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March 12th, 2014 REBECCA JACOBSON | Bar Reviews
 

Pepe Le Moko: Home Of The $16 Midshelf Gin and Tonic

clublist_pepelemoko_4019PEPE LE MOKO - IMAGE: Natalie Behring
     
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For a bar that barely announces its presence—just a plain storefront, the name in cursive on the window—Pepe Le Moko (407 SW 10th Ave., 546-8537, pepelemokopdx.com) arrives with a near-cacophonous buzz. The spot, in the basement of the Ace Hotel and co-owned by Nate Tilden (Clyde Common, Olympic Provisions, Richmond Bar), was announced in August 2012. The ensuing year and a half brought snarls with the city and a string of delayed opening dates. On Valentine’s Day, this narrow tube of a bar finally threw open its beaded curtains. Inside, paint-chipped walls are hung with tiny sepia triptychs of alluring women in various states of undress—the most obvious nod to the 1937 French gangster film that is Pepe’s namesake. On a first visit, sans reservation, we ended up at a narrow bar in the back. It was like being in the rear of an airplane, lit by the red glow of the exit sign and in the single-minded path of everyone headed to the lavatory. We looked longingly at the cushy booth where a gray fox and much younger woman shared a tray of raw oysters on ice ($36 for a dozen). That’s a more comfortable perch for sipping one of the cocktails from big-shot bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler. Shying away from the cinnamon bitters and quinine syrups he uses upstairs at Clyde Common, Morgenthaler’s goal here is to revive long-maligned drinks. There’s a $13 Long Island iced tea, an impeccably well-mixed amaretto sour ($14) and an espresso martini ($11) dressed up with a zingy dash of lemon oil. The Grasshopper ($11) is like an alcoholic Junior Mint, a boozy milkshake of creme de menthe and creme de cacao, ice cream, Fernet and sea salt, served on a silver tray with an old-school striped paper straw that slowly disintegrated. Be careful about ordering off-menu—my co-worker paid $16 for a Plymouth gin and tonic. As we shrugged off our coats to the jazzy riffs of Benny Carter and Art Farmer, the waitress turned sweetly to us. “Are you two from here or visiting?” she asked. We swapped glances, wondering if we looked like Ace Hotel guests or Clackamaniacs out on the town.
 
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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