When it opened in 2009, Montavilla's Vintage Cocktail Lounge was the unlikely little mixology bar that could.
Montavilla has since grown up, and Vintage is now essential to the fabric of that famously unpretentious neighborhood, despite the relatively chichi nature of its craft. Still, a menu filled with complex libations at reasonable prices is bound to find a following most anywhere, and in March, co-owner Ray Hendricks confirmed plans to convert Vault Martini Bar in the Pearl District into a second location of Vintage, while maintaining the old name.
Hendricks made good on those plans with Vault Cocktail Lounge (226 NW 16th Ave., 503-490-1178, vaultpdx.com). The décor has shifted slightly, but the fact you're at a cocktail bar in the Pearl is still unmistakable. The ruddy, distressed finish on the wall behind the liquor is covered up by intricate metallic panels, and nondescript house music throbs gently on the stereo as if you're in some kind of futuristic gym lobby. Fortunately, the cocktail menu and a few bartenders have been ported over from the eastside to smooth the transition, and its a touch that won't be lost on regulars from Vintage who hope to enjoy a Prohibition cocktail for $8 in a neighborhood where that's a rarity.
The old Vault had its adherents, but its brief success wasn't free of the guilt that accompanies cloying byproducts of the craft martini movement like the Thin Mint or the Chocolatini. At the new Vault, the best move is to choose a drink that would feel like a gamble elsewhere. When asked for a suggestion, our bartender doled out the Flyin' Tail ($8), a sublime, tiki-esque blend of Wray and Nephew rum spiked with lime juice, simple syrup, bitters and an allspice dram that makes for a rich and spicy kicker. The Not for Nothin'—a rye and ginger beer drink that uses peach bitters and a thai chili tincture for a mildly sweet and hot finish—is a lesson in proud understatement. At $6 during happy hour or $8 thereafter, the bar should expect to sell quite a few of them.
We encountered a few duds, like a watery attempt at an old-fashioned, known here as the Country Club, and the food menu is an average assortment of bar snacks and charcuterie. But the happy hour Mac & Cheese, which features a creamy ale sauce and bacon, is an impressively rich and crusty dish that's far tastier than it is pretty—and a steal at only $5.
What was unfortunately absent, however, was the popular "Socialist Bartender Program" that Hendricks enacted at Vintage back in November, in which offers pours from expensive and rare bottles are sold at cost every Sunday. Staff lamented its absence when asked, and mentioned hopes to enact the program soon after more location-specific cocktails are added to the menu and mastered.
Until then, Vault succeeds in offering a mellow and value-oriented respite for the after-work crowd who sometimes can't wait to cross the Willamette before drowning their stress in underpriced spirits.