Dana Frank is back.
The all-world Portland sommelier—formerly of Ava Gene's, Dame and Holdfast Dining—has opened Bar Norman (2615 SE Clinton St., barnorman.com), her ode to chic European wine bar culture, with a hi-fi sound system, dozens of wines by the glass and a reasonably priced bottle program.
Beneath a canopy of dangling Edison bulbs, among towering fern fronds and flickering candles, Norman has already become a trendy spot for local food and beverage professionals and well-heeled folks on dates.
A minimalist bar setup anchors the space, paired with a large, 10-seat communal table of dark burled wood and mismatched antique chairs. A battery of two- and four-tops round out the dining room, though I use this term loosely—"dining" at Bar Norman is strictly an afterthought for now, with only a bit of Little T baguette and tinned fish on offer. You'll want to eat dinner somewhere else first, or use this place as a cheeky aperitif.
Any of the 75 or so bottles stocked on the wall are for sale to take away, or can be enjoyed on the premises for a modest $10 corkage fee. Highlights include Pheasant's Tears Kakhuri Mtsvane ($17) from the country of Georgia, Jean-Baptiste Menigoz Neo Arbois ($35) from the Jura region of France, and a well-curated essential Oregon bottle shelf with wines by Kelley Fox, Montebruno, Maloof, Holden, A.D. Beckham, and the Frank family's own Bow & Arrow Wines.
With more than 25 wines available by the glass, the bar at Bar Norman offers a vast range of flavor experiences depending on mood and inclination. You might start with the chill, light Spring Red ($11) from Australian winemaker Jordy Kay, a tart, taut drop of cherry juice and pebbles. Follow it up with Curii Una Noche y un Dia garnacha from the eastern coast of Spain, which is an altogether more serious pour, like a silky cocktail of kir and pepper jelly. The vast majority of pours are $14 and under, with a few particularly strange and rare wines topping out at $18.
There's no booze here, but if you need a nightcap, you can enjoy your choice of amari or vermouth from the bar's eye-catching collection of vintage bottles, some dating back as far as the 1960s, offered neat ($7) or with bubbles ($8).
The tastiest thing I tried on my first nights was a 1960s Fresia Chinato, served cool and fizzy with a splash of soda and a twist of orange peel. Think tannic, deep notes of clove and licorice, with a layered sweetness smoothed out by the soda, poured from an enormous 2-liter bottle dating back to the Johnson administration. I'll be drinking them all summer long.