Cocktails – Craft versus Cool




It was Saturday evening, in a city known for its (over)abundance of local character and characters. I was shopping for next season’s lipsticks, when a huge fight broke out at the department store’s entrance.

Shoppers inside and bystanders outside ran with their camera phones towards the drama. Security guards lowered the massive steel doors to keep rioters from breaking through the glass entrance walls, and looting the high-class, designer-label merch. An ambulance and cop cars showed up.

Helluva way to start a bar crawl.




The bar I went to for some post-riot Zen showcased their offerings beautifully. It was almost happy hour, and the place was filling up quickly. I managed to get a seat at the bar and ordered a dry martini with olives.




In under a minute, I felt that something was off. I looked around to see what it could be. There was no background music. The chatter was getting louder as more people arrived; the noise was crashing against the concrete walls and low ceilings. Plus, the lights were too bright.

I could usually chill at a bar with a normal-ish vibe, but somehow, this evening, everything and everyone at this particular bar was getting on my nerves. Maybe that adrenaline rush from the riot was making me crave another kind of cocktail experience – something odd/interesting/dangerous. And so I just didn’t have the patience for “normal” right now. I finished my cocktail and left.





I wandered over to a bar with a balcony like a stylish penthouse overlooking downtown, and had the Shen cocktail, an Asian spin on the Manhattan. Sipping it was like floating in a volcano-heated pool in the middle of a forest on a warm summer night. Pure bliss.

I was ready for my next experience.





Just for the sake of contrast, a dive bar was next on my list. In every Chinatown I’ve been to, I have always felt that walking alone in a sketchy part of town, surrounded by grime, crime and shadows was really stupid. And I was feeling all kinds of stupid now. I hurried over to the bar. The last thing I needed to be doing was standing alone in an alley in Chinatown, pulling out a camera phone in front of these staring, homeless men to capture this Instagram moment. If I kept moving, I might just be okay.





The bar was populated with beardos with attitudes, hipsters, sex industry workers and “tourists” who drove in from the west side for some atmosphere. The booze selection was limited to beer (NOT the craft brew variety), hard liquor shots and PBR. Their idea of a cocktail would be Jagermeister in a clean shot glass. I opted for good, reliable Makers Mark – also my bourbon of choice for Manhattans.

I love bars with an interesting history. Back in the day, guys who got falling-down-drunk at this and other bars in the area would be kidnapped and transported in underground tunnels. When the men woke up, they found themselves on a ship, out at sea, and forced into servitude.

I sipped my drink while trying not to stare at a couple of call girls, dressed like Barbie doll twins. They sat, silent and bored, next to a couple of young, clean-cut, obviously drunk guys dressed in business casual, talking and laughing overly loud about software companies and upcoming projects. Suddenly, one of the guys looked over at the two rent-a-dates, yelled “Yeah! YEEAAAAHHH!” and pumped his fist into the air. The girls looked at him briefly then away, still silent, still bored. I finished my drink, left quickly, and burst out laughing as soon as I was outside.




One of my girlfriends texted me to meet up at a downtown bar, one of her favorites. It was named after a thief that operated within a labyrinthian network of hideouts in the criminal underworld of 1930s Morocco. She was downstairs, saving me a seat.




The foyer was bright, but the lights got dimmer as I walked down a stairway to a small, subterranean cocktail bar. I spotted my friend waiting for me at a table in the far corner, glaring at me like some moody European when I walked over and took her picture.




The bar’s ceiling was curved, the walls decorated with tastefully framed porn, and I found “secret” meeting spots just around the corners. I was enamored with the place. The cocktail, though, was another story.




The drinks menu was a short but impressive selection of house cocktails and classics. According to my research, the bartender at Pepe Le Moko was outstanding, but he wasn’t working that night, unfortunately. Because I was enjoying myself so much and thought nothing could possibly go wrong, I decided to order off-menu. Nothing strange, just another classic cocktail.




I was sure a place with a reputation for cocktail greatness couldn’t possibly screw up the Corpse Reviver #2. I checked with the server, to see if the bartender had the knowledge and materials to create the cocktail I wanted. I was assured that she did.

And yet there it was, a very pretty cocktail that tasted like disappointment. First of all, the absinthe was missing. The cocktail should have had either a rinse or a dash of absinthe. There was no smell or delicate flavor of absinthe at all. After just a couple of sips, I pushed my cocktail aside.




Second, instead of fresh lemon juice the bartender used some liquid that poured suspiciously out of a white plastic bottle. And that citrus flavor – that wasn’t Cointreau or Triple Sec, plus there wasn’t an orange peel in the glass. Oh no…did they use… store-bought citrus instead of fresh??

I made the mistake of not observing the mixology and methodology before ordering my cocktail, like I would usually do, because I was busy chatting with my friend. But now, I watched the bartender as she used that citrus liquid to prepare other cocktails. When a classic cocktail recipe calls for fresh lemon juice, it must come directly from actual fruit.

My takeaway from this night’s final crawl is, a bar’s choices of liquid refreshment,  combined with its ambient offerings, can definitely affect your state of mind, what drink you order, and your level of enjoyment while sipping it.





However, a bar’s fun theme – sexy cool, edge-y, moody, freaky or quirky – will not make up for a cocktail’s poor execution. Ever. This is especially true if they’re charging a lot of money for it.

Ambience is just the opening act to the real star of the show – the cocktail. Bartenders should learn to create each and every cocktail on their menu to perfection, or be honest and offer an alternative if a special request is beyond their ability or expertise.

When it comes to the art of the cocktail, precision and mindful creativity are key.
Faking it ’til you make it just doesn’t cut it.



Corpse Reviver #2



Here’s are recipes for this delicious classic cocktail, courtesy of and Cheers!

Saveur’s recipe:

1 oz. gin
1 oz. Cocchi Americano or Lillet Blanc
1 oz. Cointreau
1 oz. fresh lemon juice
1 dash absinthe
Orange peel, for garnish

Shake all ingredients together in an ice-filled cocktail shaker; strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with orange peel.

Liquor’s recipe:

Absinthe rinse
3⁄4 oz Plymouth gin
3⁄4 oz Cointreau
3⁄4 oz Lillet Blanc
3⁄4 oz Lemon juice

Rinse a chilled coupe or Martini glass with absinthe and set aside.

Add the remaining ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice.

Shake, and strain into the prepared glass.



Stripper Nachos and the Margarita Lesson



What could possibly make quittin’ time even better? Happy hour!

My girlfriend Renee was meeting me after work. I worked through lunch so that I could leave early and snag us a table at the bar. Downtown bars filled up fast during happy hour with people trying to score cheap eats, house drinks, and someplace to go to wait out the horrible traffic.

Renee was my newest gal pal, so I wanted to pick out a nice bar for our first meetup, one with extensive happy hour offerings. She liked Mexican food, so I figured a nice, upscale Mexican bistro with a death fetish and flaming coffees would make for a great impression. I think she mentioned she was vegetarian, so I ordered non-meat nachos from the happy hour menu as our starter snack. And of course, a good, solid margarita (this place uses fresh lime juice, not sweet and sour mix) to celebrate the end of the day, and the beginning of a new friendship!





I chatted with the bartender a bit, told her I noticed they made margaritas with just tequila silver, a blanco, as opposed to a reposado or anejo. She explained that because the anejo and reposado were smoother and sweeter than the blanco, they would make the margarita too sweet and the tequila too difficult to detect. Plus the anejo and reposado, being aged and smoother, were more expensive than the blanco. Mixing them into margaritas would be wasteful, and should instead be enjoyed neat.





A few minutes into my margarita, I texted Renee to see if she was still coming. When I looked up, there she was with her sparkly hazel eyes and grinning red lips. Even after a full day’s work, she looked wide awake and unstoppable! I offered her the nachos while she was reaching for the cocktail menu. “Oh, I can’t.” Renee said apologetically. “I’m vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free.”

We scoured the menus for animal-free/gluten-free items and came up empty. “That’s okay,” she said. “I’ll just order a side of carrots.” This place was a fail and utterly unacceptable. I was open to suggestions.




Renee was familiar with the dietary restrictions food scene, and suggested a place I’d never heard of that was just a few minutes away. The entrance was in a narrow, seedy alleyway. Fortunately, it wasn’t completely dark yet. But at this time of year, 4:30 pm was sundown.





Looking at it from outside, I thought, “Wow, what a hole. Renee comes HERE?”. Walking in, I noted that the place was small but clean, and did have a respectable bar with a good liquor selection. The prayer candles were an interesting detail, too. There were lots of them, for whatever reason. I decided to trust and roll with it.





It was still happy hour, so we could get deep discounts on food, well drinks and cocktails. Renee ordered vegan nachos and I got tacos. In my experience, happy hour margaritas were mostly fruit-flavored sugar water with almost no tequila, and the one I had there lived up to all my expectations. Still, the food was really tasty.




Halfway through my drink, I needed the restroom, and was told to go through this strange door to get there. The signage confused me. No minors allowed in the restaurant, or no minors permitted to use the restrooms?




As I opened the door, the first things I noticed were darkness, and loud throbbing music. Not the clubby, dance-y kind you’d bounce to while sipping your appletini; more like the slow, grinding raw kind you listened to while sullenly throwing back shots. As my eyes adjusted, I noticed a silent crowd drinking, watching young pretty girls on stage writhing, swaying, and whipping their hair around.

On the dimly lit path to the bathroom, I had stumbled into a labyrinth of sin and nubile flesh that left nothing to the imagination. I watched as men walked up to the stage and shoved their dollar bills into unmentionable places on ladies bending, kneeling, waiting to receive their treat.

Where the hell was I??
Oh. Right. I’m at a Mexican restaurant that shares bathrooms with a strip club, of course.




I took no pictures of all this because the bouncer seated by the door was looking at me like that would be a really bad idea. Seeing the ladies prance and dance with money tucked into their naughty parts really made me think about the dollar bills in my wallet. Oh, the places that paper money may have been. I think I’ll be transacting on a credit card-only basis from now on.

From that day forward, to Renee and me, that restaurant was code name: Stripper Nachos.

The Beautiful and Damned: Intoxication



Nothing smoothes you out like slipping off your work day, and sliding into a sexy martini. First sip to test, the second to enjoy its perfection. With the third sip, you realize that all the worries of the day that seemed so important at the time, really don’t matter. Especially now. And certainly not in the grand scheme or big picture that is your life.

After that fourth sip, ah yes. The world starts to fall away, and all that is left is sheer bliss…and you.

In his novel, The Beautiful and Damned, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a passage about how that intoxication bliss puts a golden glow, a romantic, softening haze over the sharp edges of everyday reality:

“There was a kindness about intoxication – there was that indescribable gloss and glamour it gave, like the memories of ephemeral and faded evenings.




After a few high-balls there was magic in the tall glowing Arabian night of the Bush Terminal Building – its summit a peak of sheer grandeur, gold and dreaming against the inaccessible sky. And Wall Street, the crass, the banal – again it was the triumph of gold, a gorgeous sentient spectacle; it was where the great kings kept the money for their wars…




…The fruit of youth or of the grape, the transitory magic of the brief passage from darkness to darkness – the old illusion that truth and beauty were in some way entwined.”




All photos and Photoshopped intro image by JE Alexandria Julaton

Life as a Cocktail: Trying Something New



I had a rough week – the kind of rough week that made me want to re-think several of my life and career choices.  After surviving yet another one, I was trying to put it out of my mind and get to a happy place, as I sipped my vodka lemon drop. My thoughts started drifting off randomly to paths taken, and experiences that shaped decisions made along the way as I felt, figured and clawed my way through this existence. All while trying not to feel completely overwhelmed. Or fall flat on my face.


I meditated and thought back to choices others I knew have made, and the happiness and fulfillment those decisions brought (or didn’t). It was easy to conclude that making those same choices, walking that same path, would result in the same for anyone else. Treading well-worn paths. But if our lives become all about playing it safe, how can we know there is another path, or level of happiness, that could be more rewarding? One more unexpected, surprising, even exhilarating, and perhaps more fulfilling? We really can’t know until we…pivot.

A great idea or quest for some form of happiness had to start somewhere, and it might have been an amazing journey along the way.

A cocktail analogy.

Pivot. Twist. Zag. Change IS scary, with no guarantees of success. Then again, it doesn’t guarantee failure, either. Think about THAT for a moment!

A well-made cocktail is a thing of beauty and wonder. The balance of ingredients, one in step with another, and that with another, and so on, creating the mesmerizing dance of flavors. But is it a perfect cocktail? That depends.


On YOU, and if you want to stick with one recipe and be perfectly happy to never deviate from it, or decide that tweaking it a wee bit would make it different, and possibly better. Perhaps the art of the cocktail can be more interpretive dance, than classical ballet – creating your own new combination of moves, instead of following someone else’s footsteps.


The well-worn paths, the classic cocktails, have withstood the tests of time, but they haven’t always existed. Someone started with a gin, aged and smoothed to perfection, added – just for giggles – a liqueur of 130+ herbs and botanicals whose recipe has been guarded by monks in Europe for centuries, then sweetened it with the fermented juice of a thousand cherries. A few more ingredients and experiments later, one of the most famous cocktails (and one of my personal favorites) was created.

But anyway, back to the story.

One evening at home, I decided upon a vodka lemon drop. Nothing like a sweet, citrusy kiss to smooth out my ragged soul after a long week. A few minutes relaxing in my lounge chair with a cocktail, and the world was slowly obscured by a veil of bliss. I wandered over to the refrigerator to choose ingredients for tonight’s dinner. Deciding on stir-fried veggies, I reached for the fresh ginger and noticed the stalks of lemongrass beside it.



Hey…what if…?

I pulled out another martini glass and poured in a couple of ounces of vodka.

I sliced off a thick piece of ginger, pounded it with a mallet, and let it sit in the vodka while I finished my cocktail. Later, I put some ice in a mixing glass, and added the piece of ginger I had used to infuse the vodka.



Zag (Ladies and gentlemen, now for my NEXT trick…).

I chopped some of the lemongrass and dropped it into the mixing glass. After muddling and pounding the lemongrass and ginger on the ice, I added a quarter ounce of triple sec, and a quarter ounce of simple syrup, then the infused vodka.


I poured in a wee bit more vodka (wink), shook the whole thing for a few seconds, then strained the exciting concoction into my martini glass.

MMMMM!! Ginger lemongrass martini – a delicious vodka martini with a couple of exotic twists. If the ginger is too strong, add less next time. If you like it sweeter, add more triple sec and simple syrup. The idea is to adjust it to your taste. As with life, the cocktail is all about you and your happiness, after all.

Also with cocktails, as with life, you can start over and try again – fix something, make it even better, or try something new. Who knows what brilliant schemes and cocktails you’ll dream up next!


Soul Rejuvenation: Life Has More Flavor with Friends

drinks with a friend

I was getting ready to tuck into my favorite chair with a cocktail (well, maybe two) within reaching distance. It’s nice to have these quiet moments to yourself, a bit of meditation and Zen in one’s hectic life.


However, one can have too much soul-searching solitude, and start to feel cut off from the outside world. So I texted one of my girlfriends, and we checked out a new-to-us bar downtown.

Lady Asya at Paymaster Lounge

The Paymaster Lounge in NW Portland successfully pulled off the “we’ve been your favorite neighborhood bar for years” feel, with edge-y posters, comfy pleather lounge seats and turned-down lights, but was still too clean and new-ish to be truly dive-y. And there was no duct tape on the pleather. In our reckless booze-infused wanderings, we came across their vending machine, filled with a nice selection of lip gloss, condoms, fangs, old movies, and packets containing info on finding your spirit animal.

Vending machine of oddities at Paymaster Lounge


We made our way to the patio, where we enjoyed our cocktails and ordered from a menu with an impressive array of tater tots options. For the rest of the evening, it was all about boyfriends, family, fashion, DIY beauty treatments, trips we wanted to take, etc.  The hours flew.



In case you were wondering, no I couldn’t resist finding my spirit animal in a vending machine.  It’s a wolf. And I’m not as evil as I fear, according to the message inside.



When I look back at my life, I want memories of adventures and mayhem I shared with friends, not just the sacrifices to my time and life I made so I could work more and harder for my career, until one day I woke up old and alone.

For me, friends (and cocktails!) are good for the body and the soul. Friends not only help us feel like we’re not alone in our struggles, but they also enrich the greater, more meaningful portions of our existence, a.k.a. having a life.

Now get out there, call a friend, and share a cocktail moment with them. Cheers!