– 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.
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