Craft cocktails don’t always have to be password protected and sipped in the dark. Instead, sometimes great drinks are found in a century-old house that has no door. There aren’t any pre-Prohibition antics at Chris and John Bicos' (Gus’s BBQ) elegantly rustic bar, which is settling nicely into the old Craftsman bungalow on Lake Avenue. The indoor-outdoor space is bright and breezy, attracting a relaxed neighborhood crowd in search of a solid swill (not the easiest thing to get your hands on in the 626). And they’ve come to the right place. Portland booze wunderkind Evan Zimmerman brings his A-game to a stellar selection of fresh, easy-sipping cocktails: the ambitious Pina Verde ($11) with tequila, mezcal, pineapple, lime juice, cilantro, mint, cayenne and absinthe, or the Lumberjack’s Breakfast ($10.50) that’s probably more suited for dessert, a frothy blend of scotch, applejack, cardamom, maple syrup and egg white. Grab some of chef Kyu Yi’s elevated comfort food—Korean fried chicken wings, perhaps—and plant yourself beneath the big leafy tree in the courtyard amongst friends. You’ll be calling this place home in no time.
Good for: Magnolia House takes us back to a simpler time before secret handshakes and hidden signage. There’s plenty of light and fresh air, with room to wiggle around (and not spill your fabulous drink on a stranger). Plus, you’ll never have to raise your voice to place an order here. An abundance of snug sofas inside with plenty of standing space outside make a good case for a laid-back evening of cocktails and bites in the comfort of home.
The scene: Gone are the suits, mustaches and irreverent attitudes. Here, there are imbibers of all ages, and the easygoing crowd will take you in no matter what. Just don’t dilly-dally at the four-seater bar, or you’ll definitely get a stink eye or two.
The playlist: Journey came on a few times over the course of our visit, but it’s really not about the tunes at this sort of place. Conversation is king, so step out of your comfort zone and make some new friends.
Bartender says: Despite the oft-frenzied atmosphere on most nights of the week, the bartenders always find a moment to chat with patrons (and maybe even sample a few spirits). These are bonafide mixologists more interested in giving someone a lesson in South America’s prized pisco than pinching pennies.
Drink this: Evan Zimmerman’s talents shine in drinks like the Copper Heart ($11), an invigorating blend of lemon juice, cinnamon, grapefruit liqueur and pisco, which our bartender described as "grapa without that weird aftertaste." The result is funky, sweet and utterly refreshing. Another star on the menu for bourbon lovers is the Mendocino Sour ($11), made with 6-year-old bourbon, sherry, lemon juice and tangy rooibos tea, garnished with a lavender twig. It’s a simple refresher that perfectly balances citrus and floral. Off-menu creations "of the moment" go for $7 on weekdays during Neighborhood Hour from 4-6:30pm; one week, it was five different renditions of the daiquiri. You’ll also find house reds and whites, as well as draft beers that range from an Intermountain Wheat to a Swamis IPA, all for $5.
|Venue name:||Magnolia House||Contact:|
492 S Lake Ave
|Opening hours:||Mon-Wed 4pm-midnight; Thu-Sat 4pm-2am; Sun 2-10pm|
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Average User Rating
4 / 5
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This is a great local hangout in an area that was sorely in need of a non-chain bar. The setting is perfect: part cozy interior lounge, part narrow outdoor courtyard. The drinks are really well made, not too sweet, not too light. I happen to really enjoy the Mendocino Sour, which has a really satisfying balance of bourbon and sherry with lavender and tea. The food can be a little hit or miss (though it sounds delicious, the crab mac n cheese is weirdly tacky and pasty). That said, I really love the Belgian fries as well as the beer queso and chips.