Without seeing the menu or drink list, it is apparent from first glance that Stihl—the newest addition to downtown's drinking smorgasbord in Franklin's Crossing—is a whiskey bar. The decor is a warm blend of earth tones and copper, bathed in soft yellow light. The stern-faced mustachioed fellow on the sign looks like he might ride a penny-farthing. Weathered woods, leather and metal give the space a classy yet rustic masculine feel (not to mention mounted animal heads that adorn the walls). The only thing missing from the dimly lit castle-like room is a roaring oak-fed fireplace. It's the neo-gothic den for secret society meetings and back alley business deals. Al Capone would have dug this place.
In May, owner Jason Gartz took over the lease from former occupants, Pure Kitchen, and put in an expansive remodel of the sterilized strip-mall space.
"The idea was just a whiskey bar," said Gartz, simply. "A small, speakeasy-style space with a reasonably priced menu. I added brick, and wood and yellow lighting to the booth seating. I wanted to make it a place you go where it's a comfortable atmosphere."
With more than 100 whiskeys available and more to come, along with other specialty liquors not available anywhere else in town, the handmade drink menu was a highlight of our meal, including one of the best Mint Juleps—mouthwatering, served with thick leaves of fresh mint in a copper cup. We also tried the The Ginger Cube, featuring Bulliet Bourbon poured over a cube of ginger brew, a tasty alternative to the extremes of a single malt or a dressed up cocktail. Served neat, it lent just enough sweetness and spice to encourage smooth sipping. The bourbon was not overwhelmed by the ginger, but accented by it. And because its appearance was unadulterated, it's a good choice for someone who doesn't want to give away the fact that they're technically drinking a cocktail.
Justin Goin, former chef at Dojo, and Rian Mulligan, former chef at Tetherow, have put together a menu of custom comfort food. Gartz said that the goal was to serve the best steak in town for less than $20.
"Hopefully, the menu isn't completely overkill on the whiskey," explained Chef Goin, who said the booze goes into vinaigrette, glazes and even the prawns. "It's that kind of comforty kind of southern food that you had at your grandma's at one point, but a chef's approach."
We settled on a hearty Boston Bibb salad, an order of house-made onion rings and sweet potato fries (because why not double down?) and for our entrée, the rare and elusive baby back ribs.
The sweet potato fries were rough cut, and not over crispy, highlighting the natural deliciousness of the root, and served with "Stihl sauce"—a sort of boozed up fry sauce. The generous helping of onion rings were fried in a tempura-like batter and a perfectly balanced crispy outside with tender inside. The salad featured a bed of arugula (typically served with kale, but the kitchen was still waiting on a delivery), with orange segments, pepitas, goat cheese and a citrus bourbon vinaigrette. The chèvre lent a creamy savoriness to the light and fresh salad, making it substantial enough for a meal.
The best part? Everything tasted like food...REAL FRESH FOOD. Nothing bagged or frozen, even the ketchup is made in-house.
The ribs came draped on top of a pile of mashed potatoes and bok choy. The portion size was generous and easily split between two people and the ribs literally would not stay on the bone. Tender and sweet, they were some of the most delectable, finger-licking ribs we've had in town. The glaze, a ginger-orange BBQ sauce with bourbon, was just thick enough and not too sweet or too salty. The potatoes were neither too chunky nor too smooth and tasted like real comfort food.
"It has an industry feel," said Gartz, who has worked in restaurants in Bend for a decade. "People can get off work and can come in and have a glass of whiskey and an awesome steak for 25 bucks."
A soundtrack of classic Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin accompanied our meal, reminiscent of a simpler time, when grabbing a drink with a friend meant slowly savoring both the beverage and the conversation. And Stihl has plenty to savor. With a lengthy list of whiskeys, bourbons, and scotches as well as a broad but manageable selection of appetizers, salads and entrees, it would be easy to find an excuse to come back again and again.
Stihl Whiskey Bar
550 NW Franklin Ave. Ste. 118
Mon. 6 pm-11 pm
Tue.-Thurs. 5 pm-11 pm
Fri.-Sat. 5 pm-1:30 am