Cocktails and conversation in a leafy subterranean lair on Lovejoy Street will leave you smiling.
It’s a slight irony that one of the most lushly verdant bars in Portland is located entirely underground, without so much as a tiny window to let in natural light. But when you’re in the emerald environs of the Botanist Bar (1300 NW Lovejoy St, 971-533-8064), which opened a year ago, it’s easy to feel one with nature. The walls and floors are painted jade green, and dark-wood paneling and tables and chairs further the woodland theme. And you’ll find framed botanical prints, hanging plants, and wildly ravishing floral arrangements on the bar. You get the idea—somebody had a lot of fun dreaming up how to create the vibrant feel of a conservatory, but below street level. And it works—it feels special in here, whether you drop by for post-work drinks and hobnobbing (there’s an excellent happy hour), or later in the evening, when the music volume is up a notch or two and the crowd is chattier, not to mention a bit more lubricated.
The bar’s horticulture-inspired vibe continues with the craft cocktail list, which is heavy on gin-based creations.
The bar’s horticulture-inspired vibe continues with the craft cocktail list, which is heavy on gin-based creations and is designed by co-owner Robbie Wilson, previously of downtown’s Urban Farmer. Consider the classic gimlet with house-made golden treacle syrup and rose water, or the Clover Club, a refreshing elixir of Oregon-distilled Trillium Gin, house-made raspberry wine syrup, egg white, and a few splashes of lime juice. Plenty of other luscious cocktails, based on premium whiskeys, rums, cognacs, and other spirits, round out a drinks list that also includes a small but carefully chosen selection of wine, sake, and beer. Whatever your choice, it’ll arrive in artful, sophisticated stemware.
The kitchen at Botanist turns out seriously tasty international food but with a light and playful touch.
The kitchen at Botanist turns out seriously tasty international food but with a light and playful touch. And in both presentation and quality, it’s every bit as impressive as the bar’s beverage program, and substantial enough that you could carve out a good-size meal. Choose from about four to six salads, tapas, and entrées—along with a pair of desserts (we’re crazy for the cannoli with mascarpone cream and dark chocolate and the vanilla crème brûlée). Among the opening acts, savor a plate of the poke nachos, with fried spiced wontons, wakame, scallions, spicy mayo, jalapeños, avocado crema, and sesame seeds, or the Korean fried chicken with spicy-tangy gochujang barbecue sauce and a refreshing jicama salsa.
The food, from chef and fellow co-owner Taylor Figueroa, has a decidedly global flair, but a number of dishes celebrate seasonal Northwest ingredients. The market salad features baby spinach, roasted corn, cherry tomatoes, preserved fruit, and a toasted hazelnut vinaigrette, while the main plate of seared rare Oregon albacore arrives with a simple but flavorful chorus of marinated olives, rosemary potatoes, and fresh herbs.
The theme changes according to the whims of Figueroa or that evening’s guest chef, but recent menus have been inspired by Italian, Amish, and Southern recipes
Several vegetarian options are included in the mix, and special chef’s tasting menu pop-up feasts have become a favorite—and quite reasonably priced—reason to drop in on Wednesday evenings. The theme changes according to the whims of Figueroa or that evening’s guest chef, but recent menus have been inspired by Italian, Amish, and Southern recipes. Additionally, on Tuesdays the bar holds wildly creative experimental cocktail nights that could feature anything from beer-based drinks to agave spirits. The botany theme aside, there’s nothing evergreen about this bar—expect to be surprised and delighted. – Andrew Collins // Photo by Aubrie LeGault