For Portland bartender Beau Burtnick, a good bar is so much more than a cocktail menu. To prove it, his new bar — set to open this spring on Mississippi — won’t even have one. “I think that the drink has become the hero and I don’t think the drink should be the hero,” Burtnick says. “The vibe is going to dictate what kind of an experience you have.” To him, a good bar is about the environment, the intimacy, and the spontaneity; when people ask for a drink, he wants the ability to have fun.
Burtnick, who recently ran the bar at Bistro Agnes and its attached cocktail lounge Kask, will open New Jersey Old Money in the space previously inhabited by Sweet Nothing. Instead of providing a draft beer list or cocktail menu, Burtnick will offer a dealer’s choice cocktail program: Customers can tell the bartender some vague description of what they’re craving (a la Angel Face, Boston’s Drink, or Expatriate’s Diplomatic Pouch) or request a specific drink (like an Old Fashioned or a margarita), and Burtnick will accommodate. “Without a menu, there is a certain amount of conversation for someone who is after a cocktail,” he says. “I’m more than confident in my ability to guide, and want to do it with a little less than a map.”
He’ll also carry a collection of his favorite wines from over the year. “Wine has really become my passion in the last decade of working in bars,” he says, explaining that he’ll have a few wines available by the glass, and a number of bottles that imbibers can enjoy at the bar or take home. Beers offerings, on the other hand, will be slim, as the bartender pulled out the beer taps from the previous space — there will just be a small selection of beers by the bottle, and nothing too-shelf fancy.
Food will be fairly minimal, but fun — Burtnick tapped TJ Sheridan, who worked with him at Bistro Agnes and currently works at Castagna, to set up the food menu. Sheridan crafted a list of retro bar snacks, and since Burtnick will be serving the 20-person bar alone most nights (save for the occasional moonlighting by his wife Maddy Lewis), everything will be quick and easy, including muffaletta sandwiches, shrimp cocktails, tinned fish with bread and butter, and country ham and cheese.
The space itself will be small and intimate with retro vibes: Burtnick is renovating the 280 square-foot space, with the most dramatic change being a large, backlit stained glass frame behind the bar. Some of the verdant wallpaper will stay up from Sweet Nothing, but otherwise the place is set to pull design elements from the ‘70s and ‘80s, inspired by bars on the East Coast — where Burtnick is from — as well as gangster movies and television shows like The Deuce. “I love the idea of walking into a place that’s little, that’s cozy and intimate,” he says. “It’s obviously a cocktail bar, but it’s like walking into an apartment with a well-stocked cocktail cart and knowing that that guy can make you a drink.”
New Jersey Old Money is set to open in early spring at 4330 N Mississippi Avenue, with starting hours set to 4 p.m. to midnight five days a week.