Behind the Bartender: Jeffrey Morgenthaler

The author of “The Bar Book” talks about the little black dress of drinks

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I don’t know what cocktail enthusiast, man or woman, doesn’t have a crush on Portland bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler. He runs the best American hotel bar, Portland’s Clyde Common, as well as the new must-do bar beneath Pépé Le Moko. He also writes for his own namesake cocktail blog where he kicked off cocktail trends like barrel-aged cocktails and bottled cocktails. The man even made Repeal Day a thing. Now add to that, he wrote a book, The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique. Swoon!

While he was on a flight to L.A.—where he’ll be doing a booksigning at Bar Keeper today from 2 to 4 p.m. and a private book party at his bro-in-law Joseph Brooke’s Barage—I asked him some quick questions as part of a recurring Q&A series on bartenders. Here are his answers.

What’s the most popular drink at your bar?
Our Bourbon Renewal (bourbon, lemon, cassis, bitters) is probably our biggest seller from the cocktail menu. But we make a ton of Old Fashioneds at Clyde Common, and likewise downstairs at our new bar, Pépé Le Moko. I feel like the Old Fashioned just gets more and more popular every year, and most of our guests seem to know that we make a good one.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
The kitchen! I mean, I wrote a whole book on cocktail technique because I’m obsessed with watching the way cooks work. It’s fascinating and beautiful to watch, so just observing those guys is usually the most inspiring thing I can do.

What’s the best night to go to your bar and why?
I’d hate to say there’s ever a bad night to visit our bars. But my favorite nights are Sundays and Mondays. They’re still very busy, but not usually quite as much as the weekend.

The next big thing in cocktails is ______?
I’m hoping it’s a larger discussion about cocktail technique, honestly. I’m kind of burnt out hearing about obscure bitters and wacky flavor combinations. I want to see more people discussing proper dilution, or how to use a blender the right way.

What’s your hidden talent? Or if you could have a superpower what would it be?
I have the most boring superpower ever: I have really nice penmanship. A degree in Architecture will do that to you. People see our chalkboard at Clyde Common with all of our American whiskies handwritten up there, and they ask me who we hire to come write like that. I’m like, “I paid good money for that handwriting. It’s all mine.”

Where do you like to drink in L.A.?
My good friend and former coworker Justin Pike runs the bar at Tasting Kitchen. So I know I can get a great drink there. But honestly, my favorite place is at my sister’s house. She’s married to Joe Brooke, so they’ve got a great bar in their garage. And it’s nice to just kick back with a Daiquiri and spend time with family.

Where’s your favorite place to eat in L.A.?
Everywhere. Oregonians like to turn up their noses at Los Angeles whenever the topic of food comes up, but I grew up in California. I know how amazing the food is here. I usually need to hit a taco truck the minute I land.

What do you like to drink when you’re not working? Doesn’t have to be cocktails.
Honestly, I really like sparkling wine. There is always a bottle in my fridge. Spanish, Italian, French, rosé, New Mexico, whatever. It’s literally the perfect drink, and you can have it any time, anywhere. It’s the little black dress of drinks.

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