It's a few minutes past opening, and the Old Portland's lone bartender is missing in action.
Owner Courtney Taylor-Taylor isn't sweating it, though. He's here, after all, and as with most things the Dandy Warhols frontman does, Taylor-Taylor created this place with himself in mind. Running a tight ship—where employees show up on time and there's more than just a small neon sign in the window to attract patrons—is less important than satisfying his own needs.
"I don't want to be paying for it. But obviously, I already have a job," he says. "I just need someplace to go."
Call it a vanity project, but vanity is precisely what makes the Old Portland so weirdly successful. As a self-described "wino" who's spent the past two decades touring the world, Taylor-Taylor knew what he wanted out of a wine bar, and he wasn't getting it in Portland—or America, for that matter.
So, last year, he cleared out some corner-office space at the Odditorium, the entire city block the Dandies bought back when the Slabtown neighborhood had the approximate ambience of a bomb shelter. Until last November, when the Old Portland opened, the band's long-standing studio and clubhouse had never before been open to a public more expansive than the friends of friends who once filled the space on New Year's Eve.
The Old Portland, Taylor-Taylor says, is the bar he always wanted to drink at. And while the decor is classic wine bar hardwood, the decoration is literally from Old Portland.
Taylor-Taylor papered the walls with '90s show fliers from X-Ray Cafe and La Luna and the Melody Ballroom, and filled the room with accoutrements salvaged from his favorite lost local haunts. The tables come from the much-mourned Wildwood restaurant, whose building still stands vacant on Northwest Pettygrove Street. The mirrors are from the former century-old Lotus Cardroom, where George Clinton once threw up in the restroom.
The pièce-de-résistance, hanging above the doorway, is the marquee from Satyricon, the legendary punk dive Taylor-Taylor first played as a teenager hitching rides into town from Beaverton. He's not sure how it wound up in his possession—he claims he came back from tour one day and it was just there waiting for him—but he gets emotional looking at it.
He gets equally rhapsodic talking about wine. Although the classic literature he read as a child caused him to romanticize the idea of wine from a young age, it wasn't until he started throwing parties at the Odditorium and entertaining the likes of the Strokes and David Bowie that he truly became a "wine person." A seller once told him he had "the palate of an old French man," and recommended an $80 Bordeaux—an extravagance at the time.
"And that was it," Taylor-Taylor says. "That was the end of my life before Bordeaux. It just made my life much better."
The wine he now sells is mostly rotating French and Italian reds, with bottles topping out at $200. The bar is small enough to feel like you're hanging in Taylor-Taylor's personal cellar, which isn't too far off from being the truth.
"What I originally envisioned was pretty much to have it look like a punk club where someone took everything out and put an expensive wine bar inside the shell," he says. "I think it's a good balance. It's tidy, but it's timeworn. You can tell this shit's been in here for a while."
Finally, after an hour, the bartender, Travis—ex-husband of the Dandy Warhols
keyboardist Zia McCabe—arrives. He got held up at a parent-teacher conference.
At this point, the Old Portland is operating on a weekend-by-weekend basis; Taylor-Taylor says they're "in the black by about $50." It's surprising he knows the figure. The Old Portland seems less like a business than Taylor-Taylor's vision of a city he built mostly out of his own memories—some mix of crusty punk and wine-stained decadence that only really exists here in this red-lit cubby of a bar.
But even though Taylor-Taylor grouses about the city's traffic and changing skyline as much as any native, he still knows a good business opportunity when he sees one.
"When that is full," he says, pointing toward the incoming apartment complex across the street, "there will be hundreds and hundreds of metrosexuals moving in right there in view of this little neon sign that says 'WINE.' C'mon."
The Old Portland is at 1433 NW Quimby St., 503-234-0865. 4-9 pm Wednesday-Saturday.
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