Portland Hunt and Alpine co-owner/bartender Andrew Volk is in the other Portland this week for PDX Cocktail Week. He's leading a similar seminar as the one that sold out when he brought it to Tales of the Cocktail this summer: Introducing craft cocktail bars to small markets.
Back in Portland, Maine, his successful, one-year-old, craft cocktail bar in a small market is going through some changes. Chef Ricky Penatzer transferred last month to Daniel Boulud's DB Bistro in New York City. His replacement stepped in this month: Geoff Wiech, most recently the dinner chef at Hot Suppa. A note from Wiech on his background:
It started out fairly unremarkably, prepping at a catering company then a neighborhood pub. I have since had the chance to work with some of the region's best. Jeff Fournier of 51 Lincoln, Jasper White of legendary Boston status, Bob Sargent at Flora, Ana Sortun of Oleana, and Masahere in Portland. Each of these chefs has had a profound impact on my development. I look to cook thoughtful and satisfying food. It is an exciting opportunity to augment the Volks' award winning cocktail menu. The potential is obvious and I feel very lucky to be joining them at this very exciting time.
Wiech, whose wifeScale cocktails at the bar on Friday nights, hasn't made any major changes to the food menu yet, but will be putting his twist on it soon. Don't worry, the peck of pickled goods should remain. One major addition to look out for: A dessert option or two for satisfying that sweet tooth.
The leather-bound cocktail menu, though, has been shaken up. While the list of drinks was formerly broken down by primary type of spirit, the groupings now resemble some of the modern sections found on tapas menus, such as "Refreshing," "Adventurous," and "Classics." From four-plus pages of cocktail ideas, there are now two and a half. Beyond those, available spirits are listed individually. Volk enlightened Eater as to the impetus behind the change.
Our paring down of the menu accomplished several of our goals and I think represents a maturing of Portland drinkers in general and guests at Hunt + Alpine in particular. After being open for a year, I felt that our menu had more drink options than were necessary to provide our guests with the best experience at Hunt + Alpine.
I imagine that the answer is a pretty boring one that speaks to the mundane internal workings of bars and restaurants, but here's our reasoning. We've watched as our guests make their drink decisions in multiple different ways. Some know exactly what they want. Others use the menu as a cue to order their favorite drink or style of drink, leaving the specifics up to our staff. And still others felt the need to examine each one before making a decision. When we had nearly 40 drinks on the menu, that process could take several minutes, meaning that they wouldn't have a drink in their hand within the first 5 minutes of them sitting down. Now we're at 18 and that decision time for those particular guests is cut in half.
Additionally, I feel that dividing the menu into our current headings of "Refreshing," "Adventurous," "Classics," and "Bubbly" is much more true to the drinks and makes decision-making easier. On our previous menu the drinks under each heading ("Gin" for example) were very diverse and don't truly help the guest in making their decision based on how many of us think (I don't think "I want any drink with rum in it," I more often think, "I want something refreshing"). With our new menus they can have a selection of drinks and hone in to their ideal choice.
Finally, I found it professionally satisfying to pare down the menu. It's easy to make a very large menu with lots of options. It's tough to pick just a few drinks to represent us.
Of course, a new menu still means customers will be spending five minutes to reacquaint themselves, but point taken.
75 Market St, Portland, (207) 747-4754, website. Open Monday - Thursday 3 p.m. - 1 a.m., Friday - Sunday 1 p.m. - 1 a.m.