I took a little drive around my city, because I felt like turning left on 76th, and eventually happened in on a place called Woodstock Wine and Deli in the un-self-conscious willi-wither-whackers of SE, so far off the beaten path they don’t even know there are fucks to give. I once worked a tasting event there, and remembered being blown away by the wines, but until today I had forgotten exactly why. It’s not a huge selection. They’ve got a lot of Italian stuff, a few bottles of this and that from Oregon and California and Washington. None of it seems particularly inspiring until you zoom in on the labels. For example, they’ve got two Cristom Marjorie Pinots (something I save for Christmas-level meals), which is fine, and let’s-see-what-else-they-got until you realize you have a choice between 1990 and 1996…
Those Guigal Hermitage up on the top shelf? 1992-1995. Barolo and Barbaresco and Rioja from when I was in grade school, White Burgundy from the 1980s, and this just keeps happening all up and down a wall 50 feet from end to end; all this, in a place that seemed not only to take decorating cues from a truck stop, but also furniture.
This was especially jarring for me because just a couple days ago, I stumbled into the Multnomah Whiskey Library, which is exactly what it sounds like, except the Library is at Unseen University in Ankh-Morpork, and it’s got all the spirits that exist tastefully lit and stacked bar-to-cathedral-ceiling-top, overlooking Ron Burgundy’s living room, if Ron Burgundy had good taste and class. This is the sort of place where the bartenders have accents, and the menu has chapters. It’s the sort of place where you sit by the stone fireplace on a cold winter’s night with a snifter of Armagnac in hand. It’s the sort of place where you display your class by not drinking yourself into a stupor so blind you start to mix up Joyce and Faulkner quotes. If not for the reassuring tattoo on the waiter’s arm, you’d think a dimensional portal had sucked you into the Union Society at Oxford.
It struck me, on the way home, that these establishments are two sides of the same coin. They take opposite routes to that curious cultural space that the finest parts of Portland inhabit. The Deli is so aggressively unpretentious that you expect any moment to see Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen walk into the frame, but actually, these wines are just sort of here. And no one fundamentally cares. The library plays the part of the unbearably pretentious snob magnet so crisply that you can’t actually deny that it is, in fact, the one place in the entire city where wearing a dinner jacket won’t seem odd.