Review: Teardrop Cocktail Lounge

Teardrop Lounge

As I was doing research for this review in my father’s old bar notebook, I came across a list of ingredients labeled “always have on hand”. What especially interested me were incidentals like falernum, cassis, five types of bitters, orange flower water, Herbsaint, and tepache. They were standard ingredients back in those days, but you don’t see them much anymore. Instead we have horrible infusions like sticky sweet banana rum, blueberry vodka, Red Bull… the list goes on and on. These make flat, one dimensional concoctions, their primary purpose to make things sweet and smooth enough to be gulped down, resulting in volume drink sales, a quick high and a wider appeal.

It wasn’t always like this. I look through handwritten notes from the 40′s. Baguio Skin, Red Rum Swizzle, Dog Hair, Jerusalem’s Between the Sheets, Death in the Gulf Stream… what happened to these drinks? I remember when ordering was different: you’d say “Greyhound” – gin/grapefruit, or Cape Cod – vodka/cranberry. There is something vaguely romantic about using the original names; a hat tip to the past. Unfortunately, many people don’t know what those are. These days I’d be afraid to order something like a tequila sunrise, because 90% of bartenders would think it was just tequila, orange juice, and grenadine, leaving out the all important crème de cassis, lime and soda, which leaves the drink a ghost of its original self.

My point is, these drinks were not just a vehicle to get drunk; they were sipped, and savored, multi-layered concoctions that contrasted flavors against each other in ways that made you think. Instead of a precursor to a meal, they were matched to dishes, designed to harmonize with each course. Then the 70′s and 80′s rolled in, and instead of thinking about a drink, the new vogue was getting drunk as quickly as possible: a sad point in the history of the cocktail.

Now the pendulum is starting to swing the other direction. Cocktail dinners are springing up across town, where chefs like David Padburg are matching multiple courses of food and alcohol. It is fun to participate at one of these meals, watching guests’ eyes light up as they make the connection between food and drink; and the fact that the drink doesn’t necessarily have to be wine to make a match.

Portland is lucky to have people like Lucy Brennan, who is never afraid to try new combinations of spirits and herbs, pushing things in directions no one has thought of before, with drinks featuring ingredients like avocado, mandarin purée, or cilantro. We have Kevin Ludwig, perhaps the best bartender in the city, constantly thinking and striving to produce twists on old ingredients, without resorting to the avalanche of sticky flavored vodkas. Gin & Tonic with house-made tonic water. Fresh gooseberries, artichoke bitters, and fresh celery juice all show up in his perfectly balanced concoctions (note to Kevin, open your damn bar before you miss the window). Now we have two new contenders for most interesting cocktails in town, in the form of Daniel Shoemaker and Ted Charak. Recent transplants from San Francisco, they have opened a new bar in the Pearl District called Teardrop. They have raised the ante, with drinks that are less fad and more nods to the classics that got us to where we are today.

As with any review, I should start with the ambiance. Ever since Teardrop opened, friends have deluged me with comments. “Is this Miami or Portland?” “The most fanatical bartenders I’ve ever seen”. They didn’t need to tell me, as I’d wandered in the second night Teardrop opened, and was suitably impressed. Think rectangular room, cinder block walls, original wood beam ceiling, a few booths scattered around the outside walls, a big window wall across the front that opens to let the last rays of sunlight spill in. A skylight adds more light from above the old rafters. On nice days, chairs and tables are available on the sidewalk out front. Sound absorbing drapes have been added here and there, and carpet has been used on the floor, (though I have a feeling it will still be loud on a busy weekend night), but that’s about it for ambiance, at least until you get to the bar.

It dominates the room, the only circular bar I can think of in Portland: an altar to the cocktail. A small tier of top shelf liquor floats above it without breaking up the flow of the space, but the focus is not on having a huge amount of choices. Instead it is on having a selection of what they think will work best for their drinks; important because their creations are works of art, quite simply marvelous examples of how to take the mundane modern day cocktail and replace it with something for which one would use words like finish, depth, and complexity to describe. Nothing is overly sweet; rather they dance a fine line, never straying too far in either direction. Daniel and Ted bring a whole new level of thought to the Portland cocktail scene.

I’ve been twice, sitting at the bar both times so I could watch them work. Order a Smoke & Mirrors ($8), and watch while they cut fresh canary melon and muddle it with light rum and hibiscus water with lime and a rim of slightly spicy chipotle salt. The Batida Apasionada is made from fresh passion fruit, peeled before your eyes, cachaca, coconut water, lime organic cane sugar, and a quick grate of nutmeg ($9). The Little Cloud matches syrup from fresh picked elderberries, peach bitters, Aviation gin and lime ($9). The only place I’ve ever seen this many fresh ingredients is at Healdsburg, California’s Cyrus Restaurant.

Their obsession isn’t just with fresh fruits; it is also in digging up original ingredients – even making them in-house if necessary. A Mai Tai reaches an entirely new level of complexity with the addition of house falernum, a floral, slightly sweet syrup redolent of almond, oranges, and spices. Add house-made orgeat and house curacao, and at the first sip conversation will come to a halt, before you start passing it to your companions. I’ve never had a Mai Tai this complex! ($8) Moving on, I tried a friend’s Dee Cee’s Fuego with scotch, pomegranate molasses, and Carpano Antica vermouth. A quick flame of orange peel adds a caramelized orange note. Amazing ($9).

Sake drinks are all the rage, and they have several. The Asia 76 made with vodka, house-made orangecello (an incredibly fragrant orange liquor), and hou hou shu sparkling sake ($9), and their Sake Sangria, a wonderful and refreshing mix of seasonal fruit, Hakutsuru sake, Oregon pinot gris, brandy, and spices. The sweetness comes entirely from the fruit, the end result a smooth elixir. A friend described it far better than I can “…one of the sexiest drinks around. Goodness, I am blushing just thinking about it. The ripe round fruitiness of the sake, a backbone of brandy and the flinty pinot gris all work so very well together. Add to that having a luscious peach slip into your mouth every other sip, makes this one I will definitely order again”. Wow. Chopsticks are provided to pick the slices of peaches and berries out of the glass ($6 glass/$18 pitcher)

Even though I have only tried four cocktails, based on the ingredient list alone, I could go on and on. These people care about making the best possible cocktails. Everything is top shelf, from the liquor to the mixers. A happy hour runs every day from 4:00pm – 7:00pm. There is a drink of the day – a fantastic fresh blackberry margarita the day I went, and a classic drink (both $5), as well as the sake sangria with seasonal fruit ($4). It all depends on what is available at the farmers market. You can see a current drink and food menu here.

The beer list shows mixed promise with 17 choices. On the microbrew side are Great Divide, Lost Coast, Downtown Brown, Pyramid Hefeweizen, and Terminal Gravity IPA. Belgian beers make a strong stand: Achel 8 blond, Delerium Tremens, Dupont Saison Foret, La Chouffe, St. Bernardus Witbier, Urthel Hop-It Double I.P.A., and La Fin du Monde, Canada. Finally they have a small selection of international beers: EKU Pilsner, Frankiskaner Hefe-Dunkel, Pilsner Urquell, Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout, Tecate, and Bitburger Drive. Prices are quite reasonable, though, as you would expect, some of the Belgians are over $10.

Sake also plays a large part, with an entire page of the menu devoted to them. The servers are quite knowledgeable, able to discuss the various characteristics of each one. Hakutsuru Namachozo non-pasteurized sake is on the list ($4/7), Tokubetsu Honjozo Ginjo ($9/17), Kasumi Tsuru ($10/19), Watari Bune Junmai Ginjo ($46 btl). Though I don’t know a whole lot about the beverage, some of the people who have written me were quite impressed, especially that some of them are seasonal. There are over ten available, with the proper serving accouterments.

David Padberg, sous chef at Park Kitchen consulted on the food menu. Most dishes are small, but for the most part well made. I’d order them again, though when drinking alcohol, it would be nice to have at least one heaver choice. Some examples:

  • Andalusian Gazpacho w/ shiso leafe chiffonade $6
  • Chipotle gravlax w/ pickled cucumbers & sweet wasabi $9
  • Chilled soba noodles w/ tobiko caviar, hijiki seaweed & ponzu dressing $7/$11
  • Summer shrimp roll with marinated carrots, sprouts & peanut sauce $7
  • Braised pork belly kakuni with daikon & shimeji mushrooms $9
  • Duck confit with sherry thyme escabeche $12
  • Jalapeño-lemongrass wild salmon with onigiri rice cakes and watercress salad $12
  • Ahi tataki with edamole, mango, and coconut rice $11
  • Hoisin-marinated chicken drummettes $9

Over my visits, I’ve tried the duck confit, the ahi tataki, the gazpacho, and the hoisin chicken. As you can tell from the descriptions, they are above the norm for bar food; the fish fresh, spices generally correct, and fairly priced. A few things need to be adjusted a bit. For example, the ahi is a beautiful dish consisting of a rounded mélange of good fish and brilliant mango, placed over a round patty of rice. Unfortunately, the dish arrives on a plate, and since it doesn’t really stick together, it is difficult to eat with the provided chopsticks. In Japan a shallow bowl would have been used. The duck confit was fine, though a bit dry. Gazpacho lives or dies based on the quality of ingredients used. Good olive oil, great sherry vinegar, and perfect tomatoes come together to make a bright, homage to summer. Their version is a bit flat, needing more acid, salt, and better tomatoes as well as a scattering of garnish across the top. I’d try it again when summer heat works it’s magic on tomatoes. Still, for bar food (and one just opened), these are minor quibbles.

Over the week since they opened, I’ve been in twice, and I’ve sent in PFD ‘operatives’ for their opinion, and they have been unanimous. Though these may not be the type of concoctions you are used to, and some may not be to your particular palate, each one is well made, balanced, and interesting. Comments are full of terms like “smoky” “musky” “pungent”, “layered”, and “floral”. They all make you stop and think; sipping drinks over conversation, which the owners seem happy to provide. Yes, the prices are about a dollar higher than most Pearl District bars, but the quality and care going into the drinks makes it worthwhile. I don’t tend to go to bars very often, but if I did, Teardrop Lounge would be my number one destination. I am looking forward to watching them change with the seasons, and seeing what new concoctions they develop.

  • Phone: (503) 445-8109
  • Address: 1015 NW Everett, Portland OR. 97209 GoogleMap
  • Hours: Monday – Sat, 4:00p.m. – 1:00a.m. Happy hour 4 to 7, with 2 different cocktails and the sake sangria at reduced prices.
  • Website: TeardropLounge.com

Teardrop Lounge on Urbanspoon

Your thoughts are welcome

  1. Papaki says

    Nicely done, Dude. I haven’t tried any food there yet, but I absolutely agree with you about the cocktails. They’re both really nice guys, too. And I’ve got to admire any place that lists the Corpse Reviver #2 — a classic that’s my candidate for the world’s best drink — on its regular menu.

  2. Hand Forged says

    This is a bartenders bar. Kudos to Dan and Ted. I had the pleasure of seeing Tear Drop get built over the last 8 months. Was there for F&F and a few days during there first week. Cocktails are good, showing a refreshing balance of tradition and modern mixology with an Asian flair. Drinks don’t “pop” here like at Andina or District but the flavors are there only softer so that there’s less chaos in the mouth. Think French Burgundy versus Napa Cabernet. It’s great place to watch professional bartenders work their craft.

    While I agree that bars need to rise above lemon drops, cosmos and apple martinis, you can only go so far away from mainstream mixology before you start alienating guests. You don’t want a place like this suffering the Apotheke syndrome.

    This is a definitely a cocktail and bartender driven bar. Not the place for a vodka soda or Coors light drinking clientèle. If you like to spend time in upscale bars with professional bartenders then you should expect a good time.

    Only negative would be the fluorescent back lighting at night makes the ambiance a bit too bright for the night owls looking for a good perch. Also not sure about grated coconut rim as a a garnish. FD: your Cape Cod here would come with white cranberry…

    Side note: 99% not 90% of bartenders would make a tequila sunrise with tequila, oj, grenadine and a lime wedge because that’s what the accepted recipe calls for.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tequila_Sunrise_(cocktail)

    If you want creme de cassis and soda in your tequila sunrise, just ask for it. Next time I get behind the bar I’ll be sure to try one.

  3. Food Dude says

    Thanks Papaki. I haven’t tried their version of the Corpse Reviver. Unfortunately, the day I’m most likely to need reviving is the day they are closed: Sunday ;>)

    Hand Forged, Every one of my old cocktail books (30′s – 40′s) shows the tequila sunrise with creme de cassis and soda. Over the years, that version changed to be called the tequila sunset, and the cassis was dropped. Go to an old school Hollywood or San Francisco bar though, and they’ll use the original recipe. That’s they way I always used to make it. Give it a try, you’ll notice a bit more depth.

    As far as District goes, you can’t really compare the ambiance; totally different scene. Teardop could use a bit of their warmth. Unfortunately, I think District has some of the most poorly designed cocktails I’ve had in Portland (though I haven’t been there in a month – I hope they have improved).

  4. Hand Forged says

    FD- I will definitely try your old school tequila sunet. Here’s one to try tequila, grapefruit with a splash of Campari and lime.

  5. foi says

    You’re right about cocktails shifting over time in terms of taste and approach to mixing… but surely you jest when you suggest that it was only once the 70s & 80s came along that “the new vogue was getting drunk as quickly as possible”. That has ALWAYS been the point of the cocktail, even more so in the 50s when the most popular drink was the martini! Cocktails were originally invented to mask the flavor of bad alcohol, after all — ie, so that little things like taste & smell would not get in the way of achieving drunkenness. Maybe people’s tastes have become sweeter or less subtle, maybe people no longer appreciate the taste of fine alcohol, but they certainly haven’t become more drunk. They’re just getting drunk differently.

  6. Food Dude says

    foi, you are, of course, correct. It just seems like that is all anyone cares about these days. That is why so many bad vodka drinks are being sold: people don’t care… they don’t really even taste them.

  7. Sir Loins says

    Amen, FD. I think the recent proliferation of vodkas is a testament to how folks seem to care more about the effect of their drink rather than than the taste of it.

    Perhaps, as foi suggests, it’s always been this way, but no other spirit has exploded in offerings and popularity quite like vodka. That this is happening to the most neutral-tasting spirit says something to me about the American drinker’s palate.

    Now, a neat, ice-cold shot of vodka on a dark winter night can be mighty fine. But to me, vodka is mostly about the absence of flavor. I can barely detect a difference in flavor or aroma regardless of the label, unlike my vodka-drinking friends who stand by their brands. Sure, the top shelf stuff goes smoother down the gullet than the rotgut, but that’s true of any liquor.

    I like flavor, and when it comes to clear liquors, I’m a gin man, and I’m not loyal to any one brand. The aromas and flavors vary a lot, and that just makes drinking it more interesting.

    Pity that so many folks think they don’t like gin. They either haven’t tried the right mixer, or found the right gin.

  8. sidemeat says

    Who knows what the Gods drink?
    Water is for ice. I think too, coffee.
    Beer is for hydration.
    Wine is a fruit,(part of a healthy diet)
    Vodka is a magic fluid.
    Gin is for when your out of everything else.

  9. sidemeat says

    Prestone needs to be filtered through several dozen used coffee cones and at least a bit of kitty litter, Windex and Clorox are good to go.
    I’m glad that we agree.

  10. Hunter says

    I had a great time at the Petrossian bar in the Bellagio in Las Vegas a few months ago doing a vodka tasting. They serve chilled vodka in tiny crystal flutes. I enjoyed the true Russian vodkas like Cristal, etc. The flavors are very different. Additionally, they have an almost oily texture. Oddly delicious.

  11. JDG says

    Had a great trio of cocktails and apps at Teardrop last night, but I wanted to point out that the address is 1015 NW Everett, not 301 NW 10th.

    And I think that gin is something that you can’t like until you hit 35. Something biochemical just seems to happen at that age…

  12. Sir Loins says

    JDG,

    The first drink that I ever truly appreciated for its flavor – as opposed to its physiological effects – was a Bombay gin and tonic with muddled lime that a friend who was really into gin made for me on one typically sweltering Georgia summer day. At the time, I was barely legal drinkin’ age, holmes.

    I don’t know why, but it was a beverage revelation. To this day, nothing speaks of summer to me like the dry, aromatic spice of gin blended with the crisp bite of tonic and crushed lime.

    Same friend also led me to appreciate the beauty of a dry martini, but that took a little while longer.

    **A question for folks**: To my tongue, Canada Dry and Schweppes tonic water is tasting unusually sugary sweet these days. Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed this? (I know I could make my own tonic, but after reading about FD’s tonic trials and tribulations, I’m not gonna.)

  13. Food Dude says

    JDG, thanks for the correction. I fixed the address.
    Sir Loins, I agree. I think the sugar level in tonic has crept up over the last few years. It didn’t seem so high when I was bartending (of course that was back in the 30′s). If you try bottled tonic by itself, the sweetness is overpowering.

  14. foieman says

    WOW! Teardrop is amazing. The balanced flavors of the cocktails are perfect. I’ve been there a few times the last two weeks and tried almost all of the drinks. The only one I didn’t like was the one with coconut on the rim. These drinks could turn me back into a cocktail drinker, not just a bourbon drinker!

  15. Jaymienj says

    After years and years of girly drinks (vodka, fruit juice, fresh lime, shake and pour) I finally attained alcohol maturity last night when I tried my first Pink Lady at Teardrop. It was an oral revelation! I also enjoyed talking with Dan and David about different ingredients and cocktails. I wish I lived closer – and I can’t wait to go back.

  16. grapedog says

    My wife and I visited Teardrop on 12/30/08 as a pre-new year’s eve event for two. We were looking for a new (to us) bar, something different from the common wine bars or Pabst blue ribbon bars. We had a good time at Teardrop, grazing over the menu and trying different drinks.

    It’s pretty clear that drinks are Teardrop’s strong point. I started with a Hot Buttered Rum which included a bit of apple cider to balance the spices and butter. I also had an Illuminations, which nicely combines Tequila, maple syrup, sherry and lemon. A strange combination but it worked well. My wife had the Horn o’ Plenty. Who would have thought that the combination of brandy, pecan syrup, lemon and sherry would get along with happiness?

    Since there hasn’t been a comment regarding Teardrop here in over a year, I wanted to point out some of the weak points encountered at Teardrop. The “nibbles” (food) menu was just too heavy. I found that dishes such as the tri-tip wrapped in bacon and the biscuits (actually puff pastry rounds) with chicken liver gravy were just overwhelming as I sipped my drinks. In order to cut through all the richness of many of the offerings, I switched over to a French red wine. Reading the review comments from a year ago, it may be the season (winter) or something else that has pushed Teardrop’s menu to be focused on heavy comfort food.

    The service at Teardrop was fine at the bar itself but I could see how tables were not getting the attention they deserved. The bartenders act as waiters so when the BTs get busy, tables are not visited very often. One table had to get up and fetch a carafe of water on the bar since no one came by for a while to offer any.

    Comments on other websites note the “Pearl District Snobbery” that one must overcome when entering Teardrop. There is no host/greeter and if the bartenders are busy, it’s not clear if you can just sit anywhere or if you should wait for someone to talk to you first. We came into the bar on a not-very-busy evening and no one said a word to us. So, we wandered around the place a few minutes and decided on the bar. For some, this may be intimidating or it may add to the “hip”, “cool” feeling of the place. (Reminds me of clarklewis having no formal entrance for the longest time, which meant if you knew where the entrance was, you were cool. If not, you were not cool.)

    The wine list and wine knowledge at Teardrop are both very limited. Ok, it’s a bar so why would someone be ordering a glass of wine? Well, if wines are offered, the bartenders should have some knowledge of what they are pouring. I asked for some feedback on the French reds by the glass and got an “i don’t know” from the bartender.

    We enjoyed our visit to Teardrop and plan to return. Next time, we will avoid some of the heavier nibbles and focus on dishes we know to be lighter (chicken chiliquiles, cheeses) to go with the drinks.

  17. pdx_yogi says

    “…dishes such as the tri-tip wrapped in bacon and the biscuits (actually puff pastry rounds) with chicken liver gravy were just overwhelming…” If the description of a dish does not sound appealing to me, I tend not to order it. It sounds way too heavy for my taste just from reading it.

    Glad you appreciate the drinks and will return, as will I. I’ve always been treated with respectful friendly attention. I’ve never felt intimidated by any snob factor, and I am not at all hip or fashionably dressed. Sorry to hear of your differing experience.

    • grapedog says

      Totally agree, I ordered because I was curious and I thought maybe it was a lighter version of a traditional dish. And, with all the glowing comments from others, I was expecting magical food in addition to magical drinks. :-)

      With most restaurants, I need to go multiple times to see if one experience was due to a shortage of staff or other situation. On the night we visited Teardrop, the bartender told me that a group of 8 friends was hanging out with the boss so the BT wanted to do everything right. I’m sure this doesn’t happen every night.

    • grapedog says

      I’ve never found a wine bar that comes close to the clubby atmosphere of Teardrop. And, drinking wine gets old after a while. IMHO of course.

  18. grapedog says

    Return visit to Teardrop last night, a Friday night. Arrived at 7:30pm or so, place was about 1/2 full. We grabbed a couple of bar seats and noticed some changes to the menu. The bartender we had on 12/30/08 recognized us, got a drink order in, relaxation set in.

    We had the seasonal risotto, which was creamy but not too heavy, with a bit of shrimp and citrus. Nice (and filling.) Chicken empanadas with an avocado/wasabi sauce was good.

    By 10pm, the place was full and the 2 bartenders and the 3 waitstaff were hopping. Another great experience at the Teardrop, now it’s time to find a #2 favorite bar.

  19. grapedog says

    I had a chance to spend an evening at Teardrop last week to see how it had changed. I heard that they hired a new chef and the menu was much better than in the past when tri-tip steak drenched in heavy sauce was the best they could do.

    I’m happy to say that the menu is much better if you want to have a light dinner at Teardrop, along with your drinks. But, it’s still a bar/lounge and not a restaurant.

    I started out with a salad of microgreens, chopped hardboiled egg, finely sliced salami. Nice portion size. Unfortunately, the dressing needed to be a vinaigrette so the acid from the vinegar could help with the richness of the egg and salami. The dressing had no acid/tartness at all.

    The gnocchi with rabbit ragu was a nice change from the past. A healthy portion of potato gnocchi that was cut into rather large (2″ x 1″ x 3/4″) pieces. The rabbit ragu was a little weak on flavor and contained a few lemon (?) seeds that shouldn’t have been allowed to go swimming in the sauce to begin with. The gnocchi was accompanied by some bread slices coated in butter, perhaps a bit of “garlic bread”.

    For dessert, I had the profiteroles, each of which had a scoop of ice cream inside with cherry and bourbon sauces applied creatively. The dessert was fine, but there was an odd earthy aroma to the dish, almost identical to black forest truffles! Was this the combination of the cherry sauce (sweet) plus the smoky bourbon sauce? Were the profiteroles made earlier and then parked in the walk-in next to some mushrooms? Not sure and no one could explain it, very interesting. (but not troubling)

    Definintely headed in the right direction on the food, but could still use some tweaks to make Teardrop a place where one goes for dinner AND drinks.

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