The arc of nostalgia is swift and cruel. Who among us can forget the first time we encountered a promotion for a "'90s night"?
Now that it's 2020, our thirst for all things retro has found a new wellspring: the aughts, a much-maligned, little understood, simultaneously boring and melodramatic era of American cultural and economic boom, bust and baggage.
There's much to dislike about the decade—the politics, the fashion—but in its defense, it was also the dawn of the Great American Cocktail Revival. Portland's contribution to the genre was significant. Jeffrey Morgenthaler's Clyde Common, opened in 2008, is credited with inventing the barrel-aged cocktail, while Teardrop Lounge introduced cocktail author bylines to menus and helped popularize a shared punch bowl trend.
But the zeitgeist has slowed in recent years. Everywhere is a fruit shake IPA palace now, or a vegan lagerplatz, or else a natural wine small-plates neo-cave with a lot of tricky pronunciation.
And so it is enormously refreshing—invigorating, even, in a deliciously nostalgic sort of way—to be gifted a new bar like Voysey.
The latest venture from ChefStable is nominally hidden like the classic Manhattan cocktail bars of yore. First, go all the way to the back of Loyal Legion, look for the red light, then head down a flight of stairs through a metallic beaded entry curtain into a throbbing, glowing bar. It is dark and flickering and appropriately date-ready. There are six coveted bar seats at which to watch bartending duo Jamie King and Katie Stipe work, but room for dozens more spread out across low group tables, cuddle nooks, curvy couches and antique tables, all framed by drippy Burgundy curtain drapery and tall free-standing lamps. There is a disco ball. There is a confetti lava lamp. This is a Cocktail Bar. And it's delightful.
Drinks are ever-changing, at least so far. Early standouts include an excellent take on the Vesper ($14), traditionally a deceptively simple blend of vodka, gin and Lillet. Simple stuff done well bodes well for the rest of the experience, and Voysey is home to a very good Vesper—cold and wonderfully neutral, floral yet spirit forward in a tight balance, the whole experience amplified by the quality of the glassware (vintage, of course) and sourced by Bull in China.
In its retro simplicity and homage to better drinking days gone by, Voysey feels immediately essential. Even my cellphone didn't work down in the basement. It was perfect.
DRINK: Voysey, 615 SE Alder St. 6 pm-midnight Thursday-Sunday.