Meg Nanna

In the last 10 years, my go-to recommendation has been to go to any bar run by Tommy Klus for a cocktail called a Scotch Lodge. It’s my favorite drink, and to my mind, one of the all-time great cocktails, one that justifies every ingredient—peaty whisky, amaro, cherry liqueur, sweet vermouth, and bitters.

The Scotch Lodge is a twist on a different cocktail, one called the Black Lodge. (“This was in my Twin Peaks phase,” Klus says.) He turned to scotch when there was a run on the Black Lodge’s main ingredient, Michter’s rye whiskey.

After working at bars including Teardrop Lounge, Kask, Multnomah Whiskey Library, and his own bar at La Moule, Klus has now opened a new spot, and even called it Scotch Lodge. Its shelves are often four bottles deep, holding not only rare or idiosyncratic editions of scotch, but also American, Japanese, and Irish whiskeys—and even outliers like vintage Campari.

I meet with Klus to hear how a cocktail becomes a place. Despite the boast-worthy collection, Klus himself is soft-spoken, even apologizing for his depth of knowledge.

He says it started over a decade ago: “I’d done these internships in Scotland [at cult-favorite distilleries Springbank and Bruichladdich] and wanted to do something that would bridge the gap from distiller to bartender.” He wanted to make interesting, independent spirits more accessible—to “make cocktails on a global scale.” It was also around then that he started personally stockpiling bottles for a future bar.

Klus says he’s not worried about depleting his collection; he has connections and contacts to replace many of the bottles: “Keeping rare bottles on the shelf was my full-time job at the [Multnomah Whiskey] Library.” He also says he knows “there will be an expectation that we’ll always have something new,” and he’s looking forward to continuing to find rare products.

Scotch Lodge puts the emphasis on providing education and maximizing experience at the lowest possible cost, with one-ounce tastes priced approachably (relatively speaking—we’re still talking about treat-yourself rare products here). Even as we’re talking, Klus begins spitballing wild ideas for how to make high-end whiskey more accessible, while also reinvesting profits in his staff’s wellness and education.

Klus’ calmly rabid passion for novelty in both spirits and cocktails means that the bartenders—all of whom have run key bars in Portland or elsewhere—are encouraged to chase their own weird ideas. One of those bartenders, ex-Rum Clubber Matt Kesteloot, describes his cocktail Nobody’s Poet in no less than epic terms: “That was my white whale for a long time: a stirred bourbon piña colada.” Klus knew from the days of crafting the bar’s namesake cocktail that the right whiskey was out there, and he encouraged Kesteloot to try until he found it. (As Klus says, “He just needed Eagle Rare.”)

Even behind glasses and often under a hat, with a bit of a baby face despite a graying, scruffy beard, Klus can hide neither his fascination with the industry nor his pride in his staff. (Of another Scotch Lodge bartender, he says, “Jessica [Braasch] just won a spot in the Negroni Week competition. I mean, I had nothing to do with that, but it’s great.”)

Klus’ community pride also shows in the bar’s Whiskey Club, the benefits of which include an enamel pin with an Illuminati-inspired design and a gorgeous art print of the namesake cocktail and its recipe. Klus talks about it not like an exclusive society, but like a college extracurricular: “It’s just a little club. I want to be able to do things as a group,” like vertical tastings of Bruichladdich releases, or picking single barrels from distilleries. (Membership also grants “mystery pours” in the bar, early access to special bottles and event ticket sales, and other perks. It currently costs $50.)

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Just a few weeks in, people are already flocking to Scotch Lodge on Fridays and Saturdays, but even on those bustling nights, the service is warm and sure, while on weekdays and Sundays, its basement vibe is cozy, perfect for a snack at the bar (shout out to chef Tim Artale’s genius dill-pickle-spiced fries, served with sour cream for dipping), or a date-night dinner.

Most importantly, whether you’re a whiskey hunter interested in a marathon tasting of unique spirits, or a cocktail geek looking for a smoky, scotchy martini (with sea-bean infused vermouth, even!), or simply curious about any or all of it, there’s room for you at Scotch Lodge.