Behind the Hunt & Alpine Club bar—35 feet of brushed galvanized steel inside 75 Market Street in Portland’s Old Port—Andrew Volk ’05 moves with staccato assurance. He taps to check if patrons need a refill, swings to wash glasses in a hidden sink, and moves his Boston shaker with a speed and energy usually reserved for maracas: over the shoulder, down, back up. A pour through, then tap. You, sir, have a drink.
Volk has been tending bar for almost a decade, since he landed a gig in Glacier National Park the summer after graduation. “I remember saying to my parents, ‘Hey, I’m doing this for fun. If I’m doing this in ten years tell me to get the heck out.’”
He’s still doing it, but now he owns the place, a trendy newcomer to the Portland, Maine, bar and food scene.
Volk’s path started in the mountains and maintained an upward trajectory. After a summer in Glacier, Volk moved to Oregon, where he kept bartending — “dive bars, Irish bars, the spectrum”—until he landed at Clyde Common, the restaurant adjacent to the Portland Ace Hotel. The bar program there was nominated three times for a James Beard Award, and, working under star mixologist Jeffrey Morgenthaler, Volk was inducted into the smallish American craft cocktail world.
Volk and his wife, Briana, both grew up in small towns, and they planned to move to one. So offers in Philadelphia and New York seemed temporary at best. “If we moved to Philly,” said Volk, “we’d live there for two years, never see each other, and then we’ll move to a small town. So why even spend those two years in the city? … So we moved here.”
Portland, Maine, is reputed to have more restaurants per capita than San Francisco. The Volks relished the many fine establishments of Portland East but couldn’t find a place they liked to go for a drink. As Volk tells it, his wife was joking when she suggested they open a bar, and his response was immediate and unenthusiastic. “But then I thought, ‘Hey, maybe actually, between the skills and what I’ve seen and what I’ve done … this could actually work.’”
It took almost two years to plan, raise capital, and build out the space, but he opened his doors in September—and Portland’s food scene took notice. In November the Hunt & Alpine Club was featured on eater.com (a national restaurant gossip site) in a roundup of the 30 hottest cocktail bars in America.
Despite that acclaim, the bar exudes a certain cool. While the lights showing in the picture windows are dim enough to suggest that the place may not be open, inside, Scandinavian-inspired food is offered on menu boards, and a wall of bottles stretches toward the high ceiling.
“[We wanted] to create a space that was comfortable for conversations,” said Volk. “We want to have a place where people feel comfortable … and to be able to put out good drinks and good food and make sure people have a good time.”
Shaking cocktails and checking on customers, Volk makes things look effortless, but he’s bartending four nights a week and managing seven—not sleeping much by anyone’s math. “Five or ten years ago,” he said, “I would never have encouraged myself to do what I’m doing now. It was a bunch of decisions all rolled into one.” —Martin Connelly ’08