You’re Overdue! (For a Visit to the Multnomah Whiskey Library)

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Followers of this blog know that the title – Thebeerchaser – is a misnomer of sorts.  While it mentions good lagers we taste at various watering holes, the focus is on the bars as an institution – the history, the character, the regulars and the staff.   That said, of the eighty-three Portland bars, taverns and breweries visited and reviewed since August, 2011, only one – the Pope Bourbon House – has focused on hard liquor or distilled spirits.

That is until the first Beerchasing event in 2017 – the Multnomah Whiskey Library (hereafter MWL), which Beerchasing regulars, Dan Eller, Michael Jones and I visited on January 4th (more about those two fellows below).

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Eller and Jones

In the three + years since opened by owners, Greg Goodman and Alan Davis, this unique gathering place has taken Portland by a storm and received national attention.  For example, Thrilllist includes it in its 2014 list of the “Twenty-one Best Whiskey Bars in America.”  (“MWL ia about as close as you can get feeling like part of the 1% without going broke.”)

The MWL on its website lists forty-five links to newspaper and magazine articles ranging from the New York Times to the United Airlines Hemisphere to Travel and Leisure to Portland Monthly.  (Click on the links to see the articles)  An article in Paste Magazine was entitled “This May Be the Greatest Whiskey Bar in the World “ https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2016/07/this-might-be-the-greatest-whiskey-bar-in-the-worl.html

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Inconspicuous entrance

And while the reviews (including this one) have been overwhelmingly positive, there are some who feel it is not consistent with Portland values and culture:  “…..The pretentious vibe, however, was a bit much…” (Yelp 12/3/16).   Most of the negative comments relate to the doorman and staff at the vestibule – they check-in every person entering the bar – it’s in an old building (formerly a piano warehouse) on SW Alder Street.  You’ll have to look for a small sign above the door, overshadowed by the sign for Chizu – a sushi bar for cheese in the space next door.

There is a sound rationale for the check-in staff and procedure set forth below based on the MWL business model.  Those who simply drop in can expect to wait from forty-five minutes to two hours or more (on weekends) in the Green Room – the smaller bar on the ground floor, before being ushered up to the spacious and ornate lounge above.

The Green Room downstairs

The Green Room downstairs

Because many don’t want to hear the hostesses’ message or resent having to wait, the recipients of their ire are the ones who convey the message.  For example:

“The hostess at the front repeats an automated, pretentious, stone-cold response to stomp the hopes out of every potential patron…..”  (Yelp 11/7/16)

“The waitress (in the Green Room) was standing behind the bar ignoring us. She was rude and hostile the entire time.” (Yelp 9/28/16)

“My guest and I were greeted by a pretentious lackey masquerading as a        maître d’…with the ferociousness of an angry kitty, this bow-tied fella who I suspect was the victim of bullying as a child has embraced his role as a table Nazi by taking tremendous pleasure in turning people away…..”  (Yelp 5/6/15)

photo-jan-04-6-46-30-pm-2You see, the MWL is primarily a member-based bar with 600 of Portland’s power-crowd paying the $600 annual fee which allows them unfettered access during normal  operating hours and preferred reservations to special and educational events – and don’t forget a “Set of the Library’s custom tasting glassware”!?!.   Although that same amount could buy you 400 Happy-hour draft PBRs at the Yamhill Pub, there are more than 600 people on the waiting list. 

So maybe it was appropriate that my companions were Eller and Jones, since Dan is a tax and estate-planning lawyer at Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt and Jones is an investment counselor/financial adviser with Merrill-Lynch.   Given the increased scrutiny the IRS gives to meals and entertainment expenses, Eller would be able to advise to ensure maximum deductibility and Jones could develop a financial strategy so you could experience at least most of the 1,500 different labels (a total inventory of 1,900 bottles) well into retirement.

Eller on Cycle Oregon trip

Eller on Cycle Oregon ride

These two gents have accompanied me on two other Beerchasing events – the Oregon Public House, the Pope Bourbon House.  Both fit the profile of successful young, civically- involved Portlanders the MWL would want on its roster.  Eller, besides his Masters in Finance at Portland State and law degree, has an LLM (Masters in Taxation) from the University of Washington.  He’s is on the board of Cycle Oregon and past chair of the Leukemia-Lymphoma Society besides being an adjunct professor at both Northwestern Law School at Lewis and Clark and Portland State in his spare time….                                  

Jones in his favorite non-bar environment

Jones in his favorite non-bar environment

Jones after his undergraduate degree at Marylhurst University earned his MBA, is a US Army veteran, and worked in management positions in Japan before returning to the states.   He has been on the City Club of Portland Board and chairs the annual Alzheimer Walk for the Oregon Alzheimer Association.  Mike is a skilled woodworker as well as an avid hunter and outdoorsman as you might deduce from this picture.  Both of these gents are also great family men.

Dan made sure that our group had a “Hall Pass,” so we did not have to wait to get in.  This entry fee for non-members at the MWL costs $25 per person.  The fee seemed inordinate since my only other experience with a hall pass was in grade school.  Then you could secure one at no cost by just raising your hand and looking at the teacher with an imploring and strained look on your face.  But in both instances, it’s a great way to avoid a wait.

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Antibiotic and janitorial resistant……

Upon entering, I was struck by the stark contrast with the one “grunge bar” visited on my Beerchasing journey (three times…) – the Yamhill Pub where one almost expected an inspection by the Oregon Health Division in order to get out of this bar – the toilets may be a breeding ground for hostile invasive species in all likelihood immune to antibiotics.

The stairs at the Whiskey Library lead up to a spacious dimly-lit room with what was described by one Trip Advisor reviewer as “an absolutely dazzling selection” (8/16) and the MWL website proudly asserts is “…an exhaustive collection representing all major and lesser styles of distilled spirits known to the modern world.”  

There are a number of twelve-foot ladders which the staff use to retrieve many of the bottles – “organized categorically by region, ingredient and distilleries’ production practices. In short, this is a whiskey lover’s paradise.”  (PDX Eater  6/4/14)

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Fear of heights might be a problem when dusting the bottles

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Indeed, the collection is so extensive that the new employees each take part in the ongoing cycle of “dusting” the bottles.  Our server, Jason, confirmed this informing us that the dusting shifts for new employees also help them learn the names of the brands served.

The ornate framed portraits lining the walls stand out.  These are “the most important people in whiskey, all done by local artists. They include Jack Daniels, Mary the Jewess (‘the first true alchemist of the Western world’), George Washington, and Shinjiro Torii (the founder of Suntory whiskey).  (Munchies Magazine 5/7/15)  

Portraits of Whiskey Icons

Portraits of Whiskey Icons

And one’s initial exposure to the stained-glass skylights, the dark wood tables and long wrap-around bar, leather chairs and over-stuffed couches, exposed brick, twenty-foot ceilings, chandeliers and the hushed efficiency of the vested and tie-wearing servers, may be responsible for multiple ethereal references:

“I feel that this is what man heaven must be like.” (Yelp 5/4/16)

“(I thought) I died and went to whiskey heaven.” (Yelp 8/24/16)

“The host checking people in…pretends to be the gatekeeper to heaven.” (  5/29/16)

The scope of this review doesn’t provide space to amplify on the Green Room, but it also reeks of class and evidently has a nice selection of spirits.  Similarly, I will not address the food served at the MWL which has been described as good and reasonably priced.

And lest you think that the sophisticated ambiance and upscale trappings mean a stuffy or staid group of patrons, there was a nice energy in both bars and the crowd was diverse in demographics as one reviewer described it:

“(The crowd was) also classy, buzzing with conversation.  It feels like people here are talking about culture and worldly experiences vs. whose sports team is better or the Kardashians.”  (Yelp 12/23/16)  (not that the latter should be a standard…..)

Jason, our personal bartender

Jason, our personal bartender

Jason, our bartender/server, as reflected in most of the reviews on the staff, was knowledgeable, very helpful and a nice person.  Having worked there for eighteen months, he loves his job and answered our ongoing stream of questions about the bar and the selection of whiskeys as he prepared our cocktails at his rolling cart by our table.

Notwithstanding some stories about the extravagant tabs run up by some high-rollers (one rumored at $15,000 over two nights), the prices are pretty reasonable and we sampled a broad range of libations without requiring bank financing.  For example, I had an Old Fashioned, their “go to” drink,  while Eller had a Manhattan and Jones a Cadet (40 creek barrel select, fundador, nocino, house spirits coffee) and the round cost under $30 without tip.  They also have three beers on tap as well as a number of bottled beers for those with a myopic perspective.

The Room

The Private Tasting Room

I had a friend who went there on business who told me that he shared the most expensive bottle of scotch he’d ever drunk costing $350 (bought by the other party…) and MWL’s most expensive offering is a single-malt Macallan Royal Marriage, with a price tag of $1,785 a shot. according to Munchies Magazine.  You have to shell out $1,250 to procure your own “spirit locker.”

Our visit was a great experience and I don’t expect to visit another bar where the head bartender has the title of “Librarian” or “Curator” and where “Membership cards are personalized with your name laser etched into cherry wood…. making them, quite possibly, the coolest library card in the word.” (Montecristo Mag 9/30/14).  My only comparable experience was in my junior year at Oregon State when NROTC midshipmen Mulvey, Riley and I sneaked a pint of Wild Turkey into the William Jasper Kerr Library to help us study for a final exam in our navigation course.

While one can sympathize to a certain extent with those who encounter an unexpected and very long wait, it’s only requires a modicum of common sense to do a little research before going to a high-profile bar of this type rather than just dropping in.  A hall pass can eliminate the wait and is well worth the price.  The Multnomah Whiskey Library fills a good niche in the Portland food and beverage sector.

The Multnomah Whiskey Library         1124 SW Alder Street

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Two high rollers and Thebeerchaser…..

 

The Oregon Public House – Have a Pint, Change the World!

 

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Followers of this blog may remember that Thebeerchaser’s drinking companions at the last bar reviewed – Brannon’s Pub  and Brewery – included five tax attorneys.  And these individuals are not only lawyers, but each went back after law school and also earned their LLM or Masters Degree in Law with a focus on tax.

Beer-drinkers and financial experts Jones and Eller with Thebeerchaser logo

Beer-drinkers and financial experts Jones and Eller with Thebeerchaser logo

 

My lack of trepidation at having this group as drinking buddies emanated from a prior bar visit to the Oregon Public House with one of them – Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt lawyer, Dan Eller.  We were joined by Merrill Lynch financial advisor, Mike Jones, and it was a very enjoyable evening.

The Oregon Public House (OPH) bills itself as the “Nation’s First Non-profit Pub”although similar bars in Houston and Washington DC opened a little before it.   Founded with the contributions and sweat equity of volunteers – many of which were members of the Oregon Community, a church led by pastor Ryan Saari, who is an OPH Board member.

P1030204Their motto is “Have a Pint, Change the World,” – possibly an exaggeration, but one to which any fan of beer would hoist a mug (or two).

The stated mission is as follows:

“To integrate this vision of pub with benevolent outreach, we have relationships with a number of non-profit organizations to which our pub will donate 100% of net profits.  The customer will purchase their food and/or beverage, and then have a chance to choose where they wish their individual proceeds go from a short list of local charities.”

P1030202OPH is not spacious – five booths, a few tables and a nice bar  – nothing special, but kind of quaint, and it’s difficult to quarrel with their vision.  If you read to the end of this post, however, you will find some interesting (well, admittedly – only to a few people) nuances on the issue of “non-profit bar.”

A limited, but nice selection of NW Draft Beers

A limited, but nice selection of NW Draft Beers

Besides the traditional PBR Tall Boy, they have on tap eleven rotating beers and one cider – a nice selection of NW brews.  Our party had Three Creeks (Sisters Oregon) Stonefly Rye, Elysian (Seattle) Bi-Frost Winter Pale Ale, a Worthy (Bend) Lights Out Stout and the OPH Do Gooder –  the only beer that they brew themselves.         P1030196

The overhead stays low by requiring patrons to order at the bar rather than being served and then bus their own dishes – not a problem.  The food, for the most part, is standard pub faire although we were impressed with the “specials” on the menu that night which included a duck patty melt, hearty corn chowder and Hungarian goulash.

 

Cindy – at OPH since the inception

A strong kitchen....

A strong kitchen….

 

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When we asked the bartender, Cindy – an employee of OPH since its inception in 2013 – what distinguished the bar from others, she stated without hesitation, “Besides our overall mission, our Reuben was voted number 4 in Oregon Business Magazine’s Top-five Reubens’ category.”  This could not be verified, but it did compare favorably with The Goose Hollow Inn’s famous Reuben and all three of us devoured ours.   

One other distinguishing factor was their children’s play area – more of a symbolic than substantive gesture to indicate it is a family-oriented venue.  It was pretty meager although it’s one of few bars in Portland with one – County Cork is another.

Somewhat symbolic - most kids would get bored....

Somewhat symbolic – most kids would get bored….

 Tax Status

While we were having our first beer, I made the mistake of asking Dan a question to clarify the tax status of the OPH. He immediately responded (with some passion):

“Remember, a non-profit bar is not the same thing as a tax-exempt bar or a Section 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.”

I hadn’t really thought that I could get a tax deduction for our beers, but Dan explained, “OPH is a non-profit corporation that is not tax-exempt.” – kind of like a credit union.  Based on what he had been able to learn about OPH, Dan believed that it plowed back its net income or profits into charitable organizations.

However, if the amount given exceeded 10% of OPH’s taxable income, that would have presented what Dan described (as we were on our second beer) as “fascinating tax issues re. non-deductible expenses.”        

The IRS Logo

The IRS Logo

About this time, I looked at Mike – an MBA, so no stranger to financial concepts – and he appeared to be listening; however, I saw the notes he was making and he had scribbled, “Dale Nerl,” “Ned Erlal”  and “Len Radle”,” – all anagrams of Dan Eller’s name.  In my mind, I was picturing Dan trying to convey this same concept to a coed on a date when he was an undergraduate at UCLA……

 

Dan Eller - waxing eloquent about Section 501 of the Internal Revenue Code

Dan Eller – waxing eloquent about Section 501 of the Internal Revenue Code

The Give-O-Meter

The Give-O-Meter

The bottom line is OPH has given a significant amount to Oregon charities since their May 2013 opening in the historical building that dates back to 1909 when it was an Odd Fellows Lodge.  When we were there in January, the accumulated amount was $39,372 and that figure has increased to approximately $43,000.

 

 

As one reads about some of the big corporations acquiring breweries and pubs, it’s refreshing to hear about an idealistic and action-oriented group, who brought their vision to fruition and have created a great community gathering place.

 

Each time you order a drink or food, you cast a vote for one of the six charities they currently support:

Oregon Humane Society              P:EAR               Pink Boots Society

Playworks               Portland Fruit Tree Project                X-RAY F.M.

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To summarize, it might be appropriate to quote a recent (February, 2015) Yelp review:

“Great food, excellent service, and a fantastic mission.”

Oregon Public House                 700 NE Dekum Street