In this feature, we focus a critical eye on a unique new business concept and ask a simple question: Does Portland really need this?
What Is It? A CBD-powered coffee kiosk, cocktail bar and CBD boutique in the middle of bustling downtown food hall Pine Street Market that Bend-based soda manufacturer Ablis is calling "The World's First CBD Func-Tail Lounge."
The Environment: The market itself is an ostentatious facsimile of a food court, replete with neon signage, long banquet tables, and the symphony of diners and open kitchens. The Ablis Experience is a rectangular bar that sits at its center, in the space that formerly belonged to Olympia Provisions. On the north end of the bar is a to-go counter with a few obligatory coffeehouse pastries displayed next to CBD Energy Shots and topical therapy creams. The barstools that line the rest of the cocktail kiosk put drinkers a bit on display, but are also at a good angle for people watching.
The Drinks: Aside from espresso and spirits, customers can choose from 12 house favorite beverages—six health tonics and six cocktails—or attempt to build their own beverage from an obtuse menu of superfood powder blends and add-ons. Patrons can also find Ablis' popular CBD sodas on tap as well as a small selection of beers. CBD can be added to any beverage in portions of 20 mg.
Pros: The "Func-Tails"—i.e., "functional cocktails"—are pretty swoon-worthy. The house favorite Golden Peace latte comprises an earthy blend of turmeric, lions mane mushrooms and ginkgo biloba in a foamy, CBD-spiked milk bath that promises to boost heart health and immunity. It's muddy and bright in all the right ways.
The house favorite Divine Chocovention is a sophisticated impersonation of hot cocoa, with cacao, collagen and infused milk and honey. It's sweet enough to coax a moan but bitter enough to wheedle a pucker, which is just how I like my chocolate.
Ablis' flagship CBD sodas are on all on tap—Strawberry Mojito and Cran-Blood Orange stand out as excellent cocktail mixers. Ablis has cemented its brand as a purveyor of top-shelf CBD, so patrons can rely on a feather-soft rush of non-psychoactive complacency to accompany their drinks. Also, all drinks (aside from the sodas, of course) can be made without CBD.
Cons: The pricing is all over the place. A specialty cocktail made with top-shelf liquor and spiked with 20 mg of medicinal CBD is nearly a bargain at $8, but paying that much for an everyday item like 12 ounces of CBD-infused buttered coffee is a whole other tax bracket.
Ablis' popular CBD sodas are $5 for a pint or a 12-ounce bottle. And prices between the house favorites and Func-Tails menus do not match up—building your own Golden Peace beverage, for example, would run over $10. On the house favorites menu, though, it costs $8.
Patrons can also purchase Ablis topicals and sodas by the bottle or the case, and these retail options crowd the already small space and cramped menu. The bartendista redirected me to the house favorites menu halfway through my Func-Tail order. Her tone was a subtle indication that guidance through the Ablis Experience menu was both necessary and tiresome.
Do we need this? Demystifying CBD is a step toward further normalizing cannabis, and Ablis is a trailblazer in the field. The thoughtful beverage menu, while priced incongruently, offers legitimate health benefits masquerading as both unique and familiar indulgences. Once the menu is streamlined, the Ablis Experience could become as much of an attraction as anything in its neighborhood.
GO: The Ablis Experience at Pine Street Market, 126 SW 2nd Ave., pinestreetpdx.com. 8 am-11 pm Monday-Thursday, 10 am-11 pm Friday-Sunday.