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Portland Bar Scene: Ryan Magarian, a Hemingway Daiquiri, and Easy Company

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Take it easy, take it easy
Don't let the sound of your own wheels
drive you crazy
Lighten up while you still can
don't even try to understand
Just find a place to make your stand
and take it easy
The Eagles

It’s easy to take it easy at Easy Company.

Ryan Magarian, veteran bartender, is behind the stick again with his new venture, Easy Company, located at 329 NW Couch in Old Town. You can generally find him behind the bar in this spare and casual joint just beneath the landmark Hung Far Low sign.

In contrast to the garish Chop Suey marquee, the signs for Easy Company are discreet and low key, but the place is already drawing in the drinking set and tends to get busy early. Inside you’ll find low-level lighting, low level and comfortable seating, a lovely little lounge tucked up underneath the stairway along one side of the room to give it cozy privacy, and a long wooden bar with Ryan’s carefully selected spirits on display. As often as not, especially with this warm dry summer we’re having, the outside tables stay busy as well, with bright red umbrellas sheltering them just in case.

It’s obvious that Easy Company is a bar designed by and for a bartender. The spirit selection is meticulous, without a wasted bottle to see. With Ryan’s long experience, he selects only the products he needs to make great cocktails and mixed drinks, so you won’t find hundreds of bourbons or countless flavored vodkas arrayed in descending tiers.

A bartender’s back bar will tell you a lot about the philosophy and style of the bartender, and in this case it says clearly that Ryan chooses quality and style above all else. For him it’s not about the trendy and the hot, or the high-dollar ring; he goes with the tried and true, the tested, the old reliable. He also likes bold and assertive flavors---spirits that will stand up well in a cocktail.

It is abundantly clear as well that Easy Company can provide you with a bewildering array of cocktails, from the classics to some creative Magarian originals…and yes, many of those do feature Magarian’s collaborative venture with House Spirits, Aviation Gin; quite understandable, since Magarian and House are at the forefront of the artisanal distilling movement in the U.S., and they’ve done an excellent job turning people on to the new category of “Western-style” gin.

There is an impressive chalkboard wall built into an angle above the bar where Magarian has meticulously inscribed the names and ingredients of some of the great classic cocktails. It’s a very long list, and Magarian is happy to make any and all. If you work your way down the entire list---and it’s a long list---you might end up getting a kink in your neck

The standard printed list of cocktails and other beverages tends to alternate classics with some inspired originals. If you can’t find something to like from the chalkboard or the list, then you probably shouldn’t be in a bar in the first place.

There’s a BBQ Negroni, with a rinse of Peat Monster Single Malt Scotch, Aviation Gin, Campari, Punt e Mes, Imbue Bittersweet Vermouth, and something called a “porkstrami wrapped cherry.” Or an enticing Easy Power, with Ransom Old Tom Gin, Zwack Digestif, Rothman and Winter Apricot Liqueur, Regan’s #6 Orange Bitters and lemon oil. And if you’re lucky you can close out the night at Easy Company with a preparatory Sleepover, with House Spirits Coffee Liqueur, Benedictine, Fernet Branca, a whole egg, and a dash of nutmeg.

So many choices…but I noticed one of my favorites on the chalkboard, one I hadn’t had in quite a long time, a Hemingway Daiquiri, made famous at the El Floridita in Havana when it was served to the great writer. Time to renew my acquaintance. It is not that complex a drink, but the flavors are straightforward and declarative: rum, grapefruit, lime juice and a spoonful of Maraschino cherry liqueur. Most Hemingway Daiquiris are served in a coupe glass, but Magarian serves his up in a larger and easier to handle stemless deep conical glass, a thoughtful touch for a busy bar.

It must have been serendipity that Easy Company and Lardo Sandwich Shop kitchen are in such close proximity, which makes it easy for Magarian to use them to provide their trademark gourmet sandwiches---the banh mi, the pork shoulder, chickpea burgers, dirty fries, and other popular grub. The food fits perfectly with the attitude and atmosphere of Easy Company, so it’s a win-win for Magarian, Lardo, and the customer.

If you like lots of choices in tipples, Easy Company is a great place to go. It has a vibrant hum to it, but the noise isn’t overwhelming, the drinks are universally excellent, the grub is good, and Ryan Magarian makes for a great host. So go already.

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