Situated off the beaten path of Southeast Portland’s trendy bar scene, Rum Club is just as it should be – self-assured and well-loved by those who know it.
I’ve seen this spot described by many as a “dad bar,” or “Hemingway-esque,” but to me, it’s something else. With breezes from Cuba, New Mexico, Key West, and Asia, they understand the idea of fusion and take it to an earth moving level.
Hailing from southern Florida, I have a high expectation for rum soaked cocktails and anything that invokes the name of Ernest Hemingway. Rum Club makes me homesick in the best way possible. In the romantic, low-lit space glowing with red Venetian candlelight and foiled 1950’s era wallpaper, we sampled an assortment of winter specials and menu items. The Rum Club Daiquiri is worthy of the trip itself. An elixir of aged rum, fresh lime, Angostura bitters, Maraschino, and Absinthe – I felt transported from a chilly Portland evening back to a coastal bar on the Gulf of Mexico. Sitting down with chef Kyle Ritchie, I learned the history of their popular cocktail, The Old Quartermaster, aptly named for a local regular who served as a Quartermaster in the Coast Guard. With it’s unique blend of black rum, smoky scotch, and orange oil, it’s the perfect sipping cocktail for those looking for a rounded drink that strays away from the sweet side. It’s a seasonal drink that you don’t want to miss.
What food pairs well with the drinks and atmosphere of a not-quite-Mad-Men-not-so-tiki-bar just outside of downtown? The answer: anything coming out of the kitchen. Going back to the Rum Club’s execution of fusion, they have a perfect touch of Portland in every bite. While feeding a farm-to-table focused local culture with hearty cuts of beef and pork, they still maintain an identity of coastal and New Mexican flavors that are true to their heart.
The Rum Club’s twist on the classic shrimp cocktail, features massive shrimp glazed with a chili and lime reduction, and explores a dip into Cuban and Southwestern flavors. For a closer look into chef Ritchie’s roots in Albuquerque, try their Peccadillo Sliders. Topped with delicious mountains of cilantro, these sloppy Joe style sandwiches are a great detour from imbibing. The pièce de résistance? The seasonal Pepper Pot Stew. This dish is based off of a Cuban recipe that is traditionally served on Christmas morning, featuring slow cooked hog jowl and beef shoulder melded with a yucca reduction reminiscent of molasses and thyme. Served over beans and rice, this bold and aggressively seasoned dish is one that will have you craving it days after your night out.
It’s a rare treat to visit a bar with a nurtured and crafted cocktail menu that has matching skill in the kitchen. But like some Portland unicorn, Rum Club has sorted the balance and comes away without pretense. They know who they are and don’t try to be who they aren’t. That kind of confidence is an attraction all its own.