It’s just like any other classic private member’s club, really. A small exterior sign signals an otherwise bypassed door. Proceed down a hall, up a humble flight of stairs, through large wooden doors and a security check desk, and you’re welcomed, by name, into the dimly lit Library. The service staff, in ties and vests, are waiting to escort you to your table.
Supple, comfortable leather chairs and couches in enclaves invite lengthy contemplation or private conversation, while green-glassed library lamps and crystalline chandeliers illuminate diners and the embossed tomes they are pouring through. A series of historic portraits by modern-day local artists line the walls, and a coloured glass skylight pierces a cavernous ceiling. Dark wood panelling beckons you to cocoon within and intricately woven carpets cushion noise and footsteps. The rear corner walls are decked with tall ladders sliding along overheight shelves, orderly, stacked and lined with a catalogued, exhaustive collection of booze.
Okay, so perhaps it’s not exactly like any other club.
Downtown Portland’s Multnomah Whiskey Library is one of the leading bars in the world, with an unrivalled selection of spirits—whiskies and otherwise—from around the globe. At this year’s edition of Tales of the Cocktail, an annual cocktail festival held in New Orleans, it was named a top 10 finalist for Best World Drinks Selection, quite the feat considering the establishment just celebrated its first birthday.
The old school private member’s club feel is not just for effect. Though the Library is open to the community of Portland, it is foremost a private club, with a limited number of memberships available (plus a sizable waiting list). Belonging certainly has its benefits. Members have the opportunity to make reservations, access member-only events and gain priority access to public events, receive a set of the Library’s custom tasting glassware, and have the ability to rent a spirit locker. Once invited in, table reservations come with complete accommodation. A query about your preferences for spirit and seating, the number of guests in your party, and the occasion will assist your dedicated server in determining your likes and dislikes. Membership cards are personalized with your name laser etched into cherry wood, making them quite possibly the coolest library card in the world. Non-members are able to access the Library via walk-ins only, though there are Hall Passes available for out of town guests visiting the city.
Like other repositories, education is key at the Library; all members of staff are continually in training, and they are well versed in the cocktails, spirits, wines, and beer available. Tableside cocktail service is a specialty and art in itself. Order a classic or imaginative craft cocktail and your server will wheel a wooden cart over to shake, stir, and strain before your very eyes.
The succinct small plates food program is designed to match the spirit-centric atmosphere and the locavore nature of the city. Dishes change often, local producers are listed on the menu, and items straddle both virtue (local heirloom tomato and housemade ricotta salad) and vice (Wagyu steak frites, espellette frites, horseradish aioli). Matching the hush-hush nature of a library, no bell is rung for plate service. When your order is up, a sole green bulb lights up on the wall, signaling your server to a wood panelled secret pass to collect the meal.
Though a membership club it is, stuffy club it is not. Well-groomed patrons sit unassuming in power suits, tattoos are far more common than tasseled loafers. No detail is overlooked, no pretension detected, just a place for education, camaraderie, and like-minded souls to share a dram.