A New Pearl District Bar Pays Tribute to Paniolos, the Hawaiian Cowboy

The paniolo theme thrillingly weaves its way through the snacks and entrees, thanks to the strong perspective of chef and Oahu native Alex Wong.

There’s a new cowboy in town.

Next door to Pink Rabbit, the hip, neon-illuminated cocktail bar taken over by Collin Nicholas in mid-2021, is his new spot with a unique theme. From the décor in the former Vault space to nearly every ingredient on the menu, Fools and Horses takes inspiration from paniolos—Hawaiian cowboys whose cuisine is influenced by immigrants from Mexico, Portugal and Japan.

If that sounds a bit busy, it is, and so is Fools and Horses, but that’s all part of the fun. Stepping inside, visitors instantly know they’re in for a special experience. As if the Venn diagram of “Hawaii” and “cowboy culture” weren’t enough, it becomes clear there are not just two but three overlapping circles thanks to the art deco interior design. The space is about as dark as a haunted mansion’s basement, with lighting set to “almost none” and custom-patterned, gold-accented wallpaper a shade of green so inky it’s almost black. One corner booth sits on a giant circular stage that overlooks the dining room. Another, which I sat at, is L-shaped, with one seat plopped in the center, like an ottoman or, perhaps, a witness stand. On the way to the restroom, I turned on my flashlight to reveal—wow!—an old-timey wooden phone booth!

The above description should be taken as lightheartedly as possible: It isn’t criticism or befuddlement, but giddy observation from this queer reviewer. There’s something inherently campy about the proceedings. The intersection of hide rugs and skulls with Gatsby cosplay vibes means a (seemingly) unintentional silliness pierces the sophistication, making the chameleonic space both playful and sexy, gay and straight, both great for a date or an evening with friends.

The enormous and very shiny bar, stocked with sauces and syrups all made in house, churns out some of the best new cocktails in town, all served in gorgeous and distinctive glassware. The Five Longhorns ($14) with bourbon, amaro, fig, and makrut lime rules hard—it’s a smoky and very slammable treat. The stunningly named Cash & Curry ($14) is a mix of gin, sherry, lychee, curry leaf and a coconut-rice-miso horchata, resulting in a shake-level creamy and vegan alternative to a clarified milk punch.

Its zero-proof replicant, Shoots! and Ladders ($10), is pale white and comes in a teeny, adorable dessert wine glass, like a stunning potion from an evil queen. It’s simply one of the best drinks I ever dang drank, and I wish I’d had three.

Fizzy highlights included the punchy, umbrella-topped Fools Gold ($12) with rum, Cointreau, and guava jelly; and the N/A Guess Who ($10), with Seedlip Grove and housemade POG juice, its strong perfume working as a tropical resort transportation device.

Fools and Horses’ cocktail menu is divided in two: “Spirit Forward” and “Refreshing.” Given personal tastes, I opted for choices from the latter. The food menu seems to adhere to that hard-line split in a similar way, with heartier dishes to accompany a more spirit-forward experience, and produce and seafood-focused options that sing alongside the more playful bevvies. While Fools and Horses is a cocktail bar first and foremost, dinner really is something I’d encourage—the paniolo theme thrillingly weaves its way through the snacks and entrees, thanks to the strong perspective of chef and Oahu native Alex Wong.

The Paniolo Range ($21) is a gorgeously presented, gussied-up charcuterie board that looks like it could be served at the Oscar party thrown by the richest, most perfect person you know. Slices of baguette, assembled with passion-fruit butter, manchego, pickled peppers, and pipikaula (a house-cured dried beef rib jerky), is one of those balanced salt-fat-acid bites you dream about, boosted by the herbal freshness of edible flowers, which decorate almost every dish.

The mahi mahi ($29), crusted in toasted coconut and sesame, made my eyes widen in delight at its fabulosity, especially when paired with a bite of tender baby broccoli, with more melted passion-fruit butter finding its way into all of the nooks and crannies. The cod ($22), cooked in lemon-scented milk and served on simple, crisp toast with warmed tomatoes on the verge of bursting, flakes apart elegantly, a challenging texture to achieve with a fish that all too easily dries out.

Dishes with a little more gravitas include the sweet and spicy lima bean and linguica cassoulet ($18), reminiscent of Mom’s chili. Confit tarot and potato ($19) with spicy piri piri sauce are mega-crispy-crunchy on the outside and give way to a steamy, fluffy interior. The short ribs ($27) were good, though perhaps oversalted due to a heavy hand with soy sauce, and served with a slightly less intriguing interpretation of the crispy potatoes from before. Either food pathway would be nicely complemented by the salad ($16), with papaya seed dressing, macadamia nuts, and red onion—a palate cleanser that pushes back against so many intense flavors.

Dessert is not to be missed. The soft coconut milk ice cream ($6) with macadamia and almond bark is like a Hawaiian-themed Dairy Queen dipped cone. The malasada ($11), a Portuguese doughnut filled with piping hot jam and custard, made me exclaim “Oh my effing God!” Served in a bowl, it was a bit challenging to eat without some teamwork and leverage from other silverware, which resulted in hunks of the pastry being mixed into the ice cream like some sort of chaotic evil sundae. Order them together and do exactly this. Pew pew! Yeehaw!

EAT: Fools and Horses, 226 NW 12th Ave., 503-894-8473, foolsandhorsespdx.com. 4-11 pm Sunday-Tuesday, 4 pm-midnight Wednesday-Saturday.

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