At the front of Bar King, the incoming restaurant from national industry vets Jamie and Shaun King, a rhombus-shaped wooden frame displays a handful of kimono prints, seemingly mismatched and placed together like a quilt. Upon first glance, this art piece looks like just that — a random piece of art, perhaps a gentle nod to the Japanese influences throughout the Bar King menu. The story behind the piece is thoroughly Portland: The restaurant’s team used an old Stark’s Vacuum sign as a frame for fabrics from Portland lifestyle brand Kiriko Made, which uses Japanese kasuri fabrics for clothing and accessories. “We wanted to show that this is Portland,” chef Shaun King says.
Although neither of the Kings are actually from Portland, the business does feel at home in the city. The bar and restaurant is dark and moody and just a touch rustic, like many of Portland’s standbys. The menu shows off Portland’s beloved high-low style, pairing onion rings with smoked trout roe and listing a fried chocolate bar on its dessert menu. And chef King’s team incorporates many of the city’s beloved culinary traditions, including slow-smoking and wood-fired hearth cooking.
On a Friday afternoon, chef King is buzzing around his restaurant, showing off his new toys. The restaurant’s kitchen is home to a looming J&R smoker, currently smoking wagyu bones for a late-night happy hour dish he’s trying out: a burger-meets-French dip, with wagyu bone jus on the side and a mess of taleggio and pickled daikon on top. The smoker will work on a number of dishes on the menu, including a large short rib served ssam-style, with lettuce for wrapping; gently smoked prawns for a version of a shrimp cocktail; and a smoked cabbage with bagna cauda and egg yolk. Next to the smoker, a hearth is where the restaurant’s pork ribs finish, fresh out of the smoker, or where the squid gets its final blackening before it’s served with Kewpie and Japanese togarashi. On the edge of the kitchen, near the pass, a rolling Boos Block is locked and on-call for tableside carving of dry-aged duck.
When the Kings talk about their business, it’s generally with an insistence that the space is meant to be casual — The interiors, in general, echo this sentiment. Located in the former Trifecta Tavern space, Bar King swapped the restaurant’s cushy red booths in favor of subtler banquettes, playing with the restaurant’s dark green, brown, grey, and black color palette. King says he wants to mount a television behind the marble bar, to occasionally air Blazers’ games. The floors remain unfinished, reminiscent of a late-1800s tavern. And opposite the Stark vacuum piece, the shadows of potted plants are the only real wall art, save a worn, mounted mirror.
Still, those touches of glitz linger in the lofty dining room. The marble bar, for one, remains from its original days in Trifecta, and the backbar is now a dark and shadowy long tile, which provides some additional elegance. Similarly, the menu doesn’t shy away from the high end, from the restaurant’s hamachi sashimi in a pool of bacon ponzu and sorrel to a black sesame pavlova with kiwi-olive-oil sorbet.
Overall, Bar King seems to capture a variety of aesthetics with small, separate spaces: A casual, wood-heavy front room bathed in light from a large garage window, a line of banquettes opposite the somewhat ritzy bar, and a few booth-like nooks next to the kitchen, leading into a somewhat unfinished back room ideal for larger groups. “That’s the ultimate feeling for us, that intimacy,” the chef says. “It’s a big space, but we want the feel of different rooms.” Similarly, Bar King seems to fit a number of occasions: It can be a spot for fried fish and onion rings, or the place for oysters and regal platters of fancy meats, meant to be shared. Readers can look inside the restaurant below:
Bar King opens tonight, March 9, at 726 SE 6th Avenue.