Whaddya know? A McMenamins with good food.
The 51 music-themed rooms and saline soaking pool of the new Crystal Hotel might continue the Bros McMenamin tradition of whimsifying Portland's derelict historical architecture, but the attached Zeus Cafe ends a tradition of solidly mediocre pub grub by offering upmarket food/ 'tails in uncharacteristically swank chandeliered digs with an open kitchen sporting a wood-fired oven, plus walls of street-facing windows with stained glass repping the "score" to The Grateful Dead's "Dark Star". Here's why it won't suck:
The Grub You're Used To: A Captain Neon burger/ limp fries to slick your veins with fat before still getting ripped off for Rango at $3. The Zeus: Thanks to an actual exec chef, expect zero bar food, but instead brunch options like wood-baked eggs w/ truffle oil 'n Parm creme fraiche; an "interlude menu" slinging crispy fresh anchovies/ baby eels, or wood-fired Manilla clams plus chorizo 'n charred jalapeno butter; and dinner like flatbreads with toppers from lamb sausage to grilled leeks, and a lavender spaetzle-paired 10hr lamb neck, which is generally followed by heavy petting.
The Drink You're Used To: Serviceable McMen micros and wines are a-OK, but going mixed means ordering a "something and something" to ensure the dance floor isn't the only thing floating. The Zeus: A cocktail menu slung by bartending heavies includes classic-tinged awesomeness like Auntie Mame's Mule (Shakers Rye vodka, ginger beer, rhubarb syrup), the Robert Burns (Dewar's, Trillium Absinthe, bitters, vermouth), as well as many with McMen small-batch booze like the Edgefield Penny's Gin, triple sec, lime, and bitters Pegu Club, named either for a famous NYC cocktail bar, or a Babysitter's Club satellite branch in a port city in southern Myanmar.
Because they're in a celebratory mood they've created an off-menu cocktail just for Thrillist subscribers (the Douglas Fairbanks: McMen-made Penny's Gin, Longshot Brandy, apricot liqueur, lime, and egg white), which's perfect for sipping before a free show in the new subterranean music venue Al's Den, which seven days a week lets you enjoy "intimate" music performances, giving you hope that more than The Dead and Frenching sheep can score