Every once in a while, a new restaurant or bar opens and its patrons wonder how they ever got along without it. Not yet two months old, Hunt & Alpine Club has already made a name for itself as Portland’s own craft cocktail bar, and it seems every week someone new is discovering what the city has been missing all this time.
Nestled on the northern block of Market Street, Hunt & Alpine Club breathes new life into Portland’s active bar scene with a sleek but straightforward decor and an efficient staff that’s both informed and down-to-earth. Here, cloth napkins are used even if you order a bowl of its signature popcorn and the closest flat screen TV is at least a block away.
Husband and wife Andrew and Briana Volk opened the much anticipated cocktail bar in early September with the idea of creating a place where people feel at ease. For the couple, this is first about hospitality and good service. But the real muse comes from their passion for traditional American-style cocktails.
As a 10-year service industry veteran, Andrew has worked in Irish pubs and high-end restaurants, most notably at Clyde Common in Portland, Ore., when the restaurant received its first nomination for a James Beard Award in the cocktail category. After eight years in Oregon, Andrew moved with Briana back to his native New England and for the past two years they have been figuring out how to bring craft cocktails to Maine.
At Hunt & Alpine Club, it’s not so much a bar as it is a bar that thinks like a restaurant. The two communal tables in the center of the room (both seat 10) are adorned with matching flower vases and each place setting is equipped with small water glasses and a chilled glass water bottle.
The bar seats about 14 and a long counter that stretches the length of the room and against the street-facing windows seats an additional 16.
The mood inside is calm and sophisticated, and while tunes play low in the background, the ongoing (and rather pleasant) shake of cocktails concocting ignites the space with joyful anticipation. Behind the bar, three shelves are stocked full with liquor and bitters, and on the opposite wall, more shelves are lined with colorful and enticing jars of house-made pickles.
The happy hour menu from 4 to 6 p.m. daily boasts four $6 house cocktails inspired by a monthly theme. This month they are focusing on some of their favorite classic cocktails, such as the Brown Derby (bourbon, grapefruit and sugar) or the Pegu Club (gin, lime, curacao and bitters). And there’s a happy hour/late night menu, as well, that features signature bar snacks with a significant discount. The Deviled Smoked Trout (a show-stopping twist on the classic deviled eggs), usually $9, is offered for $5, and the aforementioned popcorn is $3 but usually $5.
In addition to the themed happy hour menu, there’s a leather-bound booklet presented to each guest, which more accurately suggests just how serious the Volks are about cocktails.
The first page offers an amusing toast: If you’re going to cheat, cheat death … if you’re going to drink, drink with me. The pages that follow are straightforward lists of spirits, aperitifs/digestifs, whiskey and tequila classics ($10), beer and wine ($3-$11), and sour cocktails created by Andrew or other well-known mixologists around the country ($10-$11).
And then there’s one more menu. Presented on the back of a 1920s birds-eye-view map of Moosehead Lake are house cocktails such as the Chilton County (bourbon, lemon, peach butter and egg white for $9), and more food, like the “bords” of house pickles, local cheeses and cured meats.
The “club” aspect is somewhat of a mystery to the average patron, but membership fees are purported to be $2,500, which includes a $2,000 bar tab and the privilege to make reservations.
If you’re already a fan of the clever cocktail, Hunt & Alpine Club will likely become your new favorite place. And if it’s beer you crave, they have plenty of cans, bottles and draught options to satisfy any beer lover.
For Andrew and Briana, there isn’t a “favorite” cocktail. They like to think of each drink as suiting different moods and palates. But when asked, Andrew says he often makes himself an Old Grand-Dad Bonded Old Fashioned at the end of a long day and Briana appreciates Hunt & Alpine’s Rye Manhattans.
Claire Jeffers is a freelance writer.