To find Alberta Street's newest wine bar, you'll have to slip behind Aviary restaurant, pass through a gate and walk down a flight of winding concrete stairs. The effort is rewarded. Les Caves (1719 NE Alberta St., 503-206-6852, lescavespdx.com) is a cool, dark slice of heaven on a hot day.
Its winemaker owners run Ovum and Golden Cluster—two of the most exciting labels in the New Oregon Wine scene—so Les Caves functions as a winery bar with a great bottle list from around the world. In the dark, den-like, literally chilled space, the makers' own wines are always on tap ($10) alongside $9 Sherry pours and wines from Georgia (the country) to California (the state).
The result is like a wino version of Rum Club, drawing a devoted crowd of industry types while also catering to people who don't know shit about wine. There are macramé wall hangings and Eastern floor rugs, raw-edge wooden tables and comfy barstools, and a single couch sitting in a raised nook, dubbed the "Ovum Hang Suite" and optimized for snuggling. Food is minimal, but the house grilled cheese ($7) draws oohs and ahhs each time off the sandwich press.
The bar also features a great selection of rare bottles hunted down in the Byzantine vintage wine market, stocked with wines from years deemed "undesirable" by pretentious wine critics. This means you get to drink great aged California and French wines for way less than you might expect, like a 1993 Villa Mt. Eden Cabernet Sauvignon ($50) made during the first Clinton term. "We're getting great deals and they taste amazing," says co-owner Jeff Vejr of Golden Cluster. "We figure maybe since we're winemakers, you'll trust us."