In a month when motes from the Gorge fire swirl unhealthily in the air, a place called Ash Bar (575 NE 24th Ave., 503-206-4085, nomadpdx.com) would seem an unlikely refuge. But the pristine backroom space next to Providore Fine Foods is the closest thing Portland has to a boutique speakeasy, so obscure it doesn't even have a Yelp page.
Getting to Ash requires you to take two tight left turns upon entering the unmarked door of $100-a-meal Nomad restaurant. There you find a miniscule room where two driftwood branches hang like antlers above a horseshoe bar fitted tightly to the space, with acoustics so damped I scared the crap out of the bartender when I arrived while her back was turned.
But for such a small and hidden space, the options are vast. The boozy, 11-deep cocktail menu ($10-$14) is loaded with esoteric ingredients: grapefruit-oolong bitters, Braulio amaro or Singani 63 Bolivian muscat. The latter is paired with bubbles, smoky vermouth and amaro for a lightly effervescent No Time to Tango ($13) that's near-lethal with liquor.
Meanwhile, there are two separate food menus—a "breakfast for dinner" menu with a padrón-pepper scramble ($9) and Taylor ham and egg sando ($10), plus a bar menu with $9 beef-tendon chicharrónes and a $9 umeboshi burger. On special, however, was an $8 peanut butter and jelly sandwich, served with airily whipped peanut butter mousse and blueberry jam on spongy toasted brioche.
"It makes every other PB&J I've had taste like crap," our bartender said. She wasn't really wrong—and it arrived as a twee brown-bag dinner with rye-shortbread cookies, a Capri Sun and a nice little note from the kitchen scrawled on a napkin, as if from an alcoholic mother. It was easy to forget that outside, the world was dying by fire. There is no ash in Ash Bar.