Review – Pepe le Moko (Portland, OR)

Visit Date: March 15, 2018

407 SW Tenth Ave

Portland, Or 97205

Pepe Le Moko

Getting in

Pepe le Moko is a pretty awesome little bar.  And I do mean little – it seats a maximum of thirty-four.  Thirty-four people who don’t mind getting in each other’s personal space.  The bar is hidden away around the corner and down a flight of stairs underneath the Ace Hotel in downtown Portland.  Before you head down the stairs (I recommend making a reservation), you enter through a door that sits next to an oyster shucking station and a hostess stand. If you have a reservation, or if there is space, they will take you down the flight of stairs to your table.

The bar is underground, in what reminds me of a storm bunker.  There is a lot of bare stone, the ceilings are low, and the lighting is dim.  You definitely feel cozy at your table.  There’s also an odd acoustical thing going on where you can hear people talking across the room as if they are sitting just behind your shoulder.

The Cocktails

Pepe le Moko’s cocktail list is a list of old and new cocktails along with some neat twists.  Jeffrey Morgenthaler, the gentleman who started Pepe is known in Portland as one of the best bartenders on the West coast.  Their Amaretto Sour, for instance, is supposed to be one of the best in the United States.  We were there for another one of their takes on a classic cocktail – the Grasshopper.

The Grasshopper

The Grasshopper

Now I admit, in most circles, the Grasshopper is a lightweight silly drink.  It is basically a minty milkshake.  Well, ok – I will give you that.  My response though is – who gives a crap?  They taste good.  The one from Pepe?  It tastes magnificent.  Seriously, they make an amazing cocktail out of frozen custard, creme de menthe, and Fernet Branca.  Yes, you should share it.  Drinking one on your own would be overkill.  Sharing one though?  Happy and heavenly. Plus, you’re not so full or trashed you can’t have another delicious cocktail.

Speaking of which…

While Anna and I indulged in a Grasshopper, our friend Caitlin decided to go with another old-school favorite – the Irish Coffee.  Before our trip, I had looked at a lot of menus and seen a *lot* of variations on this old standby.  That isn’t a bad thing – I love coffee and Irish Whiskey.  Hell, up until our visit to Pepe I thought I knew what a good one was.

I was wrong.

Caitlin was nice. Nicer than I would have been.  She let us taste her cocktail.  Oh, my.  Just for the record, Pepe le Moko has officially set the bar on what a good Irish Coffee should taste like.  To whit, Anna ordered one for herself the next round.  I can’t blame her.

For myself, I ordered one of my favorites – a Vieux Carre.  I figured this was a good bar to get one in.

I was right.

It made me happy.  I oohed and aahed over it.  So did Anna and Caitlin.  I felt vilified for all the research I had done beforehand.  Go me.

When all is said and done…

I liked this bar.  A lot.  We honestly intended to go back, but truth be told never found the time between our other adventures.

We should have gone back.  This bar is worth making time to visit.

Make a reservation.  Go.  Drink.  Listen to other people’s conversations.  Have fun.  Enjoy an amazing cocktail.  Thank me later.