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Vitaly Paley

Last week came the bombshell: the Heathman Hotel dining room is no more. Never mind that the bloom was long off the rose for the historic downtown restaurant that was once reigned as one of the best places to eat in town. (In recent years, management by the national chain Landry’s left the Heathman feeling … like part of a chain.) But good news for the future has arrived. As Eat Beat learned in an exclusive interview, a new concept called Headwaters is coming from James Beard-medaled chef Vitaly Paley and his longtime wife/partner Kimberly Paley. 

The owners of Paley's Place and Imperial have inked a 10-year lease with owner LaSalle Hotel Properties to helm a major dining room facelift and new food direction for the Heathman, to include the dining room, historic tea court, room service and banquet rooms. Headwaters will be a seafood-focused restaurant, with a raw bar, cocktail bar, and an intense focus on local ingredients, a Paley’s speciality. The remodel will begin once the current tenant departs at the end of March. The plan is to gut the interior and reopen in late summer. 

The design, menu and vibe are still in the works. Vitaly Paley has been camped out at the Oregon Historical Society, looking at old Heathman photos for inspiration. “We’re excited to take over such a grande dame of Portland,” he says. “I can’t wait to make it sing again.” He also plans to look to his personal roots for the tea room: right now, the idea is to replace the high English tea with a Russian tea concept, perhaps an extension of DaNet, the pop-up that has allowed Paley to unleash his own version of pre-Soviet Russian cuisine. 

Paley will be the third James Beard Northwest chef associated with the Heathman. Greg Higgins, the godfather of Portland’s food scene, set the table at the Heathman before he departed in 1994, later winning a Beard award in 2002 for his own downtown spot, Higgins. Philippe Boulot—the fisherman-cum-French chef who made the Heathman one of Portland’s defining restaurants before departing in 2012—nabbed the award in 2001. Paley took home gold for Paley’s Place in 2005. What they all share: a deep commitment to local farms and food.

The most immediate question is this: Are the Paleys insane? The couple already has a full throttle breakfast, lunch, and dinner hotel dining room with Imperial, housed inside another historic hotel just blocks away. (Willamette Week recently named Imperial its Restaurant of the Year and chef Doug Adams, Top Chef finalist and heartthrob, has his own following.) DaNet, one of the country’s great Russian eating experiences, has an enviable wait list for its monthly seating. Meanwhile, Paley’s Place is still standing proud at age 20. 

To this Paley says: “Yes, yes, and yes. We are crazy. There’s a level of excitement, and the level of being terrified,” he says. “It’s always scary to put yourself out there. We’re hoping our integrity will serve us well. This opportunity came out of nowhere. We have zero regrets. I can’t wait to jump in head first.” 

The Paleys have their own personal history with the Heathman. Twenty years ago, the couple left New York for Portland’s promised land. One of the meals that won them over during their early days in the Rose City? Dinner at downtown’s Heathman Hotel, a pioneer of Northwest cuisine and just the place to take a food-lover, a lumber baron, or sweet old aunt. Anthony Bourdain held court in the dining room. The New Yorker’s Calvin Trillin was a fan. Back then, everyone went to the Heathman, built in the 1920s and still on the National Historic Register.

Little did they know that two decades later, they’d not be dining, but cooking and serving.

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