Swing for supper
- Jill Spitznass
- Portland Tribune - Features
The swanky scene at Henry Ford's lounge provides the ideal setting for any Rat Pack rave
Put on your best sheath dress or button-down shirt and jump in the Thunderbird Ñ we're going to Henry Ford's Restaurant and Lounge, baby.
Established in 1955, Henry Ford's is one of the city's original and enduring supper clubs, where everything from the menu to the furnishings combine to create the sensation of having stepped back in time.
From the moment you pull into the parking lot, you are transported to a different era. The starburst sign, dramatic fountain and rows of twinkling lights all suggest the Rat Pack at The Fontainebleau.
Inside, the dŽcor and attentive staff continue the retro theme. 'We haven't remodeled since 1964,' says bartender Gabe Felton, gesturing toward the JFK-era lounge furniture, a vivid blue against the red carpet. Beyond the lounge is a small dance floor, sandwiched by the full bar and the piano bar. Here, after a dinner of porterhouse steak washed down with several Gibsons, you'll do well to pull up a stool and enjoy the keyboard stylings of Lyle Chaffee.
History on the hill
Perched on the hillside above Barbur Boulevard, the ranch-style structure was originally called Redmond's on the Hill. 'Mrs. Redmond opened up the restaurant in 1938 after her husband died,' Felton says. 'She served lunch and dinner out of her dining room to make ends meet.'
Displaced from his original location in Canyonville when Interstate Highway 5 was laid down, Henry Ford purchased Redmond's after considering several other locations, including Tad's Chicken and Dumplings in Troutdale. Wanting to maximize the property, Ford simply built around Mrs. Redmond's home. In fact, the original fireplace is now the central focus of the banquet room.
The restaurant is now managed by Ford's son, Brian, who says that his father's goal was to create a classic steakhouse. Red flocked wallpaper, bow-tied waiters and crystal chandeliers all pay homage to his father's original vision.
That vision, apparently, has its devotees: Brian Ford says that
93 percent of the restaurant's clientele on any given night are repeat customers. The loyalty extends to the personnel. 'Most of the kitchen crew has been here 24 years, and our head waiter's been here 31 years,' Ford says proudly.
The layered look
Like one of Felton's Spanish coffees (topped with boozy whipped cream), there's also a layered effect in the restaurant's lounge area. While college students tend to favor the lounge area up front, where a picture window offers a panoramic view that includes Mount Hood, those who enjoyed the music the first time around are most likely to be polishing the leather bolster of the piano bar.
Felton says that despite the age gap, the generations have more in common than they think: specifically, a love of good music. 'The funniest thing is the kids who know all the songs and sing Sinatra along with Lyle,' he says, adding that even the biggest fan of Ol' Blue Eyes would have a tough time keeping up with Chaffee. 'Lyle has a library of close to 10,000 songs and can sight-read whatever he doesn't know by heart.'
A man at the piano bar sips from his vodka and adds, reveling in the sing-a-long, communal spirit, 'It's the closest thing to an English pub you're going to find.' he says.