PORTLAND, Maine — American comedian and film star Groucho Marx once said, “I would never join any club that would accept me as a member.”
But he didn’t know about Portland Hunt and Alpine Club. It might have changed his mind.
The sleek cocktail lounge on Market Street has been shaking up the downtown drink scene since September. With craft spirits from across the country and state, owner Andrew Volk said he hopes to do for cocktails what the Port City has done for beer and food.
“We want to focus on one thing we do well and give local distilleries a stage,” said Volk, who has bartended his way across the country, including a high-profile gig at Clyde Common in Portland, Ore.
The leather-bound menu divides drinks by category — rum, whiskey, gin and agave. Tired of margaritas? A smoke and bitters, made with tequila, cynar, mezcal and fernet ($10) might do the trick. Or autumn leaves, with rye, vermouth, apple jack, strega and bitters ($10).
Playful house cocktails such as Night at OOB: ingredients “rum, other things, shame,” show that someone has a sense of humor.
But the menu, though no joke, is just a suggestion. Volk can whip up a drink to satisfy any hankering.
“It’s the experience. People come in and say they’d like something with vodka,” and he gets straight to work.
“We want every single person here to have a drink in front of them that they like,” he said.
Bar bites are no mere chasers. A Scandinavian-inspired menu of open-faced sandwiches and cheese plates are served on wooden boards. Crispy bacon with pork liver mousse, pickled mushrooms and tomato jam ($15), for example, stands up to any drink. Chef Ricky Penatzer, formerly of Fore Street, arrives early to prepare the nightly menu.
The stylish setting of Portland Hunt and Alpine club calls to mind suits and heels, not fuzzy sweaters and mukluks. But Portland’s newest cocktail bar is a club with patches, cards and privileges.
“We wanted to key in on hunting and skiing, which, as a northern New Englander, is a touchstone,” said Volk, making a milky orange chilton county cocktail last week.
His wife, co-owner Briana Volk, equates their new endeavor to a ski club you might see in the White Mountains.
“It’s a community as opposed to being an exclusive idea,” said Briana Volk. “People who have similar interests, who want to hang out and get to know each other and are from different walks of life and like to talk about cocktails.”
But don’t call it a Portland or Cumberland club for hipsters.
“We are not trying to be an exclusive space; we are trying to be a bar that has a cool, separate membership component to it,” said Volk.
A private room in the back is reserved for members who pay $2,500 for a prepaid tab and access to the wood-paneled room for quiet conversation. Trips to distilleries and joint barrel purchases are in the works. The club also started themed happy hours featuring distilleries. From 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday they’ll host Caledonia Spirit’s Barr Hill Vodka and Gin.
Portland Hunt and Alpine Club is at 75 Market St. in Portland and is open 4 p.m.-1 a.m. seven days a week. For information, visit huntandalpineclub.com or call 747-4754.