Jim Meehan is one of the country's top bartenders. A man who has been at the forefront of the craft cocktail movement, honing his craft at New York bars including Gramercy Tavern, and Pegu Club, before launching PDT and earning the the James Beard Foundation's first Outstanding Bar Program Award in 2012.
He's also a writer, editor (he's edited eight editions of Food & Wine Magazine's annual cocktail book), cocktail consultant, app developer, product designer (including a bar cart and cocktail tool kit), and the drinks editor for Tasting Table. And as of last August, he's also a Portland resident. That's right, one of the country's very best bartenders lives right here in the Rose City.
Eater National broke the news back in July. But you might have forgotten because he hasn't been working behind any bars here in town. He moved west because he fell in love with the city and felt like it was time to leave New York. "I watched Audrey (Saunders, of Pegu Club) leave a few years ago. It's like 'Lead, follow or get out of the way.' It was was a good moment in New York to get out of the way," he says. "In some ways, it's kind of nice to be a wallflower again. After being in the limelight for a long time, I don't mind reading about other people right now."
But on Tuesday Feb. 17, he'll finally be behind the stick in PDX, shaking things up at the Stray Dogs pop-up at Big Trouble bar in Old Town. He'll be joining Sean Hoard, a former PDT cohort and the former Teardrop bartender who has launched Commissary with Teardrop owner Daniel Shoemaker, to make three to four cocktails using Commissary syrups. (Naomi Pomeroy of Beast will be concocting a special "small-format" hot dog, which is potentially a boudin blanc with foie gras and a plum and pickled mustard seed relish.)
But other than that, Meehan has generally been too busy for bartending since moving to town in August. Fatherhood and incessant travel for his Mixography cocktail consulting work keeps him so busy, in fact, he's only barely begun to experience Portland's food and drink scene.
And his life is about to get a lot busier. He's finishing up work on a PDT cocktail app, set to be released any day now. And he just landed a book deal with Ten Speed Press. With Meehan's Manual, due out in Fall of 2016, he's aiming to provide a guide to the hospitality side of bartending, and he's going to pack it with advice from big names who have influenced his career. "I'm excited about the book," he says. "But I'm going to be hibernation another 10 months before anyone sees me again."
He's also hinted that he might be involved with a restaurant project in the near future, but says it's too early to even start speculating on details. "I'm going to pay my dues in Portand before I do something in Portland," he says. "It has to be the right opportunity and the right partners. When the time comes I'll open something special here."
Meanwhile, he's slowly eating and drinking his way through town. "I was away more than I was here between October and December," he says. "But friends have been coming in from out of town and I've been making the rounds." Highlights include Castagna, Higgins, Ox, Oven and Shaker, and Ava Gene's ("Joshua McFadden and I are old friends"). He's hit Teardrop, Pepe Le Moko, and Expatriate ("Edwin was there and he's one of my favorite bartenders from L.A."). He says the horseradish vodka at Kachka was "One of the most delicious things I've tasted all year," and the drinks at Mediterranean Exploration Company "were excellent." And, after getting the exclusive chance to watch the Ducks play in the national championship game at Multnomah Whiskey Library, he deems it his "favorite sports bar in Portland." Yes, MWL is Meehan's go-to sportsbar.
"I've been blessed to have the royal treatment at some of these places," he admits. "I'm having a great time."