Restaurants don’t stick around for nearly 150 years without picking up a few quirks along the way. Between flaming coffee cocktails of mysterious origins, century-old architectural features, and a truly inordinate amount of turkey options, Portland’s oldest restaurant is no exception.
The establishment known today as Huber’s Cafe opened in 1879 as the Bureau Saloon. It became Huber’s by name in 1891 upon purchase by Frank Huber and relocated about 20 years later to its current home in the (then) brand-new Railway Exchange Building, the first fully concrete structure in Portland. While it’s retained many handsome original features, from stained-glass skylights to mahogany panels, the restaurant’s true distinctions lie in its edible offerings.
Huber’s is perhaps most known for their “Spanish coffee.” It starts with a sugar-rimmed glass, into which a server pours high-proof rum and triple sec in a sweeping, circular motion before ritualistically lighting it aflame. After adding Kahlúa and coffee, they top it with fresh whipped cream and a dash of nutmeg. Huber’s has served the drink since 1975, when the former owner stole the concept from Milwaukie’s now-shuttered Fernwood Inn. Where did Fernwood get it from? Allegedly, some bar in Mexico. At any rate, the drink pairs wonderfully with the house bread pudding dessert.
Then there’s the turkey. In very much the same vein of Bubba Gump’s relation to shrimp, there’s quite a variety: smoked turkey quesadilla, roast turkey, turkey drumsticks, turkey bacon atop a Cobb salad, a turkey, cream cheese, and cranberry sandwich, and more. Huber’s fowl-oriented origins are a bit clearer than Spanish coffee’s, but no less unexpected.
It began with a Chinese immigrant named Wang Fun Louie, a.k.a. “Jim” Louie. After arriving in Portland in the late 1800s on a clipper ship from East China, it’s said, Louie developed some culinary skills in a French bakery before landing at Huber’s. In those days, when you ordered a drink in most saloons, you’d get a small snack, so Louie’s job was roasting and slicing turkey to make sandwiches for partaking patrons. In time, Louie estimates having roasted and carved more than 50,000 turkeys.
By 1911, Louie had become the saloon’s most trusted employee, such that management of the restaurant fell to him upon Huber’s death. Louie steered the transition from saloon to restaurant during Prohibition (at which point liquor was simply served in coffee mugs) and back again upon its repeal. To this day, the cafe is owned by Louie’s descendants, who continue to uphold a legacy of turkey supremacy, flaming coffee concoctions, and one iteration of the American Dream.
Know Before You Go
Avoid the wait by making reservations on Huber’s website.