With mask mandates expiring and many of us rightfully dragging our Zoom apps into the recycle bin, local businesses across Southern Arizona are celebrating what it means to be social again.
At Portal, an intimate cocktail bar located at 220 N. Fourth Ave., they are taking the idea of social rather seriously and that is a real boon for bar manager Breya Zur.
“My team and I are a lot happier now that our guests can see our faces again,” said Zur. “Being social means that we can display our emotions while serving them, like giving vibes out and getting them back, and if our guests can see how proud we are of something that we have created, it gives them a special feeling of what hospitality is all about.”
This concept also extends to Zur’s cocktail menu, with a section devoted to the communal connection. Its occupants are what she calls “social bowls,” with nary a mention of distancing, which are cocktails intended to serve several “participants” that are presented to them in large vessels handmade by a local potter.
I guess it is a mark of maturity when you advance from simple patron to full-on participant in a cocktail encounter.
One expression of Portal’s social story is the Swamp Thing, made with Midori melon liqueur, passionfruit, soda, Prosecco, and a purple Hawaiian yam known as ube that has the flavor profile of sugar cookies.
“This one has a social throwback vibe, especially with the Midori, that will put you right into a Studio 54 kind of mood,” she said.
Another social sipper is the Jupiter Bowl, with gin, coconut rum, Falernum, orgeat, passionfruit, hibiscus, lime, and pineapple. Before it is presented to participants, the drink is set on fire and sprinkled with cinnamon to produce a finishing spark.
“This is a fruity and floral cocktail that definitely gives off those big tiki and summer fun vibes,” she said.
This sounds great to me. I will just have to remember to pack the cinnamon on my next trip to Maui.
These social bowls are designed to be enjoyed by three or more, served with individual straws matching the number of participants who will be sharing in their consumption. And to take them to even greater heights, CBD oil can be added, in either 17 mg or 34 mg doses, which Zur says may help to relieve muscle pain, soreness, and headaches.
For those who would rather fly solo, Portal features an impressive line-up of cocktails made and served through more conventional means. Categories include Quickies, Porch Pounders, Nightcaps, Modern Classics, and Portal Cocktails. Select beers, wines, spirits, and snacks are also available.
Guests are reportedly encouraged to “surrender to the inevitable” when they walk through Portal’s doors. So, what does that mean to Breya Zur?
“For me, it means go ahead and give in, decide that you are going to have a good night,” she said. “If you are feeling anxious or stressed out about something, let it out and let it go.”
The pandemic served up anxiety and stress in spades, and it is good to know there is a place in town built on the importance of letting it all go. A place where the concept of social is part of its signature, where you can be a true participant in the culture they have created, and where a group of friends can simultaneously plunge their straws into a single cocktail and sip together in the spirit of solidarity.
Contact Matt Russell, whose day job is CEO of Russell Public Communications, at email@example.com. Russell is also the publisher of OnTheMenuLive.com as well as the host of the Friday Weekend Watch segment on the “Buckmaster Show” on KVOI 1030 AM.