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You could say that bartending picked Jeffrey Morgenthaler. Back when Portland’s premier bartender was just an architecture student looking for a summer job, he chose bartending over washing dishes because it seemed like a good way to make money and meet girls. It was just supposed to be temporary—but four years later, after graduation, he was still behind the bar “…eventually bartending just kind of took over for architecture.”

The Swing of Things

It was the mid-90’s, when cocktail culture was cool and “every bar you went to had a jukebox with Frank Sinatra on it.” The scene was all about suits, swing music, and martinis. That’s when Morgenthaler began his professional love affair with liquor. And his education started in a very 90’s way—on the brand-new internet, where he found Paul Harrington writing about cocktails. After reading everything Harrington wrote, Morgenthaler turned to books from other bartending legends like Dale DeGroff and Gary Regan to learn more about classic cocktails.

Back to Basics

Now it’s Morgenthaler who’s setting the trends and inspiring up-and-coming mixologists. “I’ve been really fortunate to be able to travel a lot and see a lot. I think that really helps. We can stay at the crest of the wave.” Much like when he started in the business, the trend today is all about a return to simplicity.

Bartenders are starting to eschew these big programs with all the tools and smoke and stuff like that and really just get back to basics.

He recommends that bars “have a really strong liquor selection, have a really focused program, be able to make the classics right… and really just focus on making a great bar.” This return to fundamentals has been driven, in part, by the customers he serves every day. “I think the consumers are starting to get tired of all the bells and whistles. They’re expecting a higher level of quality.”

Blast from the Past

So what’s on Morgenthaler’s radar right now? “With Pépé le Moko, we’ve been focusing on taking what people think of as ‘bad’ drinks and making them better.” Take a look at their menu and you’ll find Long Island Iced Teas, Blue Hawaiians, and minty Grasshoppers. But these aren’t your parents’ cocktails. Morgenthaler and his staff have upped the sophistication factor by crafting them with top-shelf liquors and premium ingredients. As he notes, “Everybody makes a great Manhattan these days. There are other classic drinks just begging to be rectified.” And he’s up to the challenge of making these forgotten classics cool again.

Connect with the Bartender

Jeffrey Morgenthaler is a leading mixologist with recipes featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Wine Enthusiast magazine. You can connect with him on his website, Twitter, and behind the bar at Clyde Common and Pépé le Moko in Portland, Oregon.