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Portland Bar Scene: JackKnife

JackKnife Bar
Hoke Harden

When it comes to bars, Portland, Oregon, is what you might call a “target rich environment.” The city is not only full of bars and lounges, it has a plethora of excellent bars and lounges. And a seemingly endless abundance of talented craft bartenders.

The latest stroll through the Portland bar scene went through a new place, JackKnife, the roomy watering hole located in the new Hotel Sentinel, which is itself located in one of the more majestic buildings in downtown Portland at 11th and Alder (the Alder corridor seems to be a hot spot for spirits right now).

JackKnife is brought to you by the same team that created Sweet Hereafter on Belmont, Dig A Pony on SE Grand, and The Bye & Bye on NE Alberta..

Though opened only recently, it seems that JackKnife was a burgeoning success as soon as the doors were unlocked. With a huge and hugely visible white neon sign, a separate street entrance, and a grand entrance from the adjoining hotel, it is an impressive place.
The dark wood theme is rich and inviting. It’s a large space, dominated by a gorgeous wrap-around bar, but is adroitly designed so that there’s room for bar stools, standing and chatting in groups, and cozy little conversational areas.

The bar scene is in keeping with Portland’s cocktail vibe with a well-stocked bar, enough staff to deal with the crowds of well-heeled people it is already attracting, and a dynamic cocktail scene to satisfy even the most demanding of cocktail enthusiasts.

JackKife bar
JackKife bar Hoke Harden

JackKife bar

The large plate glass windows and the huge, bright white neon scene proudly proclaim the presence of one of Portland's newest bars at 11th & Alder in the downtown district.

The inside is spacious and welcoming, with a gorgeous wraparound bar and a well-trained and attentive staff. JackKnife is already crowded during the cocktail 'rush hour', so it's a great place to meet and greet. You can belly up to the bar, stand around or mingle, or sit in the several conversational groupings.

Classic Hotels cocktail menu
Classic Hotels cocktail menu Hoke Harden

Classic Hotels cocktail menu

JackKnife bar offers a pretty complete range of bar snacks, soups, salads, and sandwiches, so you won't go hungry here.

The bar is well-stocked, and the "Classic Hotel Cocktail List" is a treat, offering some of the cocktails that stylish and fashionable hotel bars around the world became famous for. Nifty, sitting in a hotel bar and sampling the cocktails of other great hotel bars that have earned the place in cocktail lore. Discover why the Hotel Astor became so well known. Have a Clover Club if you haven't had one before and want to find out what all the acclaim is for.

Astoria Oxley cocktail
Astoria Oxley cocktail Hoke Harden

Astoria Oxley cocktail

From the Classic Hotel Cocktail list we tried the Astoria Oxley cocktail, a riff on the original Astoria, which was essentially a "classic" dry martini.

Back in the glory days of the Astor this was one of the staple drinks, only one of many martini variations. The touch of orange bitters has since fallen out of favor in "dry martinis" nowadays; that's a shame, because those bitters make a significant and tasty difference.

Here the essential gin-ness of the martini is underscored with the knife-sharp Oxley gin*, only slightly restrained by the the relatively soft dry Italian dry vermouth from Martini & Rossi. As with any well-made dry martini, this is bracing and teeth chilling. The rich, cutting herbaceousness of the gin, softened slightly by the florality of the vermouth, is tangy and citrus-fruity from the drops of orange bitters.

*A note on the Oxley gin: Most gins are either made through re-distilling neutral spirits with botanicals. Others, usually less expensive, are made through simply adding flavor essences (called compounding) to neutral alcohol. Oxley gin, however, is that rare gin made a third way, and currently the only commercial one on the market, that of vacuum distilling gin, where the alcohol is separated from the constituent liquids under a pressure vacuum. It's an expensive way to distill, but it certainly does accentuate the clarity and precision of the botanical ingredients in the gin.

Hotel Drinks menu
Hotel Drinks menu Hoke Harden

Hotel Drinks menu

The Hotel Drinks list is a bit more wide-ranging, and there's something here to satisfy anyone's predilectory cocktail jones. The cocktails cover the spirit base, from whiskey to gin to tequila to mezcal to rum.

The cocktails range from brisk and spirit-forward to lighter and fruitier, from simple and satisfying to rather complex. All in all, a good basic cocktail list for a varied audience.

Acusador cocktail
Acusador cocktail Hoke Harden

Acusador cocktail

And speaking of rum, we tried the very first cocktail on the list: the Acusador.

Made with Bacardi 8 rum (which is my vote for one of the all time best QPR--quality price ratio--rums on the market and should be a bar staple everywhere), Green Chartreuse and Commissary grenadine, this is a deep red wonder of a cocktail with rich flavors, that whiff of molasses, just the right light touch of sweetness from the grenadine, and the complex herbal snap of the Chartreuse, the most iconic of herbal liqueurs.

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