A cheeseburger to go is not exactly Proust's madeleine. But to bite into the Clyde Tavern burger is to be transported back in time—to early 2020, when you could still stop at Clyde Common at the Ace Hotel for pimente de espelette popcorn and a barrel-aged Negroni before heading to a Timbers game, or pop in for a burger, fries and salad after a concert at Crystal Ballroom.
That's all gone, at least for now.
The Ace is closed, while Clyde, like every restaurant, is navigating the current reality of limited capacity, social distancing and pickup and delivery. It also has a brand new name—two of them, in fact. The bar and restaurant is now Clyde Tavern, while a portion of the former dining room is currently being transformed into Common Market, a bottle shop-meets-gourmet bodega, with beer and wine, take-home meal kits, snacks and prepared food.
"It's a way to keep cooking," says owner Nate Tilden, "and to keep connected with our customers."
Clyde Common—named for the Clyde Hotel, which the Ace replaced—opened in 2007, the same year as Beast (which is also retooling) and Toro Bravo (which is closed). It was something like the bar at Higgins for a new generation of foodies, with communal tables, an emphasis on cocktails, and an equal mix of neighborhood regulars, out-on-the-town locals, and tourists.
To see a Clyde that isn't bustling drives home the reality of a downtown short on tourists, office workers and live entertainment, as surely as an empty Powell's, Multnomah County Central Library or Pioneer Square. It is now essentially a counter-service restaurant, with a single bartender behind plexiglass. Gone are the communal tables, with one of them raised up and partitioned into small seating options. There are three tables on the main floor, four tables on the mezzanine and three outside under the Ace's awning, with heat lamps.
"It's an adjustment, but I don't hate it," says bar manager Jeffrey Morgenthaler, who has worked there since 2009. "It has been really great reconnecting with our regulars." And with only a few dozen customers per night, instead of 200, there's theoretically more opportunity for individual interaction, albeit masked and from a distance. "This summer, when we had the outdoor seating, and it wasn't super busy, we could just go out and, you know, tell some of the old jokes with old friends from 10 feet away."
Clyde's tagline remains "domestic and foreign cooking," and while its various chefs—including, most recently, Carlo Lamagna, who left two years ago to open Filipino restaurant Magna—have put their own individual stamp on things, ultimately, Clyde had always been a place for upscale tavern food: a meat and potatoes place, even if the meat is brick chicken with preserved lemon, and the potatoes came with herbs, Sriracha and aioli.
Nobody likes the word "gastropub." But everybody loves that style of food.
Chris DiMinno, most recently of Trifecta Tavern and Clyde's chef for five years beginning in 2009, is now back in the kitchen. So is the restaurant's original burger: a freshly ground, 50-50 brisket-sirloin blend on a brioche bun topped with a cheese of your choice, plus wine-dark tomato jam that was originally created by opening chef Jason Barwikowski ($15-$16).
"I want the tavern burger to be a rock on our menu," says Tilden. "It's morphed over the years, but we're keeping it, like, just a burger—a burger you want in your hands four times a month, if you're a burger person."
The menu also includes two types of popcorn (spicy and truffle, $6), housemade focaccia ($5), radicchio and Little Gem salads ($10 and $8), and Morgenthaler's salted chocolate chip cookie ($3). The poultry entree is currently crispy hot chicken ($18), while DiMinno's handmade pastas include a rich and buttery Dungeness crab spaghettini with Calabrian chile, corn and lemon ($17) and squid ink Fideau pasta ($15), another Clyde classic.
There are only seven cocktails on the menu, including that Negroni and an Elijah Craig old fashioned. But you can still order others that you might remember from a past visit. Holiday cocktails, such as eggnog and the scotch and apple cider Flannel Shirt, are also about to hit the menu. And if you go between 3 and 6 pm, you can knock two bucks off all those prices, food, drink and cookie included—the entire menu is available.
While we all desperately need crowded restaurants to come back, at least for now you don't have to share your table with an Instagram influencer. And Morgenthaler gets a break from cocktail geeks.
"People really came to kind of fetishize the cocktails," he says. "Now we get to just be bartenders. Nobody that comes in really wants anything terribly esoteric. People are looking for comfort food and comfort cocktails. The national palate has changed in the past seven months."
EAT: Clyde Tavern and Common Market, 1014 SW Harvey Milk St., 503-228-3333, clydecommon.com. 3-9 pm Wednesday-Sunday.