In this feature, we focus a critical eye on a unique new business concept and ask a simple question: Does Portland really need this?
The North(west) Pole
What is it? A blink-and-you'll-miss-it holiday pop-up on the second floor of Southern restaurant the Waiting Room, serving highbrow cocktails in the world's lowest-brow ski lodge.
The environment: Climb two flights of stairs from the modest bottom floor dining space, past unobtrusive diners munching on oysters and fried chicken, and you'll find yourself in an immersive holiday experience modeled after the classic American ski lodge. There's a plastic sled hanging in the doorway and someone's roommate's skis used for wall decoration. Then begins the Hallmark-style Christmas kitsch, with tinsel, multicolored fairy lights, and artificial pine hanging from every ledge.
The drinks: There are eight winter-themed cocktails, each tackling a different seasonal ingredient and requiring fussy bartending that includes custard making, egg-white foaming, and precise garnish curation, tacking five minutes onto the preparation of every drink. Esther's Little Helper ($12) takes the saccharine taste out of the peppermint lattes you love to hate, mixing vodka, Kahlua and cream with just enough peppermint schnapps to make you feel like you're drinking for the season. The Gin-gerbread Fizz ($14) feels like a missed opportunity—a careful balance of molasses, gingerbread syrup and citrus should have worked to create a boozy fever dream of festive spice, but it mostly ends up tasting like gin mixed with spoonfuls of Stevia. If none of that sounds appealing to you, there's also six options for shot-skis—you know, that thing where four bros line up and down a shot off the deck of a downhill ski. It's $10 for a single shot or $40 for the deck. Order the Red Hatted Slut, and you'll get a shot of cranberry and Jäger while the bartender blasts a foamy snow machine in your face. The whole bar will cheer.
Pros: It may not fully nail the winter ski lodge theme, but enough work has gone into the North(west) Pole that it's easy to be charmed by the hodgepodge of decorations and the fact that the staff has the good sense to slap on ugly Christmas sweaters.
Cons: The North(west) Pole can't decide whether it wants to lean into the holiday kitsch or elevate itself as a temporary, upscale cocktail bar. If you're going to staple Christmas stockings to the wall, blast Mariah Carey over the loudspeakers and be done with it.
Do we really need this? Someone, somewhere, is definitely craving an artisanal shot-ski of malted rye, banana and crème de cacao. They're in luck for the next two weekends.
GO: North(west) Pole is at the Waiting Room, 2327 NW Kearney St., 503-477-4380, thewaitingroompdx.com. 5-10 pm Friday-Saturday, through Dec. 21.