CLYDE COMMON AND PÉPÉ LE MOKO
Portland, Oregon | Jeffrey Morgenthaler
I first met Jeffrey Morgenthaler on a late-fall night in 2011 when he was behind the bar at Clyde Common. He leaned in to take my order, and when I asked him if he was Jeffrey Morgenthaler, his response, with just a hint of a smile, was, “It depends on who’s asking.” Morgenthaler has been a bartender for more than twenty-three years, and while he has a reputation for being a bit salty and quite opinionated, the Eugene, Oregon, native is also one of the best bartenders around, not to mention one of the most generous and entertaining people in the bar industry. Throughout his career, he’s shared his recipes and techniques on his website, and with The Bar Book and Drinking Distilled, he’s provided professional bartenders and cocktail enthusiasts alike with two essential books on bartending tools, technique, and philosophy.
As bar manager of Clyde Common and Pépé le Moko, both in the Ace Hotel in Portland, Oregon, he oversees two bars that he describes as being “complementary opposites of each other.” Clyde Common is a big and bright high-volume restaurant with a bar that is built to serve a lot of people as quickly as possible. It’s the perfect spot for a late-night bite and a drink. Around the corner and down a set of stairs is Pépé le Moko, an intimate basement bar with more focus on crafted cocktails but still set up with a sense of fun, as demonstrated by its most popular drink, an inventive take on the classic grasshopper. Along with the Barrel-Aged Negroni, Morgenthaler is best known for resuscitating the grasshopper and the amaretto sour by introducing contemporary techniques that strip them of their cloying 1970s reputations but keep the spirit of their original era alive.
How would you describe your bartending philosophy?
I spent a lot of time in dive bars and clubs. I’ve never been the vest and bow-tie guy. I’m really loud and boisterous, and I make fun drinks that people like to drink. And that’s about it. I don’t do a lot of weird esoteric drinks that you have to really think about. I’m not the “brown, bitter, and stirred” guy at all. I’m the variation of a whiskey sour guy. We really like to have a good time behind the bar. For me, that’s one of the most important things. The bartenders are having fun. The guests are usually having fun. I always tell my bartenders if we have a bar full of people just sitting there sort of smelling their cocktails and taking pictures of them, we’ve failed. The goal is to have a bunch of people enjoying drinks and enjoying life and talking and getting to know one another and having a good time.
What is the last thing you’d want to drink before you die?
I’m going to give you the drink that we used to drink back in Eugene. I had finally worked my way up to fancy cocktail bars, and we were making Negronis and Manhattans, all these crazy drinks with so much flavor. At the end of the night, it was just well vodka on the rocks. Always. To this day, if I sat down in my own bar and said, “pour me a ‘Jeff,’ or pour me a ‘Morgenthaler,’ they would grab well vodka and pour it over ice. It’s one of those things I don’t want to have to think about too much. I don’t want anything difficult to drink. I just want some cold alcohol. It’s really refreshing. It’s nice to have a good vodka on the rocks. You can kind of slug that down really quickly.
At that hour, we’ve usually already put all the shit away. There’s no fucking way I’m going to bust out all the stuff that I just cleaned to make myself a Last Word. You know, squeezing fresh lime juice, doing jiggers, getting sticky Chartreuse all over everything. You can take the glass to the ice machine in back, fill up the glass with ice, and pour a bunch of well vodka on top of it. Let it sit for a couple of seconds and just enjoy it while you talk to your coworkers about the night. Don’t get me wrong. A Beefeater martini with a twist is one of my favorite drinks. But at the very end of the night, when everything is clean and done and you are sitting down to count the money, just vodka on the rocks, man. It’s so great.