It used to be that while waiting for a coveted table at the still über-hot Toro Bravo restaurant here in Portland, the only option was to be crammed into that tiny elongated closet off to the side, packed liked sardines around the tables in the front, or waiting outside. Now, for all of us who want to go to TB but hate to wait, relief is a short walk upstairs, where for the price of a well-made cocktail you can join The Secret Society. The owner of the building that houses Toro Bravo, Matt Johnson, used to have his office in a room that looked out over the sidewalk in front of Toro Bravo. Night after night he'd see crowds of desperate, hungry, and probably thirsty diners waiting...and waiting. Being a smart boy who knows opportunity when it rears its profitable head, he transformed his office into a cozy, darkly lit den of adult refreshment with the titillating name The Secret Society. With its high ceiling, dark red walls, and very inviting bar with ice water dispensers for proper absinthe making on the bar, it reeks of retro cocktail cool (and you can see w looking very of-the-moment at the bar above). Various snacks are available to soak up the well thought out list of libations being offered. Absolutely not just a place to go while waiting for a Toro table, this charming, romantic bar should be on any cocktailistas list!
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Oh, and how as dinner at Toro Bravo? As always it was outstanding. Highlights for me were the always addictive salt cod fritters with aioli (that's an armada of them steaming across a sea of aioli at left) and the squid ink pasta with an hazelnuts and an egg yolk attractively positioned on top. I am always impressed at how consistent this place is considering the crowds. Owner John Gorham really has it working, and at an always reasonable price.