Scotch consumption carries a lot of cultural baggage.
In America, at least, it's seen as a signifier of class and status. So it was hardly surprising to see Scotch Lodge—the new venture from Multnomah Whiskey Library curator Tommy Klus, located in the basement space that formerly housed landmark izakaya Biwa—packed on a recent Thursday night with swole 50-something CEO bros, polished gentlemen in fedoras and neckties and young dudes in pink button-ups you suspect voted for Trump.
That isn't the fault of the spirit itself, really. Nor is it the fault of Klus, who's put together a menu that appeals both to hardcore whiskey drinkers and novices alike.
For the former, Scotch Lodge delivers admirably. Here, you can find holy grails like Ardbeg's Airigh Nam Beist ($40 for a taste), a discontinued Islay single-malt vintage bottling from 1990, or Highland Park's Freya, a whisky named for the Norse goddess of love hailing from the Scottish island of Orkney ($44 for a taste). If you'd like to learn more about any of the 100-plus bottles on offer, the bar's shelves are stocked with various reference tomes by noted whisky writers such as Jim Murray and Dave Broom.
But it's not all $40-per-ounce whales—entry-level drams and tastes make up a solid portion of the list as well. Beyond whisky, the bar's cocktail menu is deep and well executed. The Nobody's Poet ($12) offers a deftly upscale take on the modern rum cocktail, balancing bourbon, pineapple oleo, a housemade coconut oolong demerara, and pineapple rum, without ever veering into sickly, tiki-style oversweetness.
Like most Portlanders of a certain age, I've spent many happy hours down in the Biwa basement, slurping noodles or munching on fried chicken gizzard skewers. It is a testament to owner Klus and his design team that the place is entirely unrecognizable from its former occupant, with marble tabletops, flickering candles, retro wallpaper and two showpiece bars, one perched over the kitchen and another among the booze.
Given the atmosphere, it's no surprise Scotch Lodge is already attracting the crowd it's bringing in. Again, that's really no fault of Klus—most of the distilleries he's featured are run by multigenerational Scottish artisans without much pretense. But in Portland circa 2019, among the throbbing downtempo jams and $80 drams, there are deals to be done and expense accounts to be drained. And Scotch Lodge seems happy to oblige.
DRINK: Scotch Lodge, 215 SE 9th Ave., Suite 102, 503-208-2039,
scotchlodge.com. 4 pm-midnight Wednesday-Sunday.