Walking into Fools and Horses, owner Collin Nicholas wants people to be immediately immersed: The smell of coconut and aromatics wafting from the kitchen, the bartenders shaking and stirring, the black-green of the walls allowing the pressed tin backbar and borderline art deco wallpaper to pop. And straight ahead, a few tables look out over the dining room from an elevated stage, as if the drinks and food are the real show.
That, of course, is the goal: Nicholas, who also owns Pink Rabbit in the Pearl District, has helped open more than 20 bars in his tenure, often serving as a consultant. For Fools and Horses, his soon-to-open cocktail bar coming to the former Vault Cocktail Bar space, he wants to let the food and drink take center stage, a sophisticated spot with Hawaiian fare and a range of meticulous cocktails incorporating culinary elements.
According to Nicholas, the desired elegance and focus on the menu and service played a big role in designing the space: The restaurant evaded the bright colors of Pink Rabbit and went with something subtler. He hired Lonesome Pictopia to design custom accent wallpaper, an intricate yellow and olive pattern that brings out the greens in the space. To create even more intimacy within the bar, Nicholas made sure the space offered smaller, tighter hubs of seating around the room: Along with the platform toward the front of the restaurant, the bar is home to a small area with "a living room sort of energy," with a black leather couch in front of the fireplace. The darker tones within the restaurant are in direct juxtaposition with the brightness of the bar, light reflecting off the pressed tiles lining the walls behind the bottles. "Fools and Horses will be more dark and sultry and sophisticated," he says. "You’ll be able to sit at the bar, in front of the bartender, and have a really thoughtful conversation."
If the conversation will likely involve the drinks, which Nicholas says are meant to be both accessible and interesting. "It’s been really important to me that our food and beverage isn’t only aesthetically beautiful but also straightforward and really delicious," he says. "We can really create a really intentional, thoughtful, and inspired offering for people." For example, the bar's 50/50 martini relies on Timberline vodka, distilled with Pacific Northwestern apples, served alongside a variety of optional add-ins and garnishes: lemon twists, pickled apple spears, and a tiny carafe of pickled apple juice, in lieu of olive brine. Another apple-heavy cocktail pairs Big Gin with Clear Creek's apple brandy, in addition to green apple, fennel, ginger, cardamom, and celery.
Many of the bar's cocktails incorporate produce and kitchen ingredients; for instance, a rum and sherry cocktail combines pineapple gastrique, orange, and guava jelly, topped off with some bubbles. Alternatively, another sherry drink — this one using gin as a base spirit — gets its sweetness from coconut, toasted rice and miso horchata, and lychee, with a Japanese curry tincture for balance. "Although there’s this ingredient focus, and even a profile standpoint, I’m never looking at this as reinventing the wheel but instead creating a better one," Nicholas says. "This gin and curry cocktail is a loose evolution from a gin sour. It’s quite the evolution from there, but it incorporates our food program, our vision, our concept, and they’re all in balance."
When it comes to the food program, chef Alex Wong (formerly of Portland restaurant group Sesame Collective) pulls much of his inspiration from Paniolo culture, Hawaiian cowboys originally trained by Mexican vaqueros in the 1800s; thus, Paniolo cuisine often blends native Hawaiian foods and traditions with North American culinary influences. For example, the menu includes a cassoulet with lima beans and corn sprouts, but also a coconut-encrusted Mahi Mahi with lilikoi (purple passionfruit) butter. A confit taro and potato dish gets seasoned with piri piri and rosemary, with schmaltz for a savory boost. One of the core foundations of the food menu is Wong's pipikaula, a seasoned and semi-dry beef akin to jerky; it's available on the bar's Paniolo Range — a snacking board with cheeses, jams, and lilikoi — as well as in a main dish, with purple sweet potatoes and cilantro chimichurri.
Overall, Nicholas wants Fools and Horses to keep an emphasis on exceptional hospitality, a tenet that's become borderline dogmatic for him. "As professionals in this business, I require that of my staff, my team, to go into every interaction the same way, with a bright shining smile, exuding this air of welcoming someone into your own home, making sure that they have what they need," he says. "The guest is here to enjoy the experience, and it’s our job to create a seamless experience."
Fools and Horses will open in late August at 226 NW 12th Avenue. Take a look inside the space below: