Portland has its first classical music-themed bar
For almost any type of music, there’s a bar in Portland where you can experience it live. From near-night jazz at 1905, dark wave DJs at Coffin Club, to DIY punk shows at High Water Mark, our city has its bases covered for fans of all genres.
Good, almost any gender. Classical music lovers have long been excluded from the life of live music enjoyed in the comfort of a dimly lit local haunt, forced to don formal attire to watch their favorite artists perform in the sophisticated auditoriums (although a little stuffy) Keller or Schnitz.
Luckily for us Beethoven bar-crawling heads, that’s about to change. Enter: Mendelssohn’s, Portland’s first classical music-themed bar. Located on N. Mississippi Avenue in the building that the Sidecar 11 whiskey bar once called home, it will feature live chamber music three nights a week, to be enjoyed with classic cocktails in a carefully curated yet relaxed environment.
Mendelssohn is the brainchild of Lisa Lipton, who happens to be a direct descendant of German Romantic-era composer OG Felix Mendelssohn. Lipton cut his teeth in the service industry for more than a decade at a beloved late-night haunt Rimsky-Korsakoffee House, and is currently executive director of the Newport Symphony Orchestra and Opera Theater Oregon. In the spirit of her illustrious musical lineage, she began playing the clarinet in orchestras in fifth grade and has been playing professionally since the age of 17.
“There was never a break in the music,” Lipton says. “It doesn’t even occur to me that it’s not part of my life.”
Like many of us, Lipton spent the early months of the pandemic exploring the world of cocktails. She used her love of bitters, her “super-tasting” powers (that’s one thing), and her wealth of beverage knowledge gained during her time at Rimsky-Korsakoffee House as a springboard for experimentation. But eventually, she found herself in love with the classics.
“Basics are bases because they are associated with the best version of itself,” she explains. “I love garish culinary experiments and trying new things, but I prefer to hone in to find the absolute best version of something.”
Many of Lipton’s mid-lockdown recipes will feature on Mendelssohn’s cocktail menu, including “Bach Talk,” a jalapeño Lillet Rouge martini, and “The Red Mendelssohn,” a blood orange Manhattan inspired by Felix Mendelssohn’s long-lost Stradivarius which “looks like it was painted with blood.”
The food menu will feature collaborations with other local spots, including Rimsky-Korsakoffee House, Henry Higgins and Olympia Provisions. Expect light fare: hot sandwiches, bagels, charcuterie boards (including a vegan option), and other casual finger foods.
Lipton, a self-proclaimed karaoke addict, knew from the start that she wanted to host karaoke nights at Mendelssohn’s. Guests will sing on a second-floor stage in the back corner of the bar, where they can take advantage of the staircase and railing to bring a little more showmanship and style to their performance. In addition to classic karaoke nights, Mendelssohn’s will also host a monthly opera karaoke night, or “Operoke,” with live accompanists. (Will “Nessun dorma” be the next total eclipse?)
Karaoke may be Lipton’s favorite pastime, but classical music is undoubtedly his passion. “I live and breathe this world,” she says. Live chamber music has been at the heart of Mendelssohn since its inception. Weekly performances will include classical guitarists, string and wind quartets, soloists, and more. However, don’t expect to hear the same traditional tunes you’ve heard over and over again.
“It’s an invitation into the world of what evenings with classical musicians are like,” Lipton explains, “where we play what we like to play when we’re not under the baton, or at a festival, or we are hired to do something… I like that gray area between self-expression and not fitting into a box defined by an institution. It’s a celebration of the old and the new .”
Mendelssohn’s is located at 3955 N Mississippi Ave and is slated to open July 9, just in time for the Mississippi Street Fair. It will be open seven days a week from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m.