This American Bar Is Frozen in the Early 20th Century. Will It Be Able to Stay That Way?

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Bible Club PDX (image: Kimo Eastwood)

Entering Bible Club PDX feels less like a religious experience than it does a visit to your great-grandmother’s tucked-away cottage. The Portland, Ore., bar, which opened in a yellow 1922 Craftsman house in the city’s sleepy Sellwood neighborhood in 2016, wears its pre-Prohibition aesthetic proudly: Every piece of bar equipment, furniture and art pre-dates 1930.

It’s a speakeasy but without the passwords and pretension, as evinced by the casual back patio where the drinks are just as pitch-perfect, the volume a pitch higher. It’s also a place where you can carve out a warm-lit corner, order a whiskey and dive into a good book. Bible or otherwise.

(image: Virginia Miller)

Timeless Pieces and a Mother of a Cocktail

This museum-like ode to an era was the vision of former San Francisco jewelry maker Ryk Maverick, who goes by Ryk. His significant other, Brandi Leigh, runs front of house, and bar manager Jessica Braasch helms the bar and drink menu.

“The absolute passion and well-built everyday items of Old World craftsmen and artists has always intrigued me,” says Ryk. “Nothing was ever designed that was purely utilitarian. From a small brass lock to a wrench to a light on the street, it was all designed with an artistic aesthetic that’s all but lost now. There’s a romance to those items that 100 years from now will still exist. To surround yourself with timeless pieces of history and have a mother of a cocktail? For me, that’s living.”

Jessica Braasch (image: Kimo Eastwood)

Pillow Talk, Cocktail Inspiration and Antique Barware

Under a gold-leafed ceiling and the gaze of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington paintings, guests sip cocktails like the Soft Shoe Frappe (made with Jameson Black Barrel whiskey, Plantation Stiggins’ Fancy Pineapple rum, Green Chartreuse and matcha tea coconut cream) or the Pacific Northwest-influenced Smoke on the River, a tipple of smoked-salmon-infused Dolin blanc vermouth and Lustau fino sherry. “My partner is a chef,” says Braasch. “ Gleaning culinary techniques and flavor theory from him is my favorite type of pillow talk.”

One wonders about the complication of using antique barware in a fully operating bar. Braasch prefers to sees it as inspiration. “There are so many amazingly curated pieces that I still find myself fixating on something new almost two years in,” she says. “Taking in these details has really kept the drink hamster in my head running.”

Gin & Tonic, left, made with Citadelle reserve gin, Fever-Tree Mediterranean tonic water, cinnamon, lemon peel, star anise and cardamom; and Sunday School, made with Ransom Old Tom gin, Escubac liqueur, pink peppercorn honey syrup, lemon and egg white  (image: Kimo Eastwood)

Even songs on the 1,500-hour, era-appropriate playlist provide inspiration: “The singer Greta Keller had such a sultry voice,” she says. “I immediately challenged myself to create a cocktail that matched. Vanilla-bean-infused aged cachaça, pomegranate, falernum, lemon and cinnamon hibiscus bitters. It was one of our most popular drinks this past fall.”

Eastern Connection

Bible Club is soon to open a sister restaurant in Osaka, Japan, a country beloved by food and drink aficionados. “Japan is where my main business first thrived,” says Ryk. “So I have been back and forth often for about 17 years. My agent owns a five-level building with an open basement. He asked me one day what kind of merch I think would sell in the basement, as he was having no luck getting folks downstairs to shop. I answered, ‘Vice is what sells well in basements, and the only legal one here is booze.’” One Bible Club bartender has made the move from PDX to Osaka, and they are currently recruiting on the ground in Japan as they get ready to open.

Back patio (image: Kimo Eastwood)

How similar will Bible Club, the Osaka edition, be to the original? “The approach is very similar in terms of being fully immersed in early Americana but with a slathering of French Nouveau,” says Rye. “Bible Club PDX has a heavy Repeal the 18th Amendment vibe; Osaka will not. The idea of Prohibition doesn’t mean much in Japan. The beauty of craftsmanship, materials and turn-of-the-century European Nouveau influence is the focus of Bible Club Osaka’s design.”

The Seven Deadly Sins

Braasch dishes on the secret menu, dubbed The Seven Deadly Sins. It started an inside joke between her and Ryk when naysayers questioned offering pricey spirits in a far-from-downtown neighborhood bar.

Robber Barron, from the Seven Deadly Sins menu, made with Joseph Magnus Cigar Blend bourbon, Bible Club cocktail syrup (blend of three sugars, citrus peel and a touch of salt) and Regans’ Orange Bitters No. 6 and Angostura bitters (image: Kimo Eastwood)

“Our personalities parallel when it comes to being told we can’t do something,” she says. “So we decided to create a special menu with cocktails comprised of our favorite tippity-top shelf bottles, many of which are rare, discontinued or just plain luxurious. As the menu gained in popularity, we realized that even in Sellwood people do want an elevated experience, so we were able to get even more creative, esoteric and possibly excessive.

“It’s not really about sticker shock or status; it’s about challenging your own perceptions about what a drink should be. Is it something to whet your whistle or a deep experience layered with a little history and education? Throw in a little ‘treat yo’ self’ to cut the seriousness, and you’re ready to be a sinner.”

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