The iconic Heathman Hotel in downtown Portland, Oregon, has long been home to signature afternoon tea and weekend brunch services. Their bar and regular meal service is solid, and busy or less so depending on shows at the theater and concert venues a few doors down Broadway. The kitchen and bar play both to their strengths in the area of tradition, and to a playful Portland-y nod to the local and the new. These two trends are evident in the new seasonal cocktail menu unveiled this fall.
The Heathman’s new line up of drinks will be paired with items on the brunch menu for fall. At this event to launch the cocktails, Heathman staff were joined by Kathy Casey, whose eponymous Liquid Kitchen, based in Seattle, provided products, ideas and thoughtful exegesis. (Yes, I do consider spirits and their accomplices fundamentally religious in character.)
The star of the program was a Huckleberry Mule from the tap, featuring Absolut, house-made ginger ale and Liquid Kitchen Huckleberry Preserves. The limey tartness and very gingery ale are beautifully balanced by the preserves, which the wise Mule driver will stir up with the provided spoon before each quaff. Mule fans will no doubt rejoice, but this drinker was most impressed by the Orchard Old-Fashioned. This turns out to be a real marriage of local ingredients (Clear Creek Pear Brandy syrup) and good bourbon (Maker’s Mark… are they Canadian now?), with organic baked apple bitters, served over an ice sphere. For my money, a more satisfying local take on an old favorite would be hard to find.
For the sophisticated set, there was 50 Shades of Gin – Part 3, featuring Tanqueray, fresh tangerine, pomegranate juice, lemon and thyme. The name refers to the hotel’s book set, and if you do not know the tea room it is worth the trip to discover its Old World charm and feel. This cocktail is subtitled a Sin’sual Seasonal Blend. If there is sin involved it’s the sweetness that clings to the palate. A better choice in this category is the French Daiquiri, which features the Willamette Valley’s own Argyle Brut. The Gallic touch is provided by St. Germain and Absinthe Mist. Bacardi provides the rum.
From the brunch menu, we were served the Harvest Pumpkin Toddy, featuring bourbon, spiced pumpkin and Frangelico. This is a near miss that would benefit from greater attention to the pumpkin, which in our opinion was weak. Strengthened properly, the toddy would be a good alternative to dessert, if one were into moderation…
All in all, the Heathman Bar is marching to new seasonal drums. If the five cocktails served are representative of the 15 featured on the bar and brunch menus, there are good things to discover in the heart of Portland’s theater district. I hope to see you at the Heathman one day soon, asking about the seasonal cocktails. Tell them I recommended you try no more than five at one sitting. – by Jeff Thomas, RFT Contributor