A little glimpse at some of the offerings at Pépé Le Moko Portland… which finally opened on Valentine’s Day, so at the time of this visit was just 1 week old.
S and I got there around 4:30 or so on Friday (after our lunch at Wildwood I just covered). It is a small, little unassuming front, with only the door and curtained window and simple window sign to hint at its location. When you first glance in, you see a tiny little counter where oysters on ice glistened, and where sandwich and chip snacks are put together. When you open the door, you are greeted by a little podium, where the hostess inquires about your party size.
We were told the table would not be ready for another 5-10 minutes. Since there really is no room to stand and wait inside for more than 2 people, and it is pretty tight quarters between the hostess and the sandwich man, we opted for a 2 block walkaround, and gave her my phone number for her to text us when our table would be ready.
As we walked away, I got my first text from Pépé Le Moko letting me know they had my correct number and they would text me again when they were ready for us. It also provided a neat link to a No Wait app which shows you where you are in line. I like their thoughtfulness already.
Ok, so even though we were full from lunch, despite trying to burn some calories by walking from NW 21st to Nordstrom for some shoe shopping and then back here, my eyes are always hungry. So maybe we went and peered at the menus at Lardo and Grassa and walked back, and exactly 10 minutes from when we started our walk, I got the text telling me it was time. If it had been a little longer I might have been tempted by Dirty Fries. As we walked by the Clyde Common bar, we saw it was already bustling with Friday happy hour patrons.
The menu at Pépé Le Moko is small, giving the impression that it is carefully curated, though they do have a full bar so can make your requests as well. The curators, if you didn’t know, are the well known Nate Tilden of Olympic Provisions/Clyde Common/Richmond Bar and Jeffrey Morgenthaler of Clyde Common. The Pépé Le Moko Food Menu include some small bar snacks, oysters, and Bocadillos, which are little sandwiches- I did not order any this visit, but they looked to be about 4 inches long.
The feel once you come down the stairs is not surprisingly subterranean given its basement/bunker location. It is dark, mysterious, moody- even a bit dirty and foreign in a sexy way, reminiscent of Casablanca.
Apparently the name Pépé Le Moko is inspired by a movie in that time period (1937)- Pépé Le Moko is the name of a gangster from Paris who hides out in Casbah, Algeria. And that’s all I know about the movie from IMBD and Wikipedia. So the fact the atmosphere evoked that feeling even before I was able to google Pépé Le Moko should be considered a success.
The decorations are sparse, and the seating small- the whole place probably only can fit only 40-50 max, with very dim lighting. I did notice the light fixture on the wall in our lil booth had an outlet… Very convenient if my phone needed a charge and I had my charger.
We started with the cocktails Hotel Nacional Special with aged rum, lime, apricot brandy, pineapple gomme and bitters. I went with the Amaretto Sour with classic amaretto, overproof bourbon, lemon and egg white. These were both surprisingly delicate, and we found ourselves sipping them gently to savor them.
We went for another round. I ordered the Grasshopper, knowing this was my dessert before it was time to go home. Crafted from Cremes de menthe et cacao, vanilla ice cream, Fernet Branca and sea salt. This made me feeling pretty fancy and pampered, as happy as a kid getting a sundae, when it was served up literally on a silver platter with a charming paper straw.
The biggest hit though was the Espresso Martini, described simply as Stumptown Coffee extract, Kahlua, overproof vodka and lemon oil. Sounds straightforward and familiar, like any other espresso martini you encountered in your past. But Damn. It is the best Expresso Martini Ever. S even ordered a second one. Do Not Miss This. It’s seriously jaw dropping how this is leagues above any other espresso martini in history.
I regretfully had to raincheck on trying any of the food here and more cocktails, but I hope to visit again soon and see how it is shaping up. They are open everyday 4pm-2am.
My first looks and impression were very positive though. The cocktails are high quality, so I didn’t blink at the price- they seem par for the course with what I would expect at an urban bar. It seems a perfect way to start or end a night, but I am unsure whether you should plan a meal or a group more than 4 here, because it just seems so small. Well, more to come!