Expatriate PDX--between the explicit and the implicit


Have you been to Expatriate yet? If not, what in the world have you been waiting for?

Expatriate is located in Northeast Portland, 5424 NE 30th Avenue, across the street from Cocotte, Beast, and Yakuza. (Beast diva Naomi Pomeroy is Webster’s significant other and had sizable input into some of the touches at Expatriate.) There’s no sign on the handsome period building, and little of note outside to indicate what’s inside. But it’s well worth going in.

Kyle Linden Webster, one of the most consistently creative bartenders in Portland, finished his reign at the outstanding St. Jack’s bar and opened his own place. It’s very much a reflection of his philosophy and style: cool, cerebral and seemingly detached on the surface but roiling with dynamic tension underneath.

Webster is quiet, reserved, laconic---until you touch on a topic near and dear to his heart, like music (he’s a DJ, and has two turntables at the bar with an eclectic selection of vinyl that will instantly change the tone and tenor of the room); or literature (he’s a voracious and quite sophisticated reader); or his travels in some of the more exotic countries of Asia; or his fiercely held views on the necessity of precise balance in any cocktail he makes.

Webster’s Expatriate Bar is a reflection of all that. If all you require is a clean, quiet, fashionably dim place to sip your beverage and chat with friends, Expatriate will be that place for you. If you aspire to more, and want to pleasantly engage your mind on music, travel, art, exotic cuisine or even philosophy, Expatriate will be that place as well. From the precisely selected color of the midnight blue walls, to the almost cloistered isolation of the curly maple wood booths along the side of the room, to the welcome and inviting polished mahogany bar with the colorful Chinese salvage piece in a brilliant array of lacquered red and gold, Expatriate is an intriguing appeal to all the senses.

Don’t be surprised if you think you see an older man in a rumpled linen suit, pale and somehow British, huddled in a back booth talking to a quiet American in hushed but despairing tone. Or a boisterous, brawny, bearded man at the corner of the bar disclaiming with definitive arrogance about bullfighting or gin. It’s that kind of place, where you might see ghosts of expatriates from different times and different worlds.

What you will definitely see is a list of incredibly inviting and devilishly delicious cocktails, from tweaked revivals of classic pre-Prohibition potables to modern invocations of exotic flavors to startling combinations of ingredients that you’ve never thought of but will likely not forget.

Perhaps the foundation cocktail on the list that has become an instant standard, the Shanghai, provides the best insight into Webster’s style and approach. The original inspiration came from a pre-Prohibition cocktail, which Webster tweaked to become one of the standout cocktails of St. Jack’s, then tweaked yet again to conform to the nature of Expatriate. It’s a testament to absolute balance in a cocktail, with the choice of fine ingredients and perfect combination of those ingredients creating a “modern classic.”

The Shanghai is composed of Appleton V/X Jamaican Rum (the V/X signifies the rum is blended from 5 to 10 year old casks), Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao (one of the most astonishing “new-old” spirits to debut in recent years, a dry and spicy version of the usually overly sweet and bland triple secs in the market), fresh limes, real Grenadine (fresh pomegranate syrup), and Kübler Swiss Absinthe. Trust me: it’s exquisite. You really do have to try it for yourself.

Consider as well the fascinating Mood Indigo (gin, cognac, violet liqueur, Aveze Gentiane liqueur, Cocchi Americano, and del Maguey Mezcal! Or Habitué (Irish whiskey, Sardinian Myrtle liqueurMandarine Napoleon Curaçao and Noilly Prat Dry French vermouth.) Finally, consider a crowd-pleasing Expatriate favorite, the No. 8, an intoxicating (in all senses of that word) blend of Pierre Ferrand Original 1840 Cognac, rye whiskey, Dolin Génépy des Alpes, a bittersweet elixir from the French Alpine slopes, Cocchi sweet vermouth from Italy, and Regan’s No. 6 Orange Bitters.

Fact is, there’s not a single entry on the cocktail list that fails to intrigue the adventurous drinker. Which, of course, requires multiple visits to Expatriate to complete the challenge.

There is also a short but exceptionally well selected list of sake, wine and beer available.

A word about the food: no standard blah bar snacks here. You will not be bored. The Expatriate kitchen puts out a startling array of Drinking Snacks of mostly pan-Asian delights, from Dungeness Crab Rangoon to a Burmese fermented tea leaf and papaya salad, to Brussels sprouts that will force you to forever change your mind about Brussels sprouts.

Perhaps the best summation of what Expatriate is comes from their website: It’s in that spirit, in the balance between the implicit and explicit, that Expatriate works as a whole, as a place for drinking and eating other than the sum of its parts.

So, to repeat: Have you been to Expatriate yet? If not, what in the world have you been waiting for?