Barlow Artisanal Bar, an upscale cocktail bar opened in September 2014, is right across from the Arlington Club and the Schnitz on the corner of Salmon and Park Avenues in downtown Portland. Now admittedly, Thebeerchaser is generally more inclined to hit a good dive bar, but my first two encounters with this young bar – over a year apart were both positive. It is perfectly suited if one is trying to impress your date or your spouse after dinner and the theatre or a concert in the heart of Portland’s Central Business District.
“…….Barlow has been raking in the late-night, dressed-up, theater-going crowd.”
I enjoyed having a cocktail on the second visit with good friend, businesswoman and Portland civic all-star, Sharon Van Sickle-Robbins, with whom I served on the board for the City Club of Portland – a great organization.
She served as City Club President, in addition to her stints on the University of Portland Board of Regents, the Planned Parenthood Board and the American Electronics Association/Oregon board and she was also Public Relations Society of America/Portland Board President.
In addition, she chaired the Regional Arts & Culture Council Board and was President of the Public Relations Society of America/Portland – a list of service that could be for three people! Sharon has been an effective, savvy and conscientious board member and also has a great personality as I found out the first time that we Beerchased together – near the commencement of Thebeerchaser’s Tour of Bars, Taverns and Pubs in late 2011.
We hit the Twilight Room in North Portland, which brought back memories to Sharon because it was a favorite bar when she was an undergraduate student at University of Portland (obviously after she turned twenty-one!)
My first foray at Barlow was in late 2014 with lawyer, Jeff Jones, when he visited from the East coast on a trip after his stint at the Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt law firm, where we both worked.
Jeff, after graduating with both an MBA and his JD or law degree from Willamette University worked for several years as an associate at the SWW firm. He was known as a gifted lawyer and for his sense of humor. The latter was only marginally appreciated by me as the firm’s Chief Operating Officer, because management was usually the target of his jokes. Part of the issue may also have been the legal expense we incurred from outside counsel trying to extricate both Jones and the firm from the results of his quirky and irreverent humor.
It was a trait appreciated by most folks albeit primarily out of a sense of morbid curiosity. After several years at the firm, he abandoned a partnership-track position to pursue his dream as a stand-up comedian in Atlanta and write a book.
He succeeded in both goals. His success during four years as a stand-up comic at the Whole World Improv Theater was honed in Portland by the number of times the judge and jury both laughed hysterically at his closing argument during trials.
His book, A Crash Course in American Law, published in 2015, for a time was #1 on the Amazon e-book legal and legal humor categories. Having helped him with some of the editing, I knew the book was interesting and funny, but was amazed at the overwhelmingly positive reviews by those who read it (4.5 out of 5 stars) including:
“I was laughing–I mean snorting tea out through my nose and onto my Kindle screen laughing–before I even got to the first page.” SPR Reviews
“Using his unique brand of fact-driven and often humorous interpretation of law, Mr. Jones acts as our quirky and lovable, if not overly-peppy, tour guide on a behind-the-scenes look into the American justice system. 4/23/15
Of course, based on a sense of retribution, I first turned to the four (out of 69) critical reviews because potential buyers should be aware of this sentiment:
” ……I also got the feeling the author really doesn’t care for the American Judicial system or Americans for that matter. (emphasis supplied) 8/16/15
“…….or, in this case, it’s like listening to the incoherent and frankly stupid ramblings of someone who claims to have passed the Bar….this is an utter waste of time…don’t waste your time, or money.” 5/19/15
In the interest of fairness, it should be disclosed that the last review was submitted by a former client in one of Jeff’s trials in Multnomah Circuit Court – I think it was a case about a horse…..
He now has a big-boy job as a lawyer for IMERYS, a multi-national company headquartered in Paris, specializing in the production and processing of industrial minerals.
But we will return to Jones later — now back to Barlow.
Rather than me trying to describe the space at Barlow – a highlight of the bar, let’s look at a few good descriptions by various print media sources:
“Walk through a door….and you’ll be greeted by the larger-than-life bedroom eyes of silent film star Janet Gaynor, elaborate chandeliers, dark textured walls, swanky etched mirrors, and a Gatsby vibe that aims to distill the roaring 20s into a single night out.” Portland Monthly 9/4/14
“In a long room decorated with aviation chairs, shimmer screens, tucked away seating and a menu that hearkens back to an earlier time, Barlow Artisanal Bar plans to bring a slice of old Hollywood to downtown Portland….Barlow was designed to look and feel like being inside a black and white movie.” Samantha Bakall The Oregonian/OregonLive 8/ 8/14.
“The elegant, but not-too-stuffy, space — with seating at the bar, at the picture windows and in private curtained booths.” Portland Tribune 1/15/15
“(Barlow) aims to feel like a black-and-white movie, which explains the gunmetal-gray upholstery, the dark, flocked wallpaper and the giant image of silent-film star Janet Gaynor on a back wall, presiding over the room like a doe-eyed goddess…….Willamette Week 2015 Bar Guide
And it is fun at Barlow to sit by the large windows and watch people walk by as you partake.
Now while they have only three beers and Guiness on tap, it makes sense that one would order a cocktail at Barlow rather than a beer, just as it makes sense to down a PBR at a dive bar rather than a vodka martini (up with olives).
Nathaniel, the bartender and Mariah, our waitress, were both very nice people and helpful in explaining the cocktail lineup described in the bar’s website:
“The cocktail program…..brings a modern twist to the classics of the early 20th century. The carefully-curated list celebrates classic Hollywood allure with an emphasis on modern craft cocktail methods, including liquid nitrogen-chilled glassware, clarified syrups and juices, and hand-engraved ice cubes.
Nathaniel explained that the Glasgow Smile, was the most popular drink which has a base of Scotch and the Draper Daiquari, which is the most potent. And let’s again rely on some media images which described their mixed drinks – there are ten on the menu ranging from $10 to $11.
“The chic yet playful Prohibition-era space offers a play on the classic Gibson, a martini with traditionally nothing more than gin, vermouth and a pickled olive. Barlow’s Gibson, however, is a punch in the face — a mouthful of red onion flavor that’s been clarified in a centrifuge so that the pulp separates from the juice. The red onion juice is shaken with Boodles Gin (a British brand) and Dolin Blanc Vermouth, from France.” Portland Tribune 1/1/15
Sharon had a glass of wine (six on tap ranging from $8 to $12) and then I tried the Glasgow Smile, which lived up to its billing by Mariah although as Thebeerchaser, I still ordered a Double Mountain Kolisch as my first drink. The beers are $6. Happy Hour prices are $5 for the beer $6 for the wine, well drinks $6 and cocktails $8.
If you want a full dinner, better head to the Picnic House next door, which shares a kitchen with Barlow, because the bar’s menu is pretty limited consisting primarily of appetizers-type offerings. The chef at Barlow might not agree with that assessment, but the eleven items on their “nosh” menu are confined to selections such as brussel sprouts, greens, onion dip and a burger, if you want to pay $10. And I would have a little problem paying $13 for a grilled-cheese sandwich even though it’s accompanied by tomato soup.
The owners of Barlow are social activists and entrepreneurs, Jessica and Aaron Grimmer, who also own the adjacent Picnic House Restaurant (which also has a more extensive menu), the just opened Chk Chk on NW 23rd which specializes in fried chicken and High Noon, which has a southwest menu and specializes in frybread on NW 2nd.
How did Barlow get its name? Some commenting on social media were miffed because the name was already claimed by the Barlow Tavern, a dive bar in North Portland and there is also the Barlow Trail Roadhouse in Welches (named for the Oregon Trail pioneer, Sam Barlow) and even the Barlow Room in Dayton for wine tasters.
Or you can travel to Boston; Tucker, Kentucky or Crowley, Texas (Barlow’s First and Last) where there are also Barlow Taverns. If that doesn’t satisfy you could try Barlow, Kentucky, except you might have to travel a few miles to the Silver Bullet in nearby Paducah, since Barlow has a population of only 675 and no notable dive bars.
But we digress. Both Nathaniel and Mariah echoed the sentiments of Portland Monthly Magazine which stated that the bar’s name is a slang term for “flapper” – the dancing girls way back in the Roaring “20’s, an era when the Arlington Club next door didn’t even admit women members —- Oh wait! The staid institution waited until the 1990’s when it finally deigned to allow females on the roster…..
Barlow is also referenced as an “Artisanal Bar” – a reference to the craftsmanship of the bartenders. This led one critic on Oregon Live to comment:
“What the hell is an “Artisanal” bar? Already this place is sounding very pretentious. Will the wait staff be required to undergo plastic surgery to make them resemble Hollywood stars of the bygone era?”
We’ll leave the trademark issues to the lawyers and speaking of lawyers, Jeff Jones deserves a few more comments. One review described Barlow as “elegant, but not-too-stuffy,” perhaps that is why I invited Jeff to join me at the then newly opened tavern when he was on a trip from the East coast. Because that may be an apt description of the Jones’ sense of humor when he was at the firm as evidenced by the examples below:
One day in June, 2004 at 10:40 AM, one of the firm’s secretaries (she worked for Jones and several other attorneys and as difficult as it is to understand, she also appreciated his humor) sent this frantic e-mail:
“I have lost my ring that my grandmother left me. It is white gold, band style with 6 diamonds in a row. Please, if anyone finds it, please return to me. It has great sentimental value….”
Two and one-half minutes later, this e-mail was sent by Jeff Jones.
“Ring for sale: Antique, white gold, band-style with 6 diamonds in a row. Must sell fast. $50 or best offer.”
Those who left their black-berrys unattended might also find an e-mail they purportedly sent (authored by Jones) with a question such as “Can someone tell me how to get to the Courthouse?” (From a sixth-year litigation associate) “Does anyone know where I can buy a Thanksgiving turkey and how to cook it?” or “Does anyone have some super-glue laying around?”
And finally (at least for this post), the firm urged legal secretaries to assist others if they were light on work. One very good secretary sent out this e-mail inquiry:
“Let me know if I can help you?”
One minute later, the Jones’ response was”
“Can you build a wine rack?”
In a high stress environment, having outstanding lawyers who did not take themselves too seriously is one factor that made Schwabe Williamson a great place to work and why it repeatedly on the Oregon Business Magazine’s list of “The Top 50 Best Employers.”
To conclude, Barlow, while it may be a little expensive and limited on the culinary side, is a creative and welcome addition to the Portland bar scene. If you don’t want to just be satisfied with one of the downtown hotel lobby or restaurant bars, try Barlow Artisanal Bar.
It has a nice decor, personable and knowledgeable staff and some great cocktails. And take a friend along like Sharon Robbins or Jeff Jones so the experience is even better.