The daily Astorian. (Astoria, Or.) 1961-current, January 25, 2018, Page 12, Image 11

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Coast Weekend’s local
restaurant review
Thoughtful sips, nibbles at
MacGregor’s Whiskey Bar
Review and photos by
or a time I drank Wild Tur-
key. I drank Wild Turkey
because Hunter S. Thomp-
son drank Wild Turkey. (Thomp-
son also guzzled Chivas Regal,
Bloody Marys, Heineken and
just about anything else he could
get his twisted mitts on.)
With a charitable eye, you
might call my mimicry romantic,
an homage of sorts. But, truth-
fully, I was hoping to conjure or
syphon some of that gonzo mojo.
While Thompson is remem-
bered as perhaps the most vora-
cious and insatiable of literary
users, the tale is hardly uncom-
mon; the list of sudsy, literary
lions is long: Twain, Joyce,
Faulkner, just to name a few.
Which bring us to MacGre-
gor’s Whiskey Bar.
Owner Chip MacGregor is
a writer who wound up in New
York, working for a publishing
house. In the mid-2000s Chip
returned to the Northwest and
launched MacGregor Literary,
his own agency.
Then came the tornado.
In October 2016, winds spun
up from the ocean and ripped
through downtown Manzanita.
Among the damaged was Vino.
Rather than sign a lease and
remodel, Vino called it a day.
In that tiny space, Chip saw an
opportunity to take his passion
public. With a redesigned inte-
rior, MacGregor’s Whiskey Bar
opened in the early summer of
Like Vino, MacGregor’s
is the size of a shoebox, and
it’s hard to imagine it being as
effective any other way. (Well,
OK: They could dim the light-
ing.) The bar, maybe four seats
long, takes up nearly a third of
the interior. It can be cramped,
but limiting capacity is integral
to the staff’s engagement, which
during my trips was game and
And really, how does a novice
navigate 150-plus whiskeys
without a guide, anyway? Sure,
you might have a favorite. And
that’s fine. Order away. (The
cocktails, it should be men-
tioned, are excellent, too.) But
that would skip out on the bar’s
most essential service.
Rather, turn to MacGregor’s
thoughtful and thematic flights
(most of which cost around $24
for three one-ounce pours). Most
revolve around specific locales
(Scotland, Japan, Oregon, etc.),
styles (scotch, bourbon, rye,
etc.) or bring them together for
contrast. Then there’s the Flight
of Fancy, where a server works
with you to fashion a custom
tasting. On a slow January
evening, with Chip as Sherpa, I
leaned in.
He probed my tastes to build
a profile. I told him I preferred
bourbon and rattled off a few I
liked. I wanted each taste to be
something I’d never had before.
Chip went to work. He un-
corked bottles and offered smells,
little tastes and stories. We settled
first on Michter’s, which Chip
said was his favorite bourbon at
the bar. Next was Noah’s Mill. I
was attracted by Chip’s descrip-
tion: family owned, non-corpo-
rate and very hard to get. The
story of Old Forrester 1920
Prohibition Style Bourbon sucked
me in, too — made strong, the
way bootleggers did when alco-
hol was outlawed. (Price was not
discussed during construction of
the flight. It ended up at $31.)
With glasses seated in a
whiskey barrel stave, the three
neat (aka iceless) pours were
presented with the bottles. The
arrangement helps you remem-
Rating: 
387 Laneda Ave.
Manzanita, Ore. 97130
Hours: 4-10 p.m.
Price: $$ – One could easily
rack up a righteous tab
Vegetarian / Vegan Options:
Nibbles like cheese, nuts, olives
Drinks: They have beer, plus
other spirits, and delicate,
delightful cocktails
Chip MacGregor presents the Flight of Fancy at MacGregor’s Whiskey Bar.
ber which golden brown liquor
is which. More than just a social
media-friendly photo-op, the
labels offer insight. I noticed,
for instance, that the family-run
Noah’s Mill was every bit as po-
tent (around 57-percent alcohol)
as the Old Forrester Prohibition
Style. But where the Old For-
rester struck with the force of a
clenched fist, acerbic and radiat-
ing heat, Noah’s Mill was com-
paratively gentle, unfurling with
an herbal tingle. Chip’s favorite,
the Michter’s, was robust, round,
sweet and inviting — popular for
all the right reasons.
I asked Chip what specifically
made the Micheter’s his favorite.
He gushed a bit about the sweet-
ness, the caramel, the vanilla,
but said he wasn’t exactly sure.
Sometimes you just know. And
that some mystery remains, I
think, is part of the allure.
But so, too, is contemplat-
ing, comparing and contrasting
characteristics where distinction
lies in the details. Tasting with
purpose makes you present. (The
alcohol helps, too.) Discerning
requires focusing on what’s
before you, embodying and
imbibing the moment. States like
these are among the greatest joys
of dining.
Eating at MacGregor’s bears
much in common with the drink-
ing. The nibbles are as thoughtful
as the sips.
As with Vino, MacGregor’s
kitchen is not much bigger than
a closet. And so MacGregor’s,
like Vino, offers mostly premade
bites from quality purveyors.
The heart of the eats are hand-
somely arranged boards: cheese,
pâté, charcuterie and so on. The
contents of the boards are like
cousins of the whiskies: artisanal,
craft products where time is an
essential part of the process. Like
whiskies, charcuterie, cheese and
pickled things are aged, vast and
occasionally mysterious.
Chip called the Pâté Board
($15) the best thing on the menu.
It featured three pâtés from
Portland’s Olympic Provisions:
green peppercorn and wine, rus-
tic pork rillettes and a melange
of pheasant, duck and rosemary,
plus baguette, crackers, whole-
grain dijon mustard and corni-
chons (tiny pickled cucumbers).
I enjoyed the deep richness of
the pheasant-duck pâté and the
texture of the unpressed, tradi-
tional pork rillettes. The addition
of something sweet and fruity —
jam, say — could make the pâté
board multitudinous.
 Poor
 Below average
 Worth returning
 Very good
 Excellent, best in region
The more familiar Charcuterie
Board ($17) offered less contem-
plation, though a wider breadth
of flavor with both meats and
cheeses, including Olli fennel
pollen salami, a slightly dry
Creminelli Milano prosciutto,
and Midnight Moon aged gouda.
MacGregor’s menu includes
other dainty, distinct and fla-
vor-forward snacks, like olives,
almonds and a pretzel with
cheese dip. There’s a small sec-
tion of the menu titled “Hearty”
that isn’t quite. At least the
Lobster Bisque ($11) wasn’t.
It was, though, a gluttonous
orgy of lobster-flecked butters
and creams that made for the
most enveloping, coating palate
cleanser. While not overly filling,
it was cozier than a warm bed.
MacGregor’s isn’t really a
place to have dinner, but it is a
discerning sensory experience
rarely found on the coast. Their
veritable quandary of sips and
nibbles nourishes the mind every
bit as much as the taste buds, if
not more so. Indeed, MacGre-
gor’s is a bar that rewards critical
And, as a writer, that makes a
whole lot of sense. CW