The Herbivore’s (Ramen) Dilemma
One Woman’s Search for the Best Vegan Ramen in Portland
Writing about Pink Rabbit, the new Pearl District bar (and the city’s second—to my knowledge—cocktail outfit named for lyrics by indie dad-rock band the National) feels more like art criticism than food writing.
It’s not just the neon “Employees Must Wash Hands” signage—the whole place is designed within an inch of its flashy, gorgeous life to resemble a bar so perfectly unlikely that it seems custom-built to further the plot in some postmodern novel.
It’s not just that the cocktails are all named for song lyrics, either. It’s that each cocktail is given a full spread in a multipage heavy cardstock menu, with one side dedicated to a full-page typed treatment of the cocktail’s name, and the other to a self-indulgent, semi-evocative description of the drink.
When people say, “Kill your darlings,” this is what they mean: Like the overbearing passages my editor routinely cuts from my articles, this “menu” is a litany of inscrutable in-jokes no one is actually in on—like framing the Tea Kettle Love (a pisco sour in a blend of green and black teas) as a “hippie love story.” I love them whole-heartedly and find them utterly useless.
Luckily, three tidily designed cards tucked into the gorgeous endpapers of this artifact comprise the actual menu, listing the ingredients and prices of the cocktails (all $13), as well as food, wine, and a happy hour menu.
The cocktail menu reveals weirdo ingredients ranging from CBD pearls to palo santo charcoal to sour strawberry lambic beer to Lambrusco—a sparkling red wine that rarely makes wine lists, much less cocktail menus.
The ongoing resurgence of the labor-intensive cream-and-egg-white gin fizz can be witnessed here in an appropriately pink-hued Rosy Minded Fuzz (it’s rose- and grapefruit-infused), and that strawberry beer provides a sugary base for a love-it-or-hate-it sweet/savory Quiet Company—a fruity mezcal and tonic with herbal garnish.
The outliers are somehow the subtlest and tastiest on the list, though: The Suckers Luck is a dark and inviting low-alcohol sherry drink, and Lambrusco provides some prickly structure and weight to a gingery scotch penicillin.
Rest assured: If you’re dubious of novelty, the happy hour menu of classic and slightly off-classic cocktails for $9 (including an unbeatable fino sherry old fashioned) prove this is not some avant-garde niche bar.
The wine list walks a similar line between oddball and old favorite, with sections for bubbles, white, and red, but also pink and orange. It’s heavy on somewhat obscure European wines, from Slovenian zaria to chilled red blaufrankisch, and the only American glass pour is an orange Gewürztraminer from Washington’s Savage Grace vineyards. Mostly in the $10-12 range, this slick cocktail spot might sneakily become one of the better wine bars in the Pearl District.
Yet what keeps me coming back to Pink Rabbit isn’t necessarily the drinks—it’s the food. Specifically, the bar snacks: taro tots and beef tendon chips—a clear improvement on the pork rind, an airy fried cracklin that melts either in your mouth or in the nachos, under a pile of pork curry and spicy cheese sauce.
An oxtail burger that falls to pieces mid-bite is a glorious mess, as is a fried chicken sandwich under a slow-burn pickled-pepper slaw. Each is served with an almost insultingly small handful of those addictive taro tots, though, so you might want to double down on the snacks.
Meanwhile, the “fungi fritters” cost as much as either sandwich—$14 for the octopus fritters—and amount to three little doughballs that taste mostly of the 10 cents worth of bonito flakes on top. They’re also on the happy hour menu and not even discounted, which makes me think they actually are a joke on the customer. (The whole happy hour menu barely offers enough discounts to cover parking.)
There is something undeniably charming about the mix of earnestness and slickness at Pink Rabbit. The service is unrushed in the extreme, but it seems to be part and parcel with the chatty, chummy vibe. The place should choke on its own thick design or flounder in its fussy fandom, but somehow it does neither, instead offering something weirdly subtle for being best described as a National-themed Pearl District cocktail bar and Asian-fusion restaurant. If this kind of pleasant chaos is what happens when you don’t kill your darlings, we could all stand to ignore our inner editors now and then.