First Look: Cocktails at Barwares in Portland, OR

[Photographs: AJ Simpson]

After the successful launch of her Portland Asian-inspired restaurant, Smallwares chef/owner Johanna Ware set her sights on opening Barwares, a casual drinking spot next door. She turned to microlending site Kickstarter to gather funding, and quickly reached (and surpassed) her goal of raising $10,000. The gifts for pledging ranged from a complimentary beverage, an 8-piece oyster plate and round of drinks for your party of four, or a chefs 3-course tasting menu with beverage pairings, and although the backers do not receive their gifts until the project is officially funded on May 23, many have already become regulars, anxious and excited to see their investment succeed.

Chef Ware spent seven years in New York City cooking at Public, Del Posto, and Momofuku before returning to Portland to work at Nostrana for a year and a half while planning to open her own restaurant. She sought out Conrad Vollmer, formerly of Café Nell, to manage the bar program, Taylor Gehrts, who previously worked at Nostrana, as lead bartender, and Sarah MacKechnie, formerly of Momofuku, to manage the front of the house.

The bar is an eclectic mix of Asian kitsch—complete with a carved wooden Fu Man Chu cat, antique sake sets, and vintage cocktail shakers—contrasted with the more traditional industrial-chic look of hanging Edison bulbs and exposed air ducts. Wares confessed that she's a lover of knick-knacks and wanted a dedicated area to enshrine her tchotchkes—as an added bonus, it helps to make the place feel both comforting and unpretentious. A vintage patterned couch sits in front of the centrally located fireplace, where a projector screen hangs above the mantle and plays cheesy 80s movies, silent films, and Saved by the Bell reruns.

The restaurant team collaborated to create their nameless cocktail menu, which simply lists the drinks as The Whiskey, The Scotch, The Gin, etc., along with each cocktail's ingredients. Brainstorming sessions to create captivating cocktail names for a regularly rotating menu were just too time consuming. "I could call my salad The Peashoot in the Forest," said Ware, "But at the end of the night, all that really matters is whether it tastes good."

The kitchen works closely with the bar to craft many of their cocktail ingredients in house, including black cardamom infused rum, a muscovado-demerara simple syrup, and a spicy Thai chili tincture. We look forward to many more innovative drinks as they continue to push the boundaries and blur the line between kitchen and bar.

Want to see what's shaking at Barwares? Head to Northeast Portland, or check out a few of the cocktails in the slideshow above.


4605 NE Fremont Street (map) 971-229-0995;

About the Author: Greg Harned lives in Portland, OR, where he enjoys cocktails, drinking and general mischief-making in candlelit speakeasies, swanky cocktail lounges and dingy dive bars. He manages Portland Craft Cocktails where he writes about his various exploits and also dabbles in the spirits trade. You can follow him on Twitter @craftcocktails.