Bar Purlieu is one of the newest eateries to grace Willamette Street, filling a niche for French cuisine that’s both traditional and experimental.
The restaurant is small and unassuming from the outside. Inside, the low lights and navy blue walls give a sense of decadence, while the upbeat soul music and adventurous menu tells you this place doesn’t take itself too seriously.
After managing, bartending and curating wine lists for other restaurants for years, Laura Hines and her husband Joseph Kiefer-Lucas opened Bar Purlieu in December 2018, bringing their skills to Purlieu’s tables.
Hines and Kiefer-Lucas want customers to see that they have what others don’t. The goal is to make everything so appealing that you get a fear of missing out (FOMO) if you’re not taking part in the experience.
And they’ve just about achieved it: a wall of liquor spanning from the bar stand to ceiling; all the ingredients to make any of Kiefer-Lucas’ specialty drinks; rotating menu of made-to-order food; a carefully curated wine list with the “lowest markup in town,” according to Hines.
Hines was a wine buyer for almost four years, purchasing vintages for Membrillo and Oregon Electric Station. Now, for Bar Purlieu, she curates an ever-changing list of local, French and European wines.
At the bar you’ll find some experimental drinks, “but not, like, so experimental that it turns people off,” Kiefer-Lucas says. The drink menu changes often. He wants to have people saying, “I’ve gotta come back to try that before that’s off the menu.”
Hines and Kiefer-Lucas partnered with chef Ben Maude early on. Maude came on board to kick the menu into full gear. His background is French cuisine, so the French concept for the restaurant came from his expertise.
Now, Maude’s taking a step back, and Andrew “Drew” Nava, a chef from Southern California with 17 years of experience, is stepping in as executive chef. Nava worked as a chef in this very kitchen when the location was home to Wasi Peruvian BBQ and again when it was Membrillo.
Hines tells me there’s a running joke that “Drew comes with the building.”
Making French food presents such a delicate dynamic that presentation matters just as much as taste. “You eat with your eyes first. Then you smell it; then you get to taste it. It’s a whole process,” says Nava.
The traditional French theme also lends itself to sustainability.
“Real French food, French country food, utilizes the whole animal. That’s something that’s really important to us,” says Hines. A while back, when duck was on the menu, they offered a duck breast dish, made duck pâté with the liver, and used the rest of the animal to make a stock.
And what’s the FOMO aspect of Purlieu’s food?
Hines says it’s in the sauce. They create the sauce for their dishes à la minute, or made to order, making it more sumptuous than a sauce that’s been sitting, reducing itself for hours.
Nava agrees: “Our sauce game is the thing that defines us.”
Bar Purlieu is open 5 pm to 10 pm Monday through Saturday at 1530 Willamette Street. Happy hour every day, 5 to 6 pm and 9 to 10 pm. For more information see barpurlieu.com or search Bar Purlieu on Facebook.