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There can be only one

Milwaukie residents bring their love of Scotland to a historic Oregon City location - minus a few details, like
by: David Stroup, Co-owner Mick Secor discusses one of his favorite single-malt Scotches.

The heather bloomed this spring in Oregon City, where a landmark local restaurant has been transformed into a little piece of the Scottish Highlands at Willamette Falls.

'We just love Scotland,' said co-owner Tammy Secor; she and her husband Mick have been working on the place since they bought the old Art's Café on Highway 99E. 'We've been going to Scotland for 17 years, almost every year.'

They started going to see the distilleries - thanks in part to Mick's fascination with fine single-malt Scotch. Now they go back regularly, and often stay with the friends they have made. 'A lot of the things we have here are things we brought back from Scotland,' she said, gesturing around at the newly-opened Highland Stillhouse pub.

In addition to the single-malt Scotch, the bill of fare features a full selection of lunch and dinner offerings - from bangers and mash and fish and chips to steak and 'Grist Blackened Salmon,' a specialty dish with a key ingredient they have to import from Scotland.

And don't forget the Scotch Egg - that's a hardboiled egg wrapped in sausage and breaded. You might not immediately guess that Mick's a cardiologist at Kaiser Sunnyside.

'His partners have been giving him a hard time,' Tammy laughs - and Mick hangs his head and grins shyly when the menu - light on what one might consider health food - is brought up.

'We'll be adding a vegetarian pastie starting next week,' he promised - but he sees no conflict in running a traditional pub.

'Moderate drinking - that's in step with the heart-healthy philosophy,' he said. 'I'd rather people drink small amounts of alcohol, and enjoy the taste - and not get intoxicated. That's something we should teach.'

Bringing the Highlands home

After Art's Café closed several years ago, his historic building - and its prime spot opposite the falls overlook and next to the Museum of the Oregon Territory - became available.

'We actually saw it in the paper,' Tammy Secor said. They had been talking for years about someday starting a Scottish pub.

'We came in and looked at it and had a vision… and we thought we could make a Scottish pub out of it.'

The old building is a maze of small rooms and corridors on two levels. Downstairs - past the entrance at the corner of South 2nd and Highway 99E - the original front room of the café has been turned into a warm, inviting pub with antique woodwork and a hand-made dark wood bar built for them by a friend. Upstairs there's a game room - with dart board - as well as a separate 'snug' pub at the level of their deck - where there's a spectacular view of the falls and the paper mills on both sides of the river.

'When we saw this place it just spoke to us,' she said. 'It's a historic building, and we wanted to preserve the history of the place.'

She said turning the old restaurant into a pub has been hard work. 'It was mainly just my husband and me working on it, from September to June,' she said. They had help, but 'all the woodwork we did ourselves - it was a labor of love.'

Mick Secor's career as a cardiologist doesn't leave him a lot of free time to moonlight as a publican. 'We're doing it as a partnership,' he said. 'We've both put a lot of time and energy into it.

'As a physician - you're used to putting in very long hours,' he said. 'My extra hours have all gone into this. It may leave me less time to run off to Scotland - but we have a little piece of Scotland here.'

Grist for their (salmon) mill

At every step the Secors have gone for the authentic - with one big exception; the establishment is all non-smoking. Mick even wanted to extend the ban to the deck, but Tammy talked him out of it.

'We had an executive chef help with the menu, and help hire the kitchen staff,' Mick said. 'He's from England.'

They told him they wanted fish and chips just like they could find in London.

'He said 'I can do that - but it's going to be very labor intensive for your kitchen staff.'

The fish is hand-cut and hand-dipped, Mick explained, and each piece goes into the fryer separately - it's not something they can pour out of a bag and cook up in bulk.

Then there's the 'grist-blackened' salmon they offer - with fresh salmon and one special ingredient that has to travel thousands of miles for the dish.

One of the Secors' favorite distilleries is Ardbeg, on the island of Islay, off the west coast of Scotland. There are seven working distilleries there - you can sample all of them at the Highland Stillhouse, of course - and they're known for a heavily 'peated' single-malt.

In the process of making the Scotch, the malted barley is roasted in a kiln to halt the sprouting process - there's a picture of a traditional pagoda-roofed kiln on the pub's logo. At Ardbeg, the barley is smoked over a peat fire at this stage; 'there's a porous wooden floor, and the smoke comes up and halts the process,' Mick explained.

The barley is used to make the beer which is distilled into the distillery's Scotch - but the left-over barley is ground into a cereal, the grist, which they use in their unique dish: 'It's the peated barley grist of Ardbeg Distillery - we use that as the outside coating, and we blacken it,' he explained.

'We've got to be the only one in the country doing that,' Tammy said.

On a recent weekday afternoon - before quitting time - the pub was already doing well, with patrons lingering over a place of food or a glass of Ardbeg. The Secors said they want to make it family-friendly, comfortable and casual.

'The pub has really been more about people - rather than the architecture of the antiques,' Mick said. It's like the feeling he got from the distilleries he has visited in Scotland and on Islay: 'It's not a big factory, each distillery was very personal and homey… you would go back a year later and they would remember your name. It's about the place, and the people.'