The bar upstairs at N to Tail has a full shelf of tokkuri, the serving vessel for sake. Photos by Angie Bryan

I was a big fan of Japanese restaurant Fuji, so it took me a while to work up the desire to go check out N to Tail, the Korean bar and restaurant that replaced it. The promise of an actual bar with specialty cocktails eventually lured me in – and I’m so glad it did.

The bar downstairs, where Korean barbecue is served.

When you enter, it’s hard to believe you’re in the same spot. Owner/chef/artist Jung Hur, who also owned Fuji, has created a masterpiece of a venue that looks nothing like its predecessor. At first, you might think you’re in an art gallery, thanks to the paintings and the whimsical structures made from a dismantled piano. Upstairs, there’s now a full bar, complete with sake barrels and an entire shelf of tokkuri, the flasks used when serving sake. There’s also a bar downstairs in the Korean barbecue portion of the restaurant, but we preferred the airier, more artsy vibe upstairs.

The server and bartender took great care of my drinking companion and me as we settled in on the comfortable wooden barstools with backs. Friendly but not intrusive, they clearly loved working there. (“There’s not a single thing on this menu I don’t enjoy,” the server said.)

In addition to 10 sake options (with descriptions to assist newbies) ranging from $5 to $150, there were seven specialty cocktails, most of which involved an Asian ingredient such as shochu (a Japanese distilled spirit), matcha (powdered green tea leaves), Thai basil and yuzu (an Asian citrus fruit). My friend went for the light and refreshing $10 mule (shochu, ginger beer and Domaine de Canton, a French ginger-flavored liqueur that originated in China).

The Dracarys, which costs $11, has jalapeno-infused tequila, passionfruit, Cointreau, a chipotle salt rim and an ice cube with habanero pepper inside. The mule, for $10, was shochu, ginger beer and Domaine de Canton, a French ginger-flavored liqueur which originated in China.

I ordered the $11 Dracarys (jalapeno-infused tequila, passionfruit, Cointreau and a chipotle salt rim). Imagine my excitement when the bartender not only double-strained the drink, but also added a stunning specialty ice cube. Hur’s personal symbol, present throughout the restaurant, is a yin-and-yang-style lock and key, and the custom ice cube was in that shape, with a slice of habanero pepper frozen inside it. The drink was a work of art, but it also tasted magnificent, one of those rare drinks that gets better (and, in this case, a little spicier) as the evening progresses and the ice melts.

Portland Press Herald restaurant critic Andrew Ross has already written about the food, which he much preferred upstairs, where my friend and I ate – and loved every morsel. Since we were there during happy hour, we also thoroughly loved the price. We split two cocktails and three small plates (fried eggplant, Korean fried chicken bao, and raw tuna with pickled chili) for about $20 each before tip.

Angie Bryan is a former diplomat who is enjoying getting acquainted with her new home in Portland, one cocktail at a time.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: