For almost any type of music, there's a bar in Portland where you can experience it live. From near-nightly jazz at the 1905, dark wave DJs at the Coffin Club, to DIY punk shows at the High Water Mark, our town has its bases covered for fans of any genre.
Well, almost any genre. 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 (if a bit stuffy) auditoriums of the Keller or Schnitz.
Luckily for us bar-crawling Beethoven-heads, that's about to change. Enter: Mendelssohn's, Portland's first classical music-themed bar. Located on N. Mississippi Ave in the building that whiskey bar Sidecar 11 once called home, it will feature live chamber music three nights a week, to be enjoyed alongside classic cocktails in a carefully curated—yet casual—environment.
Mendelssohn's is the brainchild of Lisa Lipton, who happens to be a direct descendant of the OG Romantic-era German composer Felix Mendelssohn. Lipton cut her teeth in the service industry for over a decade at beloved late-night haunt Rimsky-Korsakoffee House, and currently serves as the executive director of both the Newport Symphony Orchestra and Opera Theater Oregon. In the spirit of her illustrious musical lineage, she started playing clarinet in orchestras in fifth grade, and has been playing professionally since the age of 17.
"There's never been a break in playing music," says Lipton. "It doesn't even cross my mind for it to not be a part of my life."
Like so 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 (it's a thing), and her wealth of beverage knowledge acquired from her time at Rimsky-Korsakoffee House as a springboard for experimentation. But ultimately, she found herself in love with the classics.
"The basics are the basics because it's paired down to the best version of itself," she explains. "I'm into gaudy food experiences and trying new things, but I'm more into refining to find the absolute best version of something."
Many of Lipton's mid-lockdown recipes will be featured on Mendelssohn's cocktail menu, including "Bach Talk," a Lillet Rouge jalapeño martini, and "The Red Mendelssohn," a blood orange Manhattan inspired by Felix Mendelssohn's long-lost Stradivarius that "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, bagel dogs, charcuterie boards (including a vegan option), and other casual finger foods.
Lipton, a self-proclaimed karaoke addict, knew she wanted to host karaoke nights at Mendelssohn's from the start. Guests will sing on a second-story stage in the back corner of the bar, where they can take advantage of the staircase and railing to bring some extra showmanship and flair to their performance. In addition to classic karaoke nights, Mendelssohn’s will also host a monthly opera karaoke—or "Operoke"—night, featuring live accompanists. (Will "Nessun dorma" be the next Total Eclipse?)
Karaoke may be Lipton's favorite pastime, but classical music is no doubt her passion. "I live and breathe this world," she says. Live chamber music has been at the heart of Mendelssohn's since its inception. Weekly performances will include classical guitarists, string and wind quartets, soloists, and more. However, don't come expecting to hear the same traditional tunes you've heard time and time again.
"It's an invitation into the world of what the after-hours are like with classical musicians," Lipton explains, "where we play what we like to play when we're not under a baton, or in a festival, or getting hired to do something... I love that in-between gray area of self-expression and not fitting yourself 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 currently slated to open on July 9, just in time for the Mississippi Street Fair. It will open seven days a week from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m.