Vested bartenders slide on brass library ladders across 12-foot-tall, liquor-lined shelves

If you think the lines at Screen Door and Tasty n Sons are long, you are wrong. At the new Multnomah Whiskey Library on SW Alder, there are lines to get in line and 3 ½ hour logjams for what lies beyond the frosted monogrammed door. But for some, it’s well worth the wait: gorgeous interiors, a cozy, curated drinking experience, and the most extensive whiskey list in town. 

Through a poorly marked entrance and up a flight of stairs you’ll find a drinking parlor nonpareil. Dark wood paneling and exposed brick cover the walls, vested bartenders slide on brass library ladders across 12-foot-tall, liquor-lined shelves, and servers push heavy, bottle-stacked wooden carts to their couched customers. The details here impress: famous portraits from whiskey history (including a few lubricated American presidents and Suntory’s founder, Torii Shinjiro), gramophone-esque speakers installed in the rafters, and a newly built, ancient-looking brick fireplace covered in glass decanters. MWL might be the nicest bar in Portland if not the most costly to build.

Klus’s classic cocktail menu comes sharply honed, and—if you’re lucky enough to be sitting a plush leather chair—shaken tableside.

For spirit obsessives, the 1,500-bottle tome is a wet dream whose entries come with pomp, snifters, and little gilded eyedroppers of water for dilution. If sniffing out the difference between Islay, Lowlands, and Speyside isn’t your thing, put down the bible and turn to the tasting menu. Inside, you’ll find a handful of recommended pours organized by spirit and region that rotate every few weeks under the watchful eye of “Head Librarian” and cocktail whiz Tommy Klus. If you’re just dropping in to rub elbows with the city’s stately elite (the demographic on a busy Friday night was well-heeled and middle-aged), Klus’s classic cocktail menu comes sharply honed, and—if you’re lucky enough to be sitting a plush leather chair—shaken tableside.

Creamy Mac and Cheese with Ham Hocks

Every so often, a green light bulb flicks on across the room like a super-secret dinner bell, and a trap window opens to reveal the kitchen inside the woodwork. The food menu is organized by “Farmer, Monger, and Butcher,” and loosely focused on cuisines served in whiskey-drinking regions. Early tastes are underwhelming, given the drinking standards. Bar staples like a petite, juicy cheeseburger with butter lettuce and creamy mac and cheese with bits of smoky ham hock are fine and comforting, while booze creativity in the form of whiskey drizzled over raw oysters or stewed whiskey grains in a soupy bowl of chanterelles and poached egg, are hit and miss.

This is as close as you’ll get to being transported to a big-city country club: elegant, extravagant, and exclusive-feeling. The room is never more than three-quarters full (for tranquility’s sake), servers are attentive and knowledgeable, and pretention is kept a minimum. So, do you wait 3 ½ hours or not? If you’re a spirit fanatic or just in the mood for an out-of-Portland experience, put your name down and grab dinner nearby; for everyone else, Kask is right across the street.

Multnomah Whiskey Library
1124 SW Alder St.
503-954-1381
Tues-Sat: 4pm-12am