus spiked with jalapeño, and fried brie with verjus syrup, pumpernickel, and pistachio.

Seasonality will be key in Artale's kitchen. That's also true—turning 90 degrees to the left—of the bar, where house-made syrups, elixirs, and infusions draw on locally available exotics like Buddha's hand, which will pull more weight now that citrus season (limes, lemons, grapefruits, oranges) is about over. "We were hoping to open earlier for the citrus," admits Klus. A vacuum-packer helps; aiding in the preparation of staples like a pineapple syrup with lime peel and citric acid.

In addition to Klus and lead bartender Kesteloot, Scotch Lodge's inaugural bar team includes Jessica Braasch (Bible Club), Aaron Zieske (Canard, Little Bird), and Christina Acosta, fresh from Denver's Bar Fausto. A short list of natural wines and a few rare brews will round-out the beverage menu, but spirits, here, will hog the limelight. Klus anticipates that Scotch Lodge will  see its fair share of collectors and connoisseurs.
 
But the ultimate idea, he emphasizes, is to listen to the neighbors and evolve as needed: "With Scotch Lodge, we're willing to see what the neighborhood wants. We're not really in the 'no' business."
 
Scotch Lodge opens May 2 at 215 SE 9th Ave; starting hours will be 4 p.m. to midnight, Wednesday through Sunday.

 

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