In the darkness of a red-curtained room that looks like the Black Lodge in Twin Peaks, an elegant woman with a shaved head is explaining that she's transsentient, while the bartender retrieves a tarot deck he says was blessed by a Buddhist monk. Lots of things have been blessed by monks at tiny Southeast Ankeny bar Chandelier (1451 SE Ankeny St., 503-841-8345, chandelierbarpdx.com), including the four-foot-tall Buddha statue out front.
Owner Matthew Ellis says he conducts free tarot readings at the eight-seat sake, beer and wine bar when business is slow and the feeling is right. But for now, the former Multnomah Whiskey Library bartender, dressed in a fitted black suit and flamboyant bolo tie, is pouring a junmai genshu sake he says tastes like cheese. Miraculously, it does: It tastes like a pure distillation of gooey Brie.
Meanwhile, an heirloom red-rice sake called "Ine's Full Bloom" tastes like porcini mushrooms and smoked fruit; it's made by one of Japan's first female brewers in the modern age. Another sake is infused with plum, while yet another tastes precisely like cocoa nibs despite containing no chocolate. Ellis has milked connections gained by living in Japan, reverentially telling the story of each esoteric, rarely seen sake as he pours it into mismatched stemware.
His menu is devoted to finding bottles at the outer edges of what sake can taste like—magic tricks every bit as surprising as the infinity mirror on the room's back wall, which seems to be a window into a tunneled abyss.
The bathroom at Chandelier is equally devoted to the dark arts: The Tibetan Book of the Dead sits open in a black room filled with candles, with the sounds of low and ominous chanting giving way to a triumphant organ at comical moments. Like the Stereolab album, Chandelier is a place of transient random noise bursts, with announcements.