Last year, the father of Portland, Oregon’s cocktail community effectively went into retirement.
That’s when Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s decade-long home, Clyde Common, which had been recognized by the James Beard Awards seven times, shut its doors for good. As did its sister bar, Pépé le Moko. Morgenthaler avoided announcing the closures and, instead, took the opportunity to quietly exit the bar scene altogether. He spent 2021 consulting other beverage pros and launching his own canned cocktail brand in conjunction with Eugene, Oregon’s Ninkasi Brewing Company.
“Maybe I was stalling the inevitable, but I didn’t want to go back to just managing a bar again,” he said. “There was no place I really wanted to work. And I wasn’t thrilled at the idea of jumping back to doing exactly what I was doing before. I wanted an exciting project.”
Then, as they say, he got an offer he couldn’t refuse. ChefStable restaurant group asked the longtime bar manager and author to open a place all his own in the KEX hotel. So, in late June, he and his longtime business partner Benjamin “Banjo” Amberg did just that.
Pacific Standard, located in the KEX hotel’s lobby, is their “love letter to the West Coast.” It offers a dozen specialty cocktails—interesting twists on classic “lobby” drinks—local beers and wine on draft, plus dishes inspired by Morgenthaler’s childhood growing up in Central California and his 30 years as a resident of Oregon.
“I’m doing what I was doing before, which is great, because it’s what I know best, but I also have a stake in the business, which is perfect,” he said.
(Interestingly, Morgenthaler and Armstrong worked out a licensing deal on the project; they own the concept, brand and the ideas, but not the physical tables or chairs. This way, Morgenthaler said, he doesn’t have to put his house on the line to start his own business. Plus, they can open Pacific Standard locations elsewhere, which they already have plans to do in the future.)
To create the drinks menu at Pacific Standard, Morgenthaler prioritized the space’s identity as a lobby bar, where all kinds of people pass through. He embraced cocktails that can be enjoyed all day long by everyone.
“This hotel lobby is all about accessibility,” he said. “So, we didn’t want anything too esoteric. We wanted drinks that are great at all hours, things that people can really wrap their heads around and drink without having to feel like they’re in a fancy cocktail bar. They’re in a hotel lobby.”
For instance, he tackled the Bloody Mary, one of those great, hotel lobby bar drinks that trends more toward meal. Morgenthaler joked, “I’ve always thought that if you drink a Bloody Mary after a certain hour, you’re a psychopath. I wanted to challenge that idea.”
How, he wondered, could he turn a Bloody Mary into an all-day drink? Something that was savory but light and bright? He did the R&D in his home kitchen, bumping up the acidity with citric acid and the umami with MSG, and fine-tuned the recipe down to the gram.
“Every drink is super accessible, but also appeals to the nerds,” he said.
For the Irish coffee, he paired Jameson with local coffee, a brown sugar-molasses syrup and fresh cream. Other cocktails include an on-tap Michelada and strawberry-rhubarb Aperol spritz, a passionfruit Ramos fizz, and espresso martinis made with Spanish brandy. His Negroni variation is clear, made with rosé vermouth from Spain, gin, Bitter Bianco, sea salt, bitters, and a lemon peel.
His menu also includes the ABV of every drink—sort of like the calorie counts displayed at burger joints—which he hopes will catch on with bars elsewhere.
“We can all make more informed decisions about how we drink,” he said. “Like for me, I’m not a huge drinker anymore. But when I’m out, I may want to start with an Old Fashioned, which is 37 percent ABV. Then I might want to back off a little bit and go down to something that’s like 4 percent ABV and have one or two of those while I’m socializing. And then I may want to ramp it back up a little bit. It’s really nice to be able to look at the ABV and plot my night out.”
Pacific Standard also, finally, gave the team the opportunity to do a food menu. Morgenthaler drew inspiration from his family’s Pacific Coast heritage. He wanted to push back on the belief that West Coast food is defined by Alice Waters and farm-to-table cuisine.
“There’s so much more to the West Coast that I get excited about,” he said. “Like Dungeness crab, the great steakhouses of LA, San Francisco sourdough, 1950s drive-ins …”
On the Pacific Standard food menu, diners can expect plates like Puget Sound mussels poached in cider, French onion dip served with potato chips and Osetra caviar and steamed artichokes served with mayo and garlic butter. There are even warm chocolate chip cookies, made from Morgenthaler’s personal (viral) recipe.
The reclaimed wood infrastructure and library-like décor of the Pacific Standard space were already there, leftover from its previous identity as an open-floor restaurant. Morgenthaler just had to rearrange details like the banker’s lamps on the bar top, which, he said, was a way for him to put his interior architecture degree to good use, finally.
Pacific Standard is open from 3 p.m. to midnight, every day. The team hopes to soon extend the hours from as early as 8 a.m. to as late as 2 a.m.
Later this summer, they will open the Sunset Room bar on the KEX rooftop. There, they plan on running slushy machines and selling bottles of beer by the bucketload to help locals cool off in the heat.
It sounds like a lot to take on for a man who just came out of retirement. And it is.
“Oh, yes, I’m exhausted,” he said, laughing. “I’m losing my voice too, because I’ve been doing nothing but talking to guests. This is the most I’ve spoken in years.”