On a recent trip to Portland we were thrilled to discover that our local friend/guide was a member at the Multnomah Whiskey Library, a dark wood-panelled second-floor lovely staffed by knowledgeable, attentive bartenders and stocked with 1,500 whiskies.
Yes, you read that correctly. That’s one thousand five hundred types of whiskey, all on a menu typed by Herman Melville. When Groucho Marx famously said “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member,” he was being a damn fool.
Members (and non-members) sit on cozy, over-stuffed armchairs, recline on soft couches, and relax in nooks or by a roaring fire mantled with a collection of gorgeous decanters, their drinks brought to them unmade on vintage carts that wobble across herringbone-patterned fir floors that look about as old as Portland itself.
The food – which is mostly of the finger ilk – is well wrought. Think addictive devils on horseback (bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with goat’s cheese and almonds), excellent scotch eggs, fresh oysters, and wee cast iron-griddled cheeseburgers. How the dishes arrive in the room – through a small and secret window disguised in the wood-panelling (signalled by a green light) – is especially Scooby-Do.
In all, it’s probably the prettiest place I’ve ever bent an elbow – more impressive than the American Bar in London’s Savoy Hotel and more comfortable than Kentucky’s Seelbach – and I wish to hell we had something like in Vancouver.
Don’t get too hung up on the “member” thing. It’s not hyper-exclusive, super posh, or prohibitively expensive. Dues start at $500, which is pretty reasonable. The big perk is the ability to make reservations. They don’t accept them otherwise. To wit:
“Members are able to make reservations for seatings during normal hours of operation. (Note: non-members may access the Library on a walk-in basis only.) Reservations for Members will be taken on a first-come, first-served basis; we will use our best efforts to accommodate a Member and his/her desired number of guests nearest to the requested time as possible.”
Membership has other privileges, too, namely a private spirit locker, special tulip glasses, leather-bound tasting notebooks, and invitations to members-only seminars and such. Unsurprisingly, they’re at capacity, and there is a waiting list. If you sign up now you might get a call in 100 years or so (chances are that if you were one of the lucky ones to get a membership when it opened last year, you’re never going to let it go).
Why would I want something like it in Vancouver? For starters, it’s just so damn good looking. Truly, hours spent in its embrace are hours you wouldn’t want back. I could leave it that, but then there’s all the whiskey, which makes it all the more especially attractive. Though we have several bars that rule the whiskey roost (eg. Fets Whisky Kitchen on The Drive), MWL is in a league of its own, and it never feels cramped on account of its spread-out seating and the manner in which the staff manage the room. They don’t “turn and burn” like most restaurants/bars do, and one doesn’t feel rushed. Most importantly, I think the membership thing calms down the environment. Nobody wants to fuck up the good thing they’ve got going on, so everyone behaves. Imagine that!
The membership aspect of it might be too much for a lot of Vancouverites, but a whiskey library is the sort of club we’d want to be members of, especially if it ensured us the occasional seat. We really don’t care which neighbourhood it went into, but close to Victory Square feels about right. The old Pappas Furs location? OK!
Scout is publishing a guide to more good times in Portland next week. Stay tuned.
Multnomah Whiskey Library | 1124 SW Alder Street | Portland, Oregon | USA | +1 503-954-1381