"It tastes like Christmas." That's how a Vintage Cocktail Lounge bartender describes the Czech Becherovka Herbal liqueur ($5.50 drink) as he pours a taster ($2.75). And he's right—we're not talking about desiccated pine and peppermint sticks here; loaded with herbs and spices, the heady, 76-proof liqueur makes you want to get cozy in front of the fire and share some hooch with Santa.
The Montavilla bar owned by Justin Akins, 35, and his wife, Jaeymee, which opened in July, is packed with these kinds of boozy presents. But, just to be clear, it's not a restaurant. There's food, but that's not the point. Prior to Vintage, Akins was beverage manager at Trébol in North Portland, and that's the defining factor here—bartender-owned.
The small, shotgun space is low-lit, dark red and minimally decorated. The bar is the most prominent feature—beautiful lacquered hardwood salvaged from the beams of an old hop barn—but there are also several small tables where you can set your old-fashioned ($6).
The drink menu is long, with 20 house cocktails fortified by housemade tinctures (pure grain alcohol flavored with herbs and/or fruit) and a hefty spirits selection, along with a good beer and wine list. The five rotating taps ($2.50-$3.50) range from Lagunitas IPA and Alameda Black Bear XX Stout to lowbrow Rainier.
The corpse reviver ($7.50)—Vintage's rendition of the classic hangover cure cocktail—courses from minty and medicinal to roasty-toasty and back again with its on-the-rocks blend of brandy, Fernet-Branca, Branca Menta and anise tincture.
For whiskey and bourbon lovers there's a Wild Turkey-and-vanilla concoction called Lower Manhattan ($8), a Bulleit-and-anise version, Uptown Manhattan ($8), and a rye whiskey and Peychaud bitters Sazerac ($7). Keep in mind that if you so much as whisper that you like whiskey or bourbon within earshot of owner Justin, he's likely to consult his libation library (a stack of books balanced atop the refrigerator) and loan you a whiskey tome to study.
Vintage's behind-the-bar cook station is tiny and low-tech, little more than a panini press and toaster oven. Food revolves around the housemade flatbread (secret ingredient: PBR), which is in turn transformed into pizzetas, sandwiches and crackers—all served in paper-lined plastic baskets.
The thinly sliced roast beef sandwich ($8) on grilled flatbread is layered with deliciously creamy melted asadero cheese and spiked with minced fresh serrano peppers. It tastes like a distant relative of the Philly cheesesteak, is big enough to share, and arrives with an accompanying green leaf salad. Another good bet is the country ham, pancetta and hot capicola sandwich($8), spiced with slivers of pickled cherry peppers.
Vintage's pizzetas ($7) are OK, but come on, with Flying Pie Pizzeria just up the road, why bother? Snacks like chips and guacamole ($7) and a cheese and soppressata plate ($9) are a bit overpriced and unexciting.
But you're not here for the food. Go to Vintage to sip on—and geek out on—classic spirits and cocktails. It's the kind of place where you can order everything from Zwack and Cynar to shochu, rhubarb bitters and allspice tincture, and no one will even bat an eye. And that's a gift all in itself.
- Order this: Roast beef flatbread sandwich chased with an Uptown Manhattan.
- Best deal: The $9 flight of three rotating whiskeys.
- I’ll pass: The Sans Knickers cocktail ($8), with Martin Miller’s gin, orangecello and lemon bitters, sounds better than it tastes.
Vintage Cocktail Lounge, 7907 SE Stark St., 262-0696. 5 pm-late nightly. $-$$ Inexpensive-moderate.