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Bartender applies stirring knowledge to new watering hole

Taste
by: KATIE HARTLEY, Kevin Ludwig (left), owner of Beaker & Flask, a bar-restaurant set to open in June, surveys the site with head chef Benjamin Bettinger.

More and more in Portland you find bartenders who know what they're doing. Ten years ago if you ordered a daiquiri in Portland you'd get one of two responses: 'with strawberry?' or 'we don't have a blender.'

Now, unless you go to one of the dive bars here (which are cool in their own way), most bartenders know that all you need to make a proper daiquiri is rum, lime and a little sugar or simple syrup.

I've observed a lot of bartenders since I turned 21 just over 21 years ago. My husband and I always sit at the bar when we go out for a drink. Sitting at a table in the bar feels like going to a movie and hanging out in the lobby. The bar is where the action is. It's fun to watch them behind the bar at work, to see how they do their job.

In a town with a lot of talented bartenders, ask cocktail aficionados to name the five best, and Kevin Ludwig's name will always come up.

Ludwig made a name for himself at Park Kitchen (422 N.W. Eighth Ave., 503-223-7275), where he developed a killer cocktail list to go with the great food.

He left Park Kitchen last year and has been bartending at Clyde Common (1014 S.W. Stark St., 503-228-3333) for the past several months. But you won't find him there in June because that's when he opens his own place called Beaker and Flask (720 S.E. Sandy Blvd., www.beakerandflask.com).

Ludwig (who originally is from Pittsburgh but lived all over the world before moving here in 1993) initially planned on opening Beaker and Flask as a bar with a few small-plate options for food. But, he says, 'my plans changed in a matter of 20 minutes. It's actually been kind of a roller-coaster ride.'

On Jan. 1, Ludwig was at a going-away party for his old friend, Benjamin Bettinger, longtime chef de cuisine at Paley's Place.

'I thought Benny was moving to Seattle but when I mentioned opening my place, he was really interested,' Ludwig says. 'I was thinking I didn't have a good enough kitchen for him. But we were sitting next to Vitaly (Paley, the owner of Paley's Place) and he said that since he'd just remodeled his kitchen he had a bunch of old kitchen equipment he wanted to get rid of.

'So Vitaly ended up selling me his old equipment for practically nothing, and Ben ended up signing on as Beaker and Flask's chef. It worked out great.'

Bettinger won't be Ludwig's only friend working at Beaker and Flask. 'The greatest thing so far about opening this place is that my entire staff will be people I know. That's the benefit of being an old man who has lived in this town for so long,' says Ludwig, who is all of 38.

The focus of Beaker and Flask's food menu will be Northern European cuisine. 'We'll have stews and heartier fare but also bar-style food,' Ludwig says. 'We'll be making our own pretzels. Ben's been working on making a lot of different mustards.'

The cocktail menu will be divided into many sections; one definitely will include exotic cocktails. 'I really like tiki drinks,' he says. 'The whole kitschy side of it. There are a lot of new books on tiki, and last summer I really got into that.'

If everything goes as planned, look for Beaker and Flask to open in mid-June.

Last year Ludwig also helped found the Oregon Bartenders Guild. Check out the Web site a www.oregonbarguild.org .

You'll find forum discussions on everything from how to cut off someone who has had too much to drink to how to make the best Dark and Stormy cocktail.

• • •

There is bad bar news across the river. Regulars call it 'the Bean' but its actual name is Brazen Bean (2075 N.W. Glisan St., 503-294-0636) and Saturday, April 5, will be the last day you can get a martini or smoke a cigar there.

After more than 14 years in business, the Bean's owner, Huston Davis, is closing the popular spot. Why? The Victorian home that houses Brazen Bean has sold. And the rent is going way up.

'I just can't afford it,' Davis says. 'It's pretty sad. My employees and customers are awesome.'

She's relinquishing the location but not the Bean. 'I'd like to reopen someplace else within six months,' she says. 'We're putting everything in storage, and I'm looking at some very cool spaces.'

'I was 24 when I opened the Bean. Now I'm 39. A lot has changed but I love the place. And the emotional response of some of our customers to the closing has been beyond adorable. We'll be back.'

Davis plans to set up a MySpace page either under the name Brazen Bean or the Bean to keep people informed of her progress in finding a new location. Stay tuned.

• • •

Bob Kramer, a chef at Higgins Restaurant, was severely injured in January when a drunken driver drove onto the sidewalk and hit him as he walked his dog. After several surgeries, Bob still is in the hospital and faces more surgery. He and his family need help.

Sponsored by Higgins Restaurant and the Oregon Culinary Institute, several local chefs have organized a Benefit 4 Bob. The event, which includes hors d'oeuvres and a raffle, is 5 p.m. Sunday, April 6, at the Oregon Culinary Institute (1701 S.W. Jefferson St.).

The suggested donation is $75 per person. If you would like to attend Benefit 4 Bob, or you simply want to make a donation, e-mail Melanie, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 503-961-6213.

Send Taste tips to elizabethgadberry @portlandtribune.com.