Spanish coffee does not seem like a particularly cool cocktail, especially in a town like Portland where career bartenders are continually concocting new variations of the tasty and bizarre. But when you consider our obsession with coffee and our penchant for drinking (a lot), then multiply that by the annual number of dark, cold and rainy days, maybe Spanish coffee really is Portland's ideal cocktail. Plus, you light it on fire, which is pretty cool. Any bar with a standard selection of booze and fresh-brewed coffee can make you one, with some locations adding their own twist of flavor and others focusing on presentation. So embrace the nostalgia and enjoy the delicious, fiery show.
Huber's (411 SW 3rd Ave., 228-5686, hubers.com) sets the Spanish-coffee standard in terms of presentation. The restaurant's signature cocktail is prepared tableside by a sharply dressed server instructed in the proper use of magic hands. (They should also carry a small boombox that plays "The Final Countdown"). Two glasses rimmed with sugar are filled with Bacardi 151 and a splash of triple sec and set alight. The flames are swirled for about 30 seconds, which both heats the glass and caramelizes the sugar, before being doused with a shot of Kahlua. Hot coffee fills the rest of the glass and the drink is topped with whipped cream and a sprinkle of nutmeg. The result is nearly too strong to enjoy, but at least for $9.50 you get a little live entertainment.
The Portland City Grill (111 SW 5th Ave., 450-0030, portlandcitygrill.com) offers exactly what you would expect with a perfectly drinkable, textbook Spanish coffee, assuming you can find a place to sit. For the opposite in ambiance, Beulahland (118 NE 28th Ave., 235-2794, beulahlandpdx.com) falls somewhere between a hipster bar and a retro diner. The menu offers a variety of coffee cocktails, and the Spanish coffee proves lightly sweet and tasty.
For date night, The Sapphire Hotel (5008 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 232-6333, thesapphirehotel.com) offers romantic lighting and the funky charm of a Wes Anderson set. Its encyclopedic bar menu instills confidence and, though it's not one of Sapphire's signature cocktails, the Spanish coffee is just strong enough to let your date make a move. But by far the best-tasting Spanish coffee was found at North 45 (517 NW 21st Ave., 248-6317, north45pub.com). Their version, dubbed the Conquistador, had a delightful orange flavor undetectable in most others, as well as strong, fresh-tasting coffee and sweet Bailey's whipped cream.