It would be so easy to hate on Americano (2605 E Burnside St., americanopdx.com), the new vermouth and coffee bar from Hale Pele's Blair Reynolds and Coco Donuts' Ian Christopher. For one thing, it's in the Burnside26 building—a gentrification flashpoint that kind of looks as if it were designed using a free WordPress theme.
And within, the cafe and bar looks like a cross between a hair salon and a Duran Duran album—sterile white-on-white, with a massive ornate mirror, marble horseshoe bar and '80s-style pop-deco coffee art spanning an entire wall. Such an apparent ode to false luxury shouldn't be any good, nor fun. But then you notice the sparkling gamay on the menu—a delightful quaff that might as well be Champagne jam—and the preponderance of wine bottles served for under $30.
The vermouth and amaro selection—French, Italian and local—is impressive as hell. And those press pots are brilliant, made-to-order liquor, spice and fruit mixed with soda water and split among at least three people for $30, including a Starry Night made with blessedly old-fashioned Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, plus fresh strawberries and bourbon and quinquina, a wine aperitif made using cinchona bark. Elsewhere, you can build your own drink from espresso—housemade by Christopher—with tequila or whiskey, plus a choice of house bitters.
The food menu, meanwhile, is a shotgun blast to the map, whether oyster-absinthe chowder or Louisville Hot Brown waffle. On our last visit, the bearded armada of bartenders—knowledgeable, competent, likable people—regaled the marble bar with only slightly off-color stories of ridiculously fancy places they'd worked in San Francisco, or perplexed travels to coffee countries where the locals drank only Nescafe.
Americano may look like it belongs in an upscale shopping center, but its fine points are both more rarefied and more approachable than you'd expect, not to mention a hell of a lot smarter.