Review: Vault Martini

- refreshed 2/12
The first time I walked into Vault Martini I was stunned. Just a few short months before I had been in the Vespa dealership in the same space revisiting a trip to Italy. At that time the building was a dark, dank, greasy, concrete box. Now that Vault had taken over it was transformed. There was no hint of its past, instead a dramatic trendy space that called out to anyone passing by. Casey and company have done a terrific job on the décor. Even the restrooms are beautiful (though the wallpaper is enough to send one into a seizure). The beautiful people of the Pearl flock to this spot to see and be seen which makes for great people watching. Gay, straight, young hipster, old money, lawyers, advertising executive, nervous Internet dates, you will find them all here. This makes for great people watching. Huge windows allow for a great view of the foot traffic on the street out front. A fireplace fills the lounge with its warmth on cold Northwest afternoons.

The drink list is daunting – over 100 are listed with fun to read, inventive detail. Purists will turn up their nose: these are not ‘true martinis’ (though they are available), but rather a group of drinks based mostly on vodka that in most cases do their best to cover the taste of the alcohol. As in any martini bar, when they succeed the results can be good, when they fail it can be hard to get the thing down. Vault has many hits but a few misses.

Some Standouts:
Regular Martini – made just the way you like with a large selection of vodka’s to choose from.
Cilantro – Cilantro, fresh mint, fresh lemon lime syrup. Surprisingly enough, this works really well.
Habañero – their number one seller. Habañero/pineapple infused vodka, lemon-lime syrup; a nice long burning finish (though sometimes a bit too much burn).
Earl Grey – a tea/cream/lemon like texture, yet surprisingly light — Really good.
Cantalope – Just enough fresh fruit and sweetness for a hot day
Ginger Lime – Cooling, fresh, well balanced, vodka kept in check by the fresh fruit flavors
Joyful Girl – vanilla infused vodka & fresh lemon.
Wicked Gimlet – gin, fresh mint, fresh lemon and lime syrup
Banana Drop – banana rum, triple sec, lemon lime; very smooth and sweet.
Fuji Apple – apple vodka, cranberry, thin slice of apple
Lemon Drop- the old standard well made with fresh lemon – just as it should be.
Cucumber Margarita – always refreshing and well balanced
Ginger Drop – ginger infused vodka, apricot brandy, fresh lime syrup
Butterfinger – Baileys, butterscotch, cream, sprinkled with crushed Butterfinger

A large selection of Margaritas and hot drinks are also available as well as a full bar.

Not all is great however in this martini bar. First of all, even though it has been opened less than two years, the room is showing its age. This being said, they are obviously making a good effort to update and repair things. Outdoor furniture has been replaced, a new family style table added, light fixtures repaired, etc. There is still work to be done: the tile bathroom floors are now a bit dingy and while I know it looks cool to have neat little stacks of paper-towels, it’s not when everyone else has dripped on them – just get a dispenser. The fireplace mantle is in need of a good cleaning, and will they ever add a foot rail to the incredibly uncomfortable booth at the entry? Secondly, the drinks can be inconsistent depending on who is making them and how busy they are, but overall things are getting much better. On a good night everything is wonderfully balanced. Two days later the drinks may all taste slightly off. If you know how they should taste and send them back, they are always replaced immediately, but people there for the first time would just think ‘the drinks here suck’. The owners need to spend some time training their bartenders to pour consistently so that every drink is the same every time no matter who is on shift that night. More attention must also be paid to the infusions. Some times the habenero vodka is so hot it is all you can do to get it down, the next week it is too mild. Third, the bar is frequently understaffed. I’ve seen groups walk out because they couldn’t get serviced and I’ve seen people walk out without paying. Sure a Wednesday afternoon can be unpredictable, but a Thursday night? Spend a little more on wait staff and a second bartender. People will be happier; move through faster, tables will turn faster. On some nights it will cost you money, but in the long run people will be happy and this will bring you more dollars. Finally, there are a few drinks on the menu that are just plain bad. The server will even tell you not to order them. Having a bad drink on the list just because if has a cute name or sounds good is silly and will drive people away. With two new martini bars opening within six blocks, attention to these details will keep your current customer base loyal.

A good happy hour with a half-priced drink list is available from 4:00-7:00 M-F and all day Sunday (though not on 1st Thursday, but you can’t get in the door then anyway). Expect to pay $8.00-$9.00 per drink during regular hours. Thursday thru Saturday tends to get very crowded. Get there early or late on those days if you want a seat.

A selection of bar food is available and for the most part is reasonably priced, adventurous for bar food, and reasonably good. Selections include various salads, flat-bread pizzas with quince, prosciutto and manchego, various panini (also available as tortilla wraps), smoked Gouda grilled cheese and tomato, etc. There is something on the short menu that should appeal to just about anyone.

Finger foods like crusty bread and olive oil, hot stuffed dates with honey sauce, chicken skewers with tomato Tuscan sauce and various spreads are also available as is s’more fondue for dessert.

  • Address: 226 NW 12th Ave, Portland, OR. 97209 Google Map
  • Phone: (503)224-4909
  • Hours: Mon-Wed 4pm-1am, Thur-Sat 4pm-2am,  Sun 1pm-10pm
  • Website: Vault-Martini.com

Vault Martini Bar on Urbanspoon

Your thoughts are welcome

  1. Laur-due says

    Rudest service in town. This place is not vintage Portland. It’s unfriendly, pretentious, expensive and arrogant. Yuck. I’m not going back ever again. Snotty snotty SNOTTY!

  2. Hawkeye says

    Absolute worst service in town, will never go back. Here is a breakdown of my 1 visit to Vault.

    -Sat down at a table with 5 friends
    -Went to the bathroom and told friends to order me a dirty martini
    -Server asked friends while I was gone if I wanted Vodka or Gin, my friends know I never drink gin but for some reason ordered me a Gin
    -Found out when I got back that they ordered Gin
    -Server comes back with Gin and I say that I wanted Vodka, no problem bringing me the Gin because that’s what they ordered, but could you please bring me a Vodka and I’ll pay for both
    -Server brings Vodka and takes Gin away (still full)
    -I think to myself, “Oh wow, she’s being cool and replacing my drink, what great service.”
    -Get bill after crappy service and below average drinks and BOTH martinis are on the bill
    -Told server that I had no problem paying for both in the first place but why did she take the full martini as if she was replacing it? One of my Gin drinking friends could have drank it if she didn’t take away the full drink
    -She told us too bad that we had to pay for it
    -Asked to speak with manager, manager and server have a private conversation and the manager comes over and hands me what I thought was an updated bill
    -Manager walks away and the 2 martinis are still on the bill, she didn’t say a word so I was thinking that she had fixed it, apparently not
    -Meanwhile another friend of mine is up talking to the manager because he can’t believe what is going on
    -Manager and server are still arguing with us that we ordered it so we had to pay for it
    -We explain that we were going to pay for it anyway, but to take away a full martini as if you were replacing it with what the customer actually wanted, and then keeping it on the bill was a joke
    -We informed them that we would never be back and it was the worst service ever — All of this after we said we would pay for the drink in the first place

    —–Rude and a total joke

  3. hdezines says

    We have been to the vault a couple of times. Always great service, cut definitly understaffed. Our drinks have always been of high quality and taste, and the food is great. I would recommend the ceasar salad- huge- so you may want to share (a whole romain head). The one time we were there, they were out of a few items on their menu- but that happens to quite a few places. I’m sure they have learned from that. I enjoyed the atmosphere- very comfortable- except for the high booth with no foot rests- plan to sit indian style (not so p.c!?!)

  4. Kathy says

    Fun place. Grew up in Portland and love to visit the Peal. Now living in Las Vegas, and can’t find this kind of experience very often. I am in the industry and wish Vegas would have more of these types of establishments besides having to go to the strip. My favorite was the habanero martini! They do however, need to pay a little more attention to making sure they keep up the appearance. Some things were looking a little “worn”.

  5. Karl says

    This is the only place I ever intentionally walked out on a bill. Uncrowded, it took 15 minutes to see a waiter, another 15 minutes to get a Gin Martini (too complicated???) I would have had another but could not get a waiter for 40 minutes. I wasn’t in a hurry but WTF. I left without seeing a bill and stood outside for a few minutes hoping someone would chase me down. Nada.

    No thank you.

  6. nik says

    Worst service in Portland. Not only is there only one bartender and one server for the entire place (which had about 35 people in it) but they are slow and rude. I have seen some bartenders hustle and they can handle volume but this girl was like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh. She had about 15 tickets lined up in front of her and we had a weird feeling we were gonna be last. We ordered our drinks and food and asked for waters as well. We waited 10 minutes. Didn’t get anything. We asked politely for the waters. Didn’t get the waters. No sign of the drinks. Then after about 15 or 20 minutes the food comes. The chef was the one who actually brought out the food. Weird. Well we didn’t know she was the chef; we thought she was the food runner so we asked her for the waters we never got. She said, “I’m just the chef. I’m too busy,” and walked away. Hmmm, this is bizarro-world.

    Finally after we were halfway done with the food we got our waters. The food wasn’t even good. Chicken skewers very plain and flavorless. The caprese was dry and flavorless too. It needed olive oil, some salt (which we didn’t even bother asking for because we knew we wouldn’t get it) and maybe some BASIL! BORING!! We had about 2 bites left of food and we were about to cancel our drinks when they finally came. My blood orange mimosa was nothing special. The blood orange puree did not taste fresh. There was way too much of it and it was floating, congealed and sticky, at the top of the sparkling wine. We slammed our drinks so we could get the hell outta there. We wanted to go elsewhere for real food and service. We didn’t receive any sort of warmth from the ice queen waitress who came to our table only twice. She only half smiled when we were leaving. Well I hope she was happy about her $2.00 tip…

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