Tucked in a corner above the bar at Nightingale, a little skeleton figure sits on a spinning disco ball. If it is possible to lock eyes with an inanimate object, I did so as R.E.M.’s “Losing my Religion,” played overhead. That moment sort of summed up Saturday night at the intimate cocktail spot: catchy and strange, good but perhaps not fun.
Located on Northeast 28th, in the former Cardinal Club location—a welcome neighbor to Angel Face and Navarre—Nightingale has fought the good fight, staying open during a pandemic.
There’s something subdued about Nightingale, even with a decent weekend turnout of groups dining both inside and out—on the bar’s festive but understated streetside patio. My partner and I elected to sit at the bar to shorten the supply-chain logistics for getting our drinks.
Nightingale’s cocktail menu consists of well-conceived concoctions, bearing wry but comfortable music metaphor titles like “The Piano Is Drunk” and “Lou Reed’s Leather Jacket.” The house’s signature bitters appear in many of the drinks and can be purchased bottled to go.
In this house, we stan smoky mezcal, but if there’s a flaw in the list of Nightingale’s signature selections, it’s that they tend to be a bit homogeneous in their flavor profiles. Of the four drinks sampled, they all had some kind of “peaty” cast to them, owing to the liberal deployment of mezcals, scotches, and smoked bitters. If that’s not in your particular boozy strike zone, Nightingale also offers a great selection of wines and affordable beers on draft.
To go along with your potables, there’s a simple but effective menu of Mexican morsels. Snacky botanas like ceviche, queso fundido, and guacamole con totopos. And more substantial small plates if you’re on the hungry side of peckish.
The food is good, but not singular. And $16 for three tacos is a bit on the high side for what you get, but the ahi tacos did hit the spot.
So much of the vibe was probably thrown off by the music and its seeming lack of curation. “Losing My Religion” is an excellent song, but sort of a downer and out of date in an unintentional way. The rest of the playlist bounced from the Beatles to Oasis to Kings of Leon.
Looking around the bar, it’s warm and inoffensive, with low lighting and neutral tones. Other than the Nightingale branding on the water carafes and some interesting wooden tiling along the walls, there’s little in the way of art. That is, until you go into the all-genders restroom, where you’ll find an explosion of color in the form of a very cool mural that covers every wall. And a framed illustrated heart sits next to the paper towels that cheerfully and literally says, “Fuck you.”
Nothing about Nightingale’s ambience is bad all by itself. It just feels piecemeal and lacking a strong point of view.
And that’s the biggest takeaway. Everything Nightingale does is good. Good drinks, good food, good ambience. Good. Not great. But that’s OK. Good is good. Nightingale is a serviceable place to gather before going off to do other things. Right now, though, the party is elsewhere. But with some tweaks, it could be here.
EAT: Nightingale, 18 NE 28th Ave., 971-254-9017, nightingalepdx.net. 5 pm-midnight Thursday-Saturday, 5-11 pm Sunday, Monday and Wednesday.