Lupa (3955 N Mississippi Ave., 287-5872) is my favorite Portland bar that almost wasn't. Rose City-area native Amanda Prock had fancied opening her North Mississippi Avenue wine-centric bodega and bottle shop in New York City, where she lived until 2006. It's a damn good thing she moved home, because Lupa is just the place that Portland needed. Atmospheric and laid back, it's a wine-focused cantina, a good place for a quiet drink that shuns the pageantry of the wine geeks.
Lupa feels Old World, like it's been airlifted from a Lisbon back alley—but not in a chintzy, faux-historic way. Beneath the tall, sky-lit ceiling of exposed timber rafters is a long wooden bar and a few candlelit tables scattered throughout the back. The food menu is short but adequate enough for the wine list, a whimsical but well-thought-out roster of red, white, sparkling and dessert wines. And you couldn't ask for a more unassuming wine steward than Prock, who chooses words like "slutty" to describe a particular Spanish red. You'll find none of the cork-sniffing, Riedel-swirling wine crowd here, and 32-year-old Prock isn't going to tell if you're holding your glass incorrectly—she serves in bistro glasses. "Lupa's a little off center," she says.
There are no duds on the well-rounded list of 30 glass pours, which favors selections slightly off the beaten path and priced reasonably—most hover near to the lower end of Lupa's $5 to $10 range. Lush Periquita, which is an easy-drinking Portuguese red from the Algarve, shares the roster with intense Argentine Malbecs, spicy Col des Vents and no fewer than four sherries, including Manzanilla, a potent fortified white from Cádiz sadly overlooked in much of the New World. On a hot day, there's nothing more refreshing than Tincho, a young and slightly effervescent Argentine white that's served on ice with a lime. Be careful, you could drink these all day long.
As if that weren't enough, any of Lupa's 300 or so retail selections can be consumed on site for a small corkage fee ($5-$10).
The food menu is simple but good, featuring Montaditos: All the rage in Seville, Lupa's palm-sized sammies on crusty Pearl Bakery petit pain are filled with the likes of salami, pecorino, boquerones and slices of Spanish tortilla ($3.50-$4.50). There are also cheese and salami plates ($3-$8) and sides of fried Marcona almonds ($3-$5), plus Frock's stellar housemade cupcakes and chocolate chip cookies for two bucks. Plus, the soundtrack is a little funkier than the average wine bar repertoire—everything from Cowboy Junkies to Stevie Wonder—a nice respite from indie rock and techno.
Prock cut her teeth in Manhattan restaurants after living in Florence, eating her way through Spain, picking wine grapes in Slovenia and walking the 800-kilometer Road to Santiago. Thankfully, via NYC, that road ended in Portland—at least for now.