Between the summers of 2008 and 2009, I lived in an apartment on Shepley Street. If you don't know where that is, join the club. I would often explain that my building was "on that small street right behind the White Heart." Of course, once I said that, everyone knew where I meant.
Over the course of its short lifetime, the White Heart bar and lounge made its mark on Portland's nightlife scene. The dim drinking establishment at 551 Congress Street, which opened in 2006 and billed itself as "upscale yet unpretentious," was a meeting place for many Portland night owls who wanted to avoid the Old Port. With its drink deals (shot of whiskey and a PBR pounder for $4, anyone?), dance nights, and popular Sunday brunch offerings (well, mostly the $2 Bloody Mary), the White Heart worked hard to earn its accolades -- and there were many of those, from the Phoenix, Esquire magazine, and other local publications.
"I also must say that it is one of the only places I've been employed that I would choose to spend time at when not on the clock," says Jay "Brzowski," the hip-hop artist who has worked at the White Heart in several different capacities, including as doorman, performer, bar-back, and patron.
"The crowd was always a pleasure to deal with," he continues. "Mostly 25 and up, with a bit of style, if not a wee bit of dirt on it. It was a weird vortex where a wide swath of the social strata would come together to imbibe, from the local art-world intelligentsia, to the condo-class, to the local metal heads." Plus, he says the White Heart was especially supportive of electronica DJs, and not particularly rowdy (he forcibly ejected fewer than 20 people in three years -- "not too shabby for downtown"). "It leaves a gaping hole in Portland nightlife that will be difficult to fill."
Another former employee, who wishes to remain anonymous due to some lingering resentment among various players, points out that the White Heart's vibe had changed over recent months, since a management change during the summer. At that time, several longtime staffers left or were phased out, and the bar "lost an even bigger part of the crowd" that it had catered to over the years, the former employee says. Indeed, within a matter of days, it seemed that the White Heart was no longer a stop among many regulars' bar crawls.
And now, shuttered and empty, it is not even an option. Former bar owner Anthony Hodge, who sold the lease and equipment to building owner Tom Moulton, says there are several parties interested in purchasing and re-opening the lounge -- including a former employee. In an e-mail to the Phoenix, Moulton wrote, "We're looking for a new tenant and are open to fresh ideas." Stay tuned.
There are bright spots on the horizon. As we reported was a possibility in July (see "Local Sprouts Dig In," by Deirdre Fulton, July 29), the folks involved with the LOCAL SPROUTS Cooperative will be opening a storefront cafe at 645 Congress Street this winter. Local 188 chef Jay Villani will be opening a lunch joint in the OLD O'NATURALS SPACE. . . soon. Binga's Wingas returns this week, in the BINGA'S STADIUM at 77 Free Street; doors are at 11 am on Thursday. And STYXX has new owners and a new look ? including "Zen," a new karaoke room in back ? which we've yet to see with our own eyes. Let's see how winter's wining and dining scene unfolds.