Portland has its fair share of restaurant waiting rooms—attached taverns with their own identities that help corral diners who have no patience for idling drinkless while hoping a table opens quickly.
There's Whey Bar, essentially a lobby with cocktails to keep you entertained before your name's called at Ox. There's La Taq, the spirited cantina that can get you through a layover on your way to Podnah's. And now, there's Bar Rione (810 NW 12th Ave., 503-954-1014), a welcome and already-bustling addition to Pearl District Italian spot Piazza Italia.
Situated just around the corner from the Old World-style eatery and deli, the bar is an extension of the original neighborhood—or rione, as they're known in Rome—carved out nearly 20 years ago by the restaurant's late co-founder Gino Schettini.
Bar Rione turned a concrete box once occupied by a convenience store into a sophisticated cocktail party. Compared to the soccer-jersey-festooned walls and red, green and white color palette of the room next door, Rione's earth-toned Venetian plaster and honey-blond tabletops are downright subdued. But that only helps to make the more modern features pop, like a teal-braided chandelier that spreads across the ceiling canopy-style, or the glowing, electric-pink shelves illuminating thoughtfully arranged liquor bottles—it's behind-the-bar storage elevated to a fine-art display.
The contents of those bottles are often combined to create Negronis, but if you find the harsh pinpricks of Campari too much to bear, the Bella ($12) is like a sweet kiss on the lips. The deep garnet-colored drink arrives in a sugar-shellacked martini glass, giving it the appearance of a holiday drink, but thanks to a juicy blackberry puree, it actually tastes like summer.
Bar Rione's wine program makes this place worth another visit—or another round. It takes at least a dozen distributors to complete the all-Italian selection, which recently included three natural wines and an orange.
Stave off hunger pangs while waiting for your big Italian dinner with a meat-and-cheese combo board. The variety of flavors and textures demands attention—from the delicate see-through-thin slice of prosciutto to a thick, chewy coin of wild boar, plus three types of cheeses from three different animals. The bite-size ($7) is recommended for one, but the generous portions could almost accommodate two as an appetizer. Same goes for the rusticini ($6), which is kind of like pigs in a buttery, flaky puff-pastry blanket.
All of that means that while Bar Rione may have been built as a waiting room for people landing elsewhere, it is likely to end up as the destination for many.