While working behind the bar
the other night, a guest visiting Portland for the first time asked me which
drink was considered the city's quintessential cocktail. Admittedly, the
Pacific Northwest doesn't have the rich cocktail history that other places boast.
There is no Ramos Gin Fizz (New Orleans), Manhattan (NYC) or Brandy Old
Fashioned (Wisconsin)—i.e., cocktails that have been around seemingly as long
as the region itself.
There is, however, the
Spanish Coffee, the brainchild of local bartender James Kai Louie. He started
making it in the early 1970s at Portland's oldest restaurant, Huber's (est. 1879). Today, you'd be hard-pressed to find a bartender here that isn't
intimately familiar with its warm glow, rich aroma and labor-intensive
Yet the Spanish Coffee is
virtually unheard of outside my corner of the world. And so, when my friends
and I try to order it anywhere else, we are met with blank stares. I say, no
more! From here on out, let Spanish Coffee dominate bar menus everywhere!
Named after the long pour
favored by Spanish waiters and bartenders when serving Txakoli wine (and you thought the name was just an ironic Portlandia thing), a true Spanish
Coffee is a spectacle. The bartender or server begins with a sugar-rimmed glass
containing 151-proof rum, which they then light on fire. (I know, fire is
becoming a recurring theme.)
Next, in a show of bravado and technical superiority, they pour triple sec and
Kahlua into the flaming glass from several feet above, usually with the bottle
held over their head or behind their back. It's Old World artistry meets Vegas flair
as the flames dance higher and higher in the glass.