Bartenders Adam Robinson (Deadshot) and Nick Flower (Face/Off, Teardrop Lounge) have been collecting cocktail recipes from bars in California and New York for nearly two decades. In total, they’ve amassed about 3,500 from places they’ve worked, other bartenders, and books. But for the bartender’s choice program at their new Northeast 28th Avenue cocktail bar Too Soon, they’ve whittled the number down to a catalog of 1,000 drinks.
Armed with their extensive catalog, Robinson and Flower want Too Soon to evoke the spirit of the New York City bar scene in the early aughts, when the nascent craft cocktail movement was a hotbed of creativity. To do that, they’ve built a menu of bold and unexpected highballs and house cocktails — as well as an involved bartender’s choice program.
Too Soon’s bartender’s choice program is at the heart of what they’re doing: Customers can choose from three categories on the menu: stirred/spirit-forward, which encompasses cocktails like Manhattans, Old Fashioneds, and the like; citrus/refreshing, which covers sours, tall drinks with soda, or drinks that include champagne; or sweet and creamy, drinks that might contain coffee, chocolate, honey, or even a whole egg. The bartender will then ask a couple of follow-up questions to determine which recipe best suits the customer’s tastes.
Since the cocktails in Too Soon’s catalog are all tried-and-true recipes that have been around for years, they can be easily reproduced. This is intentional: the owners want drinkers to develop a deeper understanding of what they like, and potentially inspire other bartenders in the city. “So if [someone] comes in and has a coffee cocktail or another one of these drinks and they like it, then maybe the next time they come in they know exactly what they want,” Robinson says. “And they could go to another bar and be like, ‘Hey, can you make this?’ or even make it at home.”
This communal aspect of bartending is something the veteran bartenders experienced as they were coming up — Robinson at Momofuku Ssäm Bar and Flower at the iconic speakeasies Middle Branch and Little Branch. At the time, cocktails that have now become modern classics were popularized by customers ordering them at spots other than the bars they originated from. “We were all creating these cocktails and people were ordering the Penicillin, the Paper Plane, the Naked and Famous, because they’re drinks that anybody can make,” Flower says. “And so it connected us as a city and a community. Not just the bartenders, but the guests, too. It got people excited, this sense of sharing, and we’re really trying to lean into that here.”
The bar, tinged with bisexual lighting, also pays homage to New York City spots in other ways — there are art deco-ish flourishes that nod to West Village speakeasy bar Employees Only and a highball menu like Greenwich Village hotspot Katana Kitten’s. The name Too Soon is borrowed from the cocktail by renowned Attaboy bartender Sam Ross. “We really love that cocktail, and then the name itself really fits us and the bar,” Flower says. “It’s cheeky and playful. We’re always making ‘too soon’ jokes.”
At Little Branch, Flower worked under the late legendary bartender Sasha Petraske, and he cites Petraske’s drink-making style as an influence. All of Too Soon’s cocktails are shaken with a big ice cube, which creates a smooth texture. Instead of using an ice machine, the bar hand-cuts its own big rocks and Collins spears, the long rectangular ice cubes that fit into Collins glasses. “The idea behind it is you can shake longer and create more aeration without over diluting,” Flower says. “That came from Sasha opening Milk & Honey, not having a ton of money and just being very crafty and resourceful — he was freezing ice in pans.”
Too Soon’s beer section is limited and doesn’t include draft beer. Instead, Flower and Robinson are aiming to divert beer drinkers to their selection of highballs. The cocktails are tailored to be sessionable — a Suntory highball machine dispenses chilled soda and/or Haku vodka, and the finished drinks are served in frosty beer mugs. “A few bars in Portland have [the machine] and sell Toki highballs.” Flower says. “But I haven’t really seen anybody else in Portland do a highball program where we have these really special drinks that are inspired by spirit and soda.” For example, the mango and chile highball reads like a refined mango White Claw.
At Too Soon, Robinson is carrying on with a penchant for making savory cocktails. One of his signature drinks at his bar Deadshot, the Who is Jack Nance?, combines sesame, mustard, and egg yolk with bourbon and sherry. Here, drinkers will find cocktails rimmed with artichoke salt and dirty martinis with the requisite blue cheese-stuffed olives. Flower’s signature House Special gets its distinct flavor from curry spices and bell pepper-infused gin. “We’re both inspired by things that are a little more food focused,” Flower says.
In terms of actual food, Jon “Bones” Anderson, a veteran of spots like Rum Club and Le Pigeon, oversees Too Soon’s kitchen menu. The tight collection of snack-y dishes includes things like wild mushroom fritters, poached prawns with crispy polenta, and apple-cheddar beignets served with Luxardo maraschino caramel; they are meant to pair with cocktails and serve as pre- or post-dinner snacks. At last call, the bar hands out complimentary freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.
“It’s a little ‘thanks for coming,’” Flower says. “And I love cookies, so it’s sharing a little bit of my joy.”
Too Soon is open at 18 NE 28th Avenue.
Correction: February 8, 2024, 11:53 a.m. This article was corrected to show that Too Soon is located on Northeast 28th Avenue, not Southeast.