BY SAMI GASTON
Some authors are writer's writers. Shift Drinks is a bartender's bar, named after the much-needed drink people in the service industry get after they clock out, whether busser, bartender or server.
The large, minimalist West End cocktail and wine spot—as simple and elegant as a museum in its decor, hung with 4-foot photos of drunken Batman and Bryan Ferry—was born from a simple realization. Late at night, bartenders and servers in the booming high-end restaurant neighborhood had few solid places to drink or eat.
Shift Drinks owners Alise Moffatt and Anthony Garcia met while working at the nearby cocktail hall Multnomah Whiskey Library, which closes most nights by midnight. After enough evenings post-service, they realized the neighborhood needed a late-night bar that offered more than just beer and "gut bombs."
Moffatt says it was about "wanting to eat something late that wasn't a burger and fries, something you are not going to hate yourself for the next day." Their chef, Garcia's wife, Anne, selects ingredients at the farmers market for the menu each week, whether bruschetta with Walla Walla onion, ricotta, asparagus and preserved lemon, or a shaved fennel salad.
But the reason Shift Drinks has taken hold so effectively among the local service industry—and the reason it's also the place they recommend to the patrons of their bars and restaurants—is the no-nonsense execution, the mix of high and low, cultured and accessible, that also defines Moffatt and Garcia.
Garcia is one of the few advanced sommeliers in the nation; only about 20 are certified each year. He founded a wine bar in Texas while still in his 20s, and was sommelier at the Heathman Hotel before moving on to Multnomah Whiskey Library. Moffatt's résumé includes shrines to spirits like House Spirits Distillery and Angel Face, but also volume party bars like Rontoms, which led her to design the high-end cocktails at Shift Drinks for both speed and spirit-forward potency.
"The execution needs to be fast," Moffatt says. "There is only one shaken drink on the menu. Otherwise, everything else is stirred." But the drinks are still refined and unexpected. Emoji Swagger ($12) is an all-spirit mix of reposado tequila, Punt e Mes vermouth, and China-China and allspice liqueurs—it tastes like a bittersweet Manhattan combined with churros and lime. The Tinder Flare rum cocktail ($11) is like sipping a cream soda with a peach-flavored Jolly Rancher in your mouth.
The expansive wine list, meanwhile, is categorized into sections such as "experimental," "technical," and "left coast," ranging from Willamette Valley pinot noir to regional stabs at non-fortified and biologically aged sauvignon blanc, from boutique Champagne harvested manually from 30-year-old vines to solid $7 glass pours. "We also labeled the wine on the menu to make it easy to order," Garcia says. "That way if you want to drink the 'big red,' you don't have to try to pronounce the French."
And in true form for service professionals, the bar's off-premises licence means you can buy a bottle of rosé to go for under $15s before 2:30 am and keep the party going.
"Maybe you want to blow all your tips that night on something baller," Garcia says, "or just have a shot and a beer." Either way, you're covered.