It was only after a puffed-up poodle wearing a pink bow sauntered through the lobby of the Portland Center for the Performing Arts that it really sank in: The concept of bar as art has arrived.

With the holiday theater season in full swing, and downtown bars like the Heathman's and Higgins' packed to the gills, Portland's platinum partiers are thirsty for another pre-performance joint where they can play a local round of "see and be seen."

So it seemed impeccable timing last Thursday when PCPA unveiled the ArtBar & Bistro, its addition to stage and Sapphire martini lovers' yuletide rounds.

The new watering hole (quietly run by unhip food-service giant and unlikely trend maker Aramark) now anchors the PCPA building's foyer. A giant glass bar with motion-sensitive lights has been built right next to the box office's will-call booth. The adjoining bistro, decorated with gauzy blue curtain panels, takes over a space previously occupied by a laundry list of restaurants.

At the opening party, these structures served as the ArtBar's backdrop, thanks to more impressive downstage props. A crew of local celebs, that is, including City Commissioner-elect Sam Adams, White Bird co-founder Walter Jaffe and foodie-at-large Ron Paul, who enjoyed free quaffs from the bar's commendable roster of $8-to-$10 cocktails. During the joint's regular job as a performance venue, thirsty audience members can pre-order drinks to gulp down during intermissions. And you can already imagine eavesdropping on the post-performance play-by-plays and craft-beer binges that will undoubtedly follow each show.

Back at the party, lawyers and marketing reps networked between sips of Veuve Clicquot while elflike actor types gamboled about the Christmas tree and sculptures.

As the seasonally affected melee wound down, a smattering of giddy drinkers heeded the call of the Echo Jazz Trio and took to the lobby floor. An older couple sashayed through a complicated swing combination while a pair of women Franken-danced close by.

"It's like, um, a ridiculously chic bar mitzvah," a youngish gent said as he made short work of a stiff, six-olive Level martini. He was right. The party was like some drama-filled family celebrating the big city-style merger of art and alcohol.

Let's hope Portland's glitterati, and their pets, won't tire of its new toy before next December.

ArtBar & Bistro,

Portland Center for the Performing Arts Rotunda Lobby, 1111 SW Broadway, 434-2905.