"I should have dressed up," whispers Bite Club's companion as we tiptoe into Apotheke, Caleb McBee's wild new modern apothecary and art space. All white-enameled metal and flat white walls, it looks like the droogs' Korova Milkbar, from A Clockwork Orange. Or maybe it's the gleaming medical lab in the first Alien movie. The only signs of life? A soundscape of softly glitchy beats and a small group of twentysomethings huddled at a long skinny table in the center of the vast second floor room, located above Andina in a Pearl District loft. Although, we decide, the arty people could be robots.
Luckily, Apotheke's (pronounced "Aap-poe-tay-kah") austere attitude is just a front. The space, which opened its glass doors a week and a half ago, is actually filled with equal parts nice people and incredible European libations. Like some minimalist martini bar, all of the bar's drinks are served neat (no rum 'n' cokes here) and many of its outlandish bottles are only available at a few upscale joints in town.
Bite Club's favorite? The tiny, $9 flute of Chartreuse: A heady spring-green digestif created by French monks in 1605. It tastes like mainlining an Aveda salon.
"An apothecary is more than a pharmacy or drugstore, it's a place of food and health and pure elements," explains McBee. The 25-year-old ex-Starbucks barista got turned on to elixirs like Underberg, a lip-numbingly aromatic bitter, when he lived in Germany, Switzerland and Budapest in the late 1990s. A few years later, McBee scraped together enough cash to open what he calls an "environment" dedicated to design, experimental music, art, food, and his favorite beers, wines and liquors.
The "environment's" impressive drink menu reads like a historical romance novel, chronicling the genealogies of big, powerful, robust herbal liquors like the Hungarian mind-bender Zwack Unicum and the sexy amber-orange tonic Benedictine D.O.M. (that's Deo Optimo Maximo). A handful of bourbons, scotches and eaux de vie from Portland's Clear Creek Distillery are also included on the well-priced list ($4-$11).
The food menu, a Scandinavian hit parade of gravlax and rye toast topped with anchovy, caviar and cucumber (Gurkas Norge) is a spendier prospect. That Swiss-French favorite, raclette, is $20 per person-a steep price tag for melt-your-own cheese and veggies, although the spread does include a gratis bottle of McBee's fave, Underberg.
"There were wine bars, martini houses and beer pubs [in town]," McBee says. "I wanted to create a completely new concept-a concept that has been going on in Europe for a really, really long time."
As Portland's first herbal bar, Apotheke already succeeds in being unique in a town that prides itself on weirdness. And all that white? We suspect it's McBee's ace in the hole, an aesthetic choice that makes sure absolutely nothing distracts you from getting a phenomenally interesting drunk on.
Apotheke, 1314 NW Glisan St., Suite 2A, 241-7866, www.apotheke-nw.com . 5pm - midnight Tuesday - Thursday, 5pm - 2am Saturday - Sunday.