“Bottle service” in the cocktails to-go context.
“Bottle service” in the cocktails to-go context. Janey Wong

On a routine afternoon visit to pick up a cocktail and some food to back it up, I found myself being led through an impromptu mezcal tasting at República by owner and mezcal master Angel Medina. If you’re a mezcal lover or just love spirits in general, do yourself the solid of booking this experience. Medina is a veritable fount of knowledge and has a holistic lens of his obsession, with an ability to draw lines between the sociopolitical history, people, and land of Mexico. He is a mouthpiece for how this one spirit is distilled from many unseen stories, and Portland is quite honestly lucky to have him. His rule of thumb for mezcal? The more information you find on the bottle, the better the product is going to be.

Medina, along with his two other co-owners, chef Lauro Romero (also executive chef at King Tide Fish & Shell) and pastry chef Olivia Bartruff, sought to provide a creative space for talent to honor the regional drink and foods from all over la república de México.

“We talked about doing Mexican food right,” explains Medina. Not necessarily upscale, but more focusing on the history of every dish and presenting it the way we learned it as kids.”

Other members of the collective include Janet Vargas (AKA Doña Chapis) who hand presses tortillas out of organic stone-ground yellow, blue, and green corn, and chef de cuisine Roberto Almaraz who specializes in menudo and pozole.

República made its debut in the Pearl District’s Ecotrust building a mere five months ago, making its thoroughly fleshed out bar program all the more impressive.

“Before cocktails to-go [was approved], we didn’t really have a bar program because we didn’t get that chance to get it up and running,” says Bartruff.

The restaurant’s bar setup is compact; a buildout is in the works, but it currently consists of a mobile bar cart and a single shelf of rare and limited-batch spirits behind. “Curated” is a catchword that is thrown around a bit too arbitrarily in this day and age, but that’s truly what Medina and head bartender Adriana Alvarez have done.

Prior to the pandemic, Alvarez visited Jalisco, one of Mexico’s western states. During the trip, she found inspiration while observing exciting and advanced things in the Mexican bar scene that she’d never seen in America. Alvarez also collabs with República’s pastry team, at times incorporating ingredients that they’ve made. She’s excited to work with an expanded bar setup which will give her the space to flex her skills and creativity even more.

“I’m waiting for all the fruits and the warmer season to hit so I can use more local ingredients,” she gushes. She also teased an aperol cocktail that’s up her sleeve, making her own infusions, and her wish to do an egg white cocktail.

Out of eight current menu selections, five cocktails feature agave-based spirits—three mezcal and two tequila. I ordered before getting the lowdown from Medina, and in hindsight felt a little foolish that I had gone for the gin cocktail, “Song of Myself.” The gin is citrus and spice-forward by Walter Collective, and is joined by chamomile syrup, grapefruit & lime oleo saccharum, and lime juice. It’s finished with one of the most elegant garnishes I’ve ever seen grace a cocktail: grapefruit “caviar” that delicately sits atop thinly sliced tomatillo like dewdrops on a lily pad.

The margarita, typically front and center at most Mexican establishments, is an afterthought thrown in with an eye roll. Order it if you must, I guess. It appears on the menu as “What Happened in 1519.” Medina breaks down his feelings on the drink: “For me, it’s a painful thing… I know I’ll never be able to get rid of it so instead I put it in as a way to guilt [people] into never buying shit like that. You know, it references back to Cortez arriving.”

Other cocktails on the menu, including the Walt Whitman-inspired “Song of Myself,” have been bestowed with more romantic monikers that speak to his poetic sensibilities.

República, 721 NW 9th #175, (541) 900-5836, republicapdx.com