When it comes to inventing elaborate, complex cocktails, bartender Estanislado Orona is one of the city’s top stars. And after years working in some of the city’s most lauded cocktail bars and competing in competitions like The World’s Most Imaginative Bartender, he’ll soon have a new playground: his own bar. Bar Midnight will land on SE Belmont where the Liquor Store once was, and will feature Orona’s style of high-end, botanical and floral cocktails amid dark, romantic vibes and vegetarian tapas.
Orona — an alum of places like Raven and Rose, Botanist, and Nomad.PDX’s Ash Bar — is joined by his friend Martin Kraenkel, who owns San Francisco dive Molotov’s. Kraenkel will work as general manager while Orona runs the bar, joined by Zachary Morena, another bartender from Raven and Rose.
Rather than the more commonly found menu of “classics with a twist,” Orona’s menus tend to be entirely original. Those who know his approach to the craft will find a familiar-looking array of elaborately constructed high and low-proof cocktails, many of which include wines and liqueurs like vermouth, sherry, amari, and port. For instance, one drink that appears on an early draft of the menu includes rosé, vermouth, and white port, flavored with rose petals, rhubarb, and cardamom. “My love of fortified and aromatized wines in cocktails is dual-fold,” he says. “I enjoy the complexity, aromatics, and balance that vermouth, sherry, and ports provide. But, also, I’m not a big fan of over-using syrups and sugars in cocktails. These types of wines provide the richness that I’m in search (of)... without the use of processed sugars.”
His drinks are often as stunning to look at as they are to drink, with floral garnishes and elaborate glassware. One of his signature ingredients is butterfly pea flower, which changes from sapphire to azure to violet with the addition of citric acid. It’s likely to make an appearance at Bar Midnight: an early draft menu had it mixed with gin, bianco vermouth, citrus, and sparkling wine for a beautiful blue-purple spritz. Despite the complexity of cocktails, with drinks involving four or more ingredients at times, Orona says he still prioritizes hospitality, with drinks pre-batched for ease of service.
Orona aims to have around a dozen or more cocktails ranging from $8 to $12, plus six draught beers and a good handful of wines by the glass. The team is currently hunting for a chef to run the food program, but Orona says Bar Midnight will feature tapas, all vegetarian or vegan — “playful, fun, and approachable,” he says.
Aesthetics and vibes are important to Orona, who is often found mixing sleek suits and vests with motorcycle fashion. This look carries over to the bar as well, which Orona describes as a “sexy, approachable environment.” He wants to incorporate lots of black wood, black and gold wallpaper, and velvet within the space, working within the confines of the existing structure: Bar Midnight will retain the horseshoe-shaped bar from the Liquor Store, but the shelves that once held hundreds of records will display some other art, yet to be decided.
Of course, these days, it’s unlikely that people will be able to enjoy the interior of a bar within the next few months. With an expected opening date of early spring, Orona says Bar Midnight will initially open with limited outdoor seating and a takeout menu for food and cocktails. The basement area, which served as a music venue for The Liquor Store and Blue Monk before that, will remain closed through 2021. Eventually, Orona would like to return to having DJs upstairs on the weekends and occasional music and art performances downstairs, but that’s a ways off. For now, he’s focusing on opening with some serious drinks and sultry vibes for when people are able to return to indoor dining.
Bar Midnight is expected to open in early March at 3341 SE Belmont Street. Orona plans to open the bar Tuesdays through Saturdays to start.