Going Back in Time for the New Year
written by Tanis Logan-Morris | photographed by Tim Sugden
After an evening out at Circa 33, I abandoned my original New Year’s plans because what I felt needed to happen was me, dressed as a flapper, going out to this Prohibition Era bar with some fabulous flapper friends. Nevermind that I have a passel of kids who were set on me taking them to a family party. Forget about the fact that I don’t live anywhere near this particular bar, and let it slide that I don’t possess any article of clothing that could comprise a flapper costume. I can dance the Charleston. I’ve got bobbed hair. What could be more fun that hanging out in a 1930’s style Speak-Easy in period costume?
Circa 33 is a Belmont Street neighborhood bar that is known across the country for its secret speakeasy, only accessible via a hidden door that doubles as a bookcase. This fact alone would make Circa 33 a place one must visit, but once you are there, you realize that all of the secret elements are the frosting on one cool cake of a bar.
The large main area is dominated by a towering, well lit and well stocked bar on the back wall. The ceilings are high, and the tables are low. Cozy booths line both walls. The clientele during the week are mainly locals, with a sprinkling of curious tourists mixed in. On the weekends, it is a hot spot for youthful Portland hipsters. The vibe is relaxed and fun. The staff were smart, helpful and well spoken, without exception.
My friend orders a French 33, Circa’s take on the French 75. It is delicious and goes down with dangerous ease. I have what is rumored to be the best Moscow Mule in Portland, and it is amazing. Fresh pureed ginger and soda water take the place of ginger beer, elevating the drink to an entirely different level.
The menu at Circa 33 is eclectic, with a hefty dash of inspiration from French cuisine. All food is made from scratch in house from fresh, locally sourced ingredients, with the exception of bread from Grand Central Baking. It’s hard to know what to choose, there are so many delicious sounding options. We start out with the roasted beet salad, which is exceptional. Red and gold beets are roasted then sprinkled with candied walnuts, house-herbed goat cheese and arbequina olive oil. It is a perfect fusion of sweet and tart. I try not to eat an obscene amount of goat cheese, but it is hard to stop.
I could write a sonnet about our next dish, the Spiced Deviled Eggs. Made with gochujang mayonnaise, the dish had a rich, slightly smokey, piquant flavor complimented by little crisps of fried cheese as a garnish. They were, hands down, the best deviled eggs I’ve ever tasted.
The popular Warm Kale Salad and Seared Steelhead rounded out our menu. Both were delicious. The kale especially had an interesting twist, with duck confit and satsuma orange wedges tossed along with the greens in a mild lemon butter vinagrette.
Before we leave, the friendly and accommodating staff take us back to the Speakeasy. We enter through the bookcase and check out the second bar and lounge area. The space has a more intimate feeling, but is equally hip. “We have all local spirits in our bar back here- it actually has an entirely separate cocktail menu, which people really like, but you can still order any drink you want.” Aspen Inouye, a server at Circa tells me. “We do a lot of private events back here, but it’s definitely open to the public Thursday through Saturday. We also have a back patio that we open up in the summer, so that’s a lot of fun too.”
She’s spot on. Everything about this place is cool and fun. And how was New Year’s Eve at Circa 33? My guess is it was a blast, but I didn’t find out in person. I was a responsible parent handing out sparklers in the suburbs while we watched the ball drop on television. This is what my kids had their hearts set on. But my heart was in SE Portland at 3348 SE Belmont, wearing a flapper dress and dancing the Charleston. Next year friends, next year.