Portland is pretty good at exporting cocktail trends to the rest of the country (tinctures, barrel-aging, locavore, fern bar). And with the departure last fall of two of top bartenders, Brandon Wise and Adam Robinson, it seemed like we were getting distressingly good at exporting talent, too. But the road out of Portland leads in as well. In the past few months, not only has noted spirits guru Jim Meehan relocated to the Rose City, but another big talent has pulled up stakes and now calls Portland home.
Mike Treffehn, former bar manager at The Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co., perhaps Philadelphia's best bar, is now shaking things up at our very own Rum Club. "I really love it," he says. "I've wanted to work there for about three years. They're able to manage some of the best cocktails in town while having a low-key atmosphere. It's a comfy, lovely place to spend time."
He and his wife, a Portland native, have visited the Rose City many times over the years on trips to see her parents, and they finally made the residential leap December 15. "We always knew we would end up here. The timing just kind of worked out."
If you're not familiar with Franklin Mortgage, it's consistently ranked among the top bars in America by magazines like GQ, Esquire, and Food & Wine. It opened in June 2009 as the first consulting project by Proprietors LLC, the cocktail consulting group formed by Alex Day and David Kaplan, the pros behind Death & Company in New York. "We were at the beginning of the craft cocktail culture in Philly, which is still growing," says Treffehn, "but I think we had a big part to do with it. We've certainly been recognized both locally and nationally. We've been semi-finalists for the James Beard Outstanding Bar Program Award for all four years it's been offered."
Treffehn was one of the first people hired after the opening staff. "I started as a bar back and moved my way up. I put a lot of myself into it. For a bartender, five years is a lot of time to spend in one place."
By the end of his tenure there, he had instituted an education program built on small classes devoted to cocktails and spirits, from gin to tiki. "Part of my background is teaching. I was teacher at Temple University. And that kind of format — the very small, very thorough class — was one of my favorite parts of the job."
He says he's definitely open to continuing in a role as cocktail educator here in Portland, and running another bar — but not yet. "I've kicked around a couple ideas, but at this point I'm just trying to get settled into the Portland scene. I didn't want to try to take over a program right away. The culture here is really different. My goal is to be here for a long time and I want to do it right."
If you want to stop by Rum Club and say hi, Treffehn is usually behind the bar on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.