For Downtown Bars – Choose ZARZ

Janet, Kate and David ready for Happy Hour

With so many new bars east of the Willamette River in Portland, both in NE and SE, it is easy to ignore downtown Portland – or the Central Business District (CBD) as it was called during the 25 years I worked in its heart – on the 17th floor of the PacWest Center.

The venerable PacWest Center, home of the Schwabe Williamson law firm

A suggestion by my friend and Beerchaser regular, David Dickson, that we (his spouse, Kate and mine, Janet) take a jaunt by the river along the Promenade and then hit Happy Hour at Zarz on First, a relatively new bar (September, 2016).  It describes itself as a “neighborhood bar” and the “Best Happy Hour in Portland.”  

 

A brisk walk along the East Bank Promenade

David’s suggestion was a good one and after a brisk and delightful three-mile jaunt, we had a great dinner and good drinks at excellent Happy Hour prices.

Bernie Stea at lunch with our server, Erin

The experience was enjoyable enough that it motivated me to return for lunch a few days later with another veteran Beerchaser – Bernie Stea, co-managing broker with his wife, Debb Janes, at the Carl Group, a real estate investment and development firm in Camas.  http://natureasneighbors.com/about/   (It should be noted that Beerchaser standard due diligence is to visit a bar at least twice before offering a review.)

Both my daughter, Laura and her husband, Ryan, graduated from the University of Portland and one of my favorite authorities on beer, Dr. Sam Holloway is a tenured professor at the school (and former Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter, so I was happy to see that Zarz is the product of another successful UP graduate.

Zaryab “Zar” Sheikh graduated and earned his MBA from UP in 1979 and went on to earn his CPA, worked internationally and ultimately became President and owner of Gorge Hotels, a Washington corporation that owns several hotels besides the restaurant.

I had read about the bar’s extensive whiskey selection which their website describes as “inspired by Zar’s favorite signature cocktails and regional wines…..comprised of standout, premium cocktails made with quality liquor from top international and local distillers” and seeing the classy setting with a beautiful bar, I was reminded of two of my prior Beerchaser venues focusing on hard liquor rather than beer – Barlow Artisanal Bar (visited in 2016) and the Portland Whiskey Library (2017).

Multnomah Whiskey Library – a $600 membership fee

Although both of these bars were good experiences, I would return to Zarz again before either of the former.   Barlow’s menu is significantly more limited, the drinks and food are more expensive and the setting and décor do not compare.

While the ambiance of the Whiskey Library is outstanding, one has to either purchase an annual membership for $600 or buy a $25 “Hall Pass” and stand in line for what can be hours to drink in what admittedly is an exclusive, award-winning setting.  Fortunately, I had a benevolent host during my visit who picked up our tab…….

So why would Zarz get the nod over these other classy venues?  Well, the food is very good starting with the burger, which for Happy Hour is a very reasonable $8 for a large and delicious burger with fries – on the regular menu for $12.  All of use chose this option on the first visit.

Didn’t take long to go with the burger…

Almost without exception, the social media reviews are very positive on the food.

The Cuban sandwich, which Bernie thought was excellent draws raves: “Husband had the Cuban, which was one of the best he’s ever had. I went with the local Oregon raise fried chicken with grits and greens. I have to say it was the best I’ve have West of the Mississippi and North if the Mason Dixon.”  (Yelp 9/15/17)

The fish tacos get good comments:

“What really surprised me were the fish tacos. These were unbe-lievable and so good that we had to place another order of them. You will definitely want more than one order as these fish tacos are addictive.”  (Yelp 2/1/17)

Three small sliders for $8 – a good deal! Bernie’s Cuban is in the background.

Multiple compliments were also offered on the deviled eggs,  steak, hummus, bacon sampler and especially the fried chicken – available as an entrée or as one of  three slider options – three sliders for $8 or a buck cheaper at Happy Hour.  I had the fried chicken option for lunch and was very pleased with my choice.

The beer selection is good – nine on tap ($6 and $1 off at HH) along with two ciders and a reasonable choice of red and white wine.  My Kiwanda Cream Ale by Pelican Brewery that evening was good, but not very cold although this was remedied the next day when my excellent Suicide Squeeze from Fort George came and was cold as was Bernie’s Oakshire Amber.

But the flagship beverages at Zarz are their fifteen cocktails ($10 and $2 less at HH) -people seemed to like the margarita – and about 150 types of hard liquor on the shelf.  Now while this does not compare with Multnomah Whiskey Library’s purported 1,500 labels.

150 + options available

The selections range from old standbys such as Jack Daniels ($7 per shot) to about fifty labels of Scotch ranging from my favorite – the Balvenie 17-year Double Wood  for $45 to their most expensive which appeared to be a Cragganmore 25-year which would increase your tab by $152 for a shot

Erin, our wonderful server, asked the bartender, friendly Eric, who acceded to my request and climbed the ladder to retrieve the bottle of Cragganmore and pose in a picture. (Note: the bottle was about 2/3 full so somebody has tried it!)

Eric, gingerly holds the Cragganmore

I did some quick calculations and figured there are about 757 milliliters in a fifth and assuming a shot is 44 milliliters, that would mean the bottle would generate $2,615, so I told Eric to be very careful when handling the bottle.   Some internet research revealed that the retail cost of a fifth of Cragganmore is about $425.  It was evidently distilled in 1988 and aged in oak casks.

One on-line whiskey rating site stated in part:

Nose: sweet with lots of vanilla, heather honey and hints of honeydew melons. Nice bits of dried mango. The fruitiness is balanced (or muted if you like) by green, spicy oak and liquorice…………Mouth: creamy, still rather sweet with some honey and orchard fruits. Nice hints of pineapple and coconut….”  

In the village of Ballindalloch in Banffshire, Scotland.

They concluded: “The oaky notes, ginger, pepper and plenty of vanilla make this one typically American oak, but they also make it seem younger than it is. A lot of distilleries have this profile at half the age and a fraction of the price.”

And remember, the $152 taste of fruit as it sails down your gullet lasts for about three seconds. (Perhaps chewing a Bit O Honey candy bar while swilling a glass of good oaky Maysara Pinot Noir (McMinnville) would save you about $140 dollars and last a lot longer.)  The New York Times described as “In your face aromatically, with a blast of sweet red fruit.” (10/19/16)

Well, we digress – now back to Zarz.  Besides the food and drink and the friendly and helpful staff, the other attribute that speaks well of this bar is the ambiance created by the interior.   It is housed in one of Portland’s historic buildings (purported to be the 9th oldest) and the longish space besides having a great bar, has spacious booths besides a number of tables.

Adorning the walls are a number of retro pictures including those of Johnny Cash, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Ray Charles and the Rat Pack.  (I took Bernie’s picture by this one because of our days working at the Oregon State Bar (He served as Director of Continuing Legal Education and I was the Business Manager).

He presented his budget on a laptop Osborne computer using VisiCalc software and would quietly sing Frank Sinatra’s classic “I Did It My Way, as he tried to justify a plan filled with what we budget people called “fluff.”  (He may not have gotten all of his funding approved, but he got high marks for creativity.)

The only negative about Zarz was the challenge of parking in that area of town although there are some Smart Parks in the area which is probably the best bet.

Oh, and if you like live music, check them out on a Friday or Saturday night.  Erin said that one of the most popular groups is Portland’s Toledo Kesch – a blues-based rock and roll group which was appearing that Friday.

Zarz has had some challenges which is not unusual in the restaurant and hospitality business.  After their September, 2016 opening, they evidently closed for a period earlier this year.  However, the bar and bistro has come back strong.  It deserves a visit, so check them out.

 

 

Zarz on First          814 SW First  

Barlow Artisanal Bar – where the cocktails are a craft!

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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.

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And from the description in the Portland Tribune a few months after it opened, the assertion was validated:

“…….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.

Sharon VanSickle Robbins - civic all-star

Sharon VanSickle Robbins – civic all-star

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.

Great dive bar and hangout for UP Students

Great dive bar and hangout for UP Students

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.

Jeff Jones during his visit in 2014

Jeff Jones during his visit in 2014

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

Clarence Darrow would be proud....

Clarence Darrow would be proud….

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

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“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 

Curtained booths

Curtained booths

“(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  

More privacy

More privacy

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).

Meet Nathaniel - a craftsman...

Meet Nathaniel – a craftsman…

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.

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The Glasgow Smile

“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.

P1040088How 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…..   P1040093

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:

Jones - now having to wear a tie - again.

Jones – now having to wear a tie – again.

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?”

Jeff and his wife, Winslow, married in 2015.

Jeff and his wife, Winslow, married in 2015.

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.”

————–

Nathaniels workbench!

Nathaniels workbench!

 

 

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.

Barlow Artisenal Bar 737 SW Salmon Street