Just opened a few days ago in Portland, Oregon's hip Mississippi District, Locale is part bar, part coffee shop with the exact feel of neither. Instead, it comfortably occupies the feel of something in-between the two: a space where one can get one’s morning coffee, lunch, and evening nightcap with equal degrees of delicious intentionality.
Like the chef-driven restaurants and bartender cocktail haunts that clearly inspire it, Locale is a direct reflection of its owners, down to every last detail of the design and each vermouth on the menu. Dustin Wight and Erik Spellmeyer are longtime friends, dating back to Wight’s stint at the Wandering Goat in Eugene, where Spellmeyer was a regular. When the space was offered to Wight in April, it seemed only natural that Spellmeyer would come on board. “We both have dreamed about this place in some form or another for a long time, independently and even joking about it sitting over drinks,” Spellmeyer told Sprudge. “I’d say the concept came together pretty quickly, just out of our own interests,” agrees Wight. “It wasn’t very difficult once we started talking to just be like: this is what we want, this is what we don’t see elsewhere, and this is what we actually can make happen.
That concept—a “typical European-style cafe and bar”—is based on some of Spellmeyer’s favorite haunts from the year he spent living in the Czech Republic and his travels around Europe. The space features several tributes to Czech cafe culture, from their dedicated Pilsner Urquell tap to the cafe's name itself, taken from Spellmeyer's favorite bar in Prague, “Lokal”. Locale’s design was created by the owners themselves, and reflects a mixture of light and dark, old and new, traditional and modern, hard and soft. The walls and tile are white but the long bar that is the focal point of the space and all the tabletops are dark English walnut. The shelves behind the bar are modern with clean lines while an antique cupboard stands in the back and lighting fixtures from Schoolhouse Electric create warmth, looking like something from a 19th-century chemistry lab.The chairs and table pedestals would fit in a traditional Parisian cafe but the art on the wall, by Nate Ethington, is contemporary.
Wight spent a weekend crafting a beautiful mahogany chevron-patterned façade to the front of the bar while Spellmeyer and his wife created soft batted panels matching the bench seating to go underneath the counter. Plants from Pistils Nursery down the street, a retro clock, and a Marantz sound system add finishing details.
The coffee bar features a two-group Synesso Cyncra with bubinga wood customizations; a modified Mazzer Robur, a Ceado E92, and a Ceado E375 for espresso; and a Mahlkönig EK 43 grinder and FETCO for batch brew. Currently, the shop exclusively serves coffee from Portland's Scandinavian-owned light roast rangers Heart—Wight is a former Heart barista, and Locale is capably featuring a rotating selection of the roaster's single origin offerings alongside their house Stereo espresso blend. The beer list features PDX local favorites like Pfriem and a special dedicated tap to the aforementioned Pilsner Urquell. Wine options are still a work in progress, but the bar's vermouth selection is outstanding, featuring a range of local (Imbue) and international (Cocchi) options. A few snacks, sandwiches, and salads are offered throughout the day, featuring charcuterie from Portland's award-winning (and heartily Sprudge-approved) Chop Butchery. Pastries come from Jennifer Plitzko’s pastry project, Heim.
Service at Locale combines the full-table service one would receive at a European or Australian cafe with walk-up service typical of a coffee shop. The intent is for customers ordering their food and drinks to stay to bypass the line, sit down, relax and be waited on while those just ordering a coffee to go can walk in, place an order, get their drink, and be on their way. Both owners concede that such a setup has a lot of challenges and that they’ll likely have to work out a few kinks along the way. Locale is as brand new as Portland gets, and so Spellmeyer and Wight have a few things that they either suspect or know they’ll be tweaking and expanding.
By pursuing a mixture of European preferences with local selections and sentiments, Wight & Spellmeyer have created something quite lovely and unique in Locale. It’s not a knock-off of a Prague cafe falling short of the mark; it’s not a typical cookie-cutter Portland bar or coffee shop, another one of many. It is the result of two men who appreciate late-night cappuccinos and noontime sips of vermouth, and who suspect that others might appreciate those things, too. It's hard not to love a new place built around the care, risk, and ambition of two longtime friends. Locale is part Old World, part old soul, and here in Portland the combination feels cutting edge.
Rachel Grozanick is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Oregon. Grozanick has contributed previously to Bitch Magazine, 90.5 WESA in Pittsburgh, and 90.7 KBOO in Portland. Read more Rachel Grozanick on Sprudge.