Supergroups are a great idea in theory. They don't always work out, of course. It's as true in music and sports—see Audioslave and the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers. And it happens in the food and drink realm, too. Anyone who revels in the schadenfreude of New Portland will gleefully recall the failure of Americano, the East Burnside bar founded by Hale Pele's Blair Reynolds that shuttered just three months after The Oregonian named it 2016's Bar of the Year.
Hey Love (920 E Burnside St., 503-206-6223) was opened two weeks ago in the lobby of Jupiter Next by a similarly astounding cadre of scene veterans, including Rum Club bar manager Emily Mistell, Mississippi Studios food and beverage director Sophie Thomson, Roscoe Roberson of ChefStable, and Aaron Hall and Nicholas Musso of Dig A Pony.
In a vacuum, the retro tropical-themed bar serves as a welcoming point of entry to the boozy esoterica that's made Rum Club and Hale Pele especially famous. The décor is a flurry of highly photogenic touches from the South Pacific circa 1976, with intricate floral wallpaper, mismatched photos and a jungle of leafy plants that directly encourage the consumption of sugary, high-proof cocktails.
On that front, a great place to start is the Belafonte ($10), which tempers the syrupy sweetness of añejo rum with a housemade ginger tamarind sarsaparilla and Amari. It's dangerously drinkable, and you're likely to hear a track by Harry Belafonte himself booming from the stereo while you gulp it down—a welcome respite from the hesher metal or bland Drake-centric playlists that are commonplace in the neighborhood.
With that in mind, it will be interesting to see how the aesthetic queues of Russo—who spearheaded the design of bars like Victoria and Cat's Paw as well as Dig A Pony—are reconciled with the louche clubbiness that envelops Lower Burnside on weekends. While the direction of Hey Love is pointedly chill and specific to the presumed needs of the hotel it's attached to, its plight is similar to that of neighboring Doug Fir Lounge, in that it's reluctantly vital to a gauntlet of itinerant party people bound to describe the place as "vibey" without an ounce of irony.
Still, the composure of Hey Love's expansive bar staff on a recent weekend evening visit indicated that management knew exactly what it was getting into. Complex drinks like the Belafonte and the $12 Mr. Downbeat (scotch, rum, bitters and a proprietary "tiki syrup") were dispensed quickly and carefully. Simple, starchy bar fare like the fried salt potatoes with a housemade buttermilk ranch ($6) and a popular grilled chicken yakisoba dish ($12) emerged from the kitchen within just minutes.
For now, Hey Love is an impressive culmination of disparate talents at the peaks of their respective games. Whether it buckles under the pressure of being a highly Instagrammable venue for strong drinks in a neighborhood that's slowly turning into Old Town East is yet to be seen. But we're rooting for it regardless.