Déjà vu in downtown Portland
A restaurant developer brings the joie de vivre of the Brasserie Montmartre back to the central city
Daily Journal of Commerce
POSTED: 06:00 AM PST Wednesday, November 21, 2007
BY NATHALIE WEINSTEIN
Playing cards, spirited up by a crafty magician, lined the ceilings. Crayon portraits on large sheets of butcher paper were framed on its walls. Patrons sat at its long, dark bar and listened to jazz while dining on coq au vin and crème brulée.
When the Brasserie Montmartre restaurant closed in 2006, Portland mourned the loss of the establishment’s late-night jazz, French cuisine and colorful table art.
But restaurant developer Bill Hayden is breathing new life into the late café.
Hayden’s company, Cutting Edge Restaurants, along with general contractor Bocchetti Contracting, developer Norway Development and architecture firm Vallaster & Corl, are in the middle of an extensive renovation of the restaurant and its building, The Esquire, located at 626 S.W. Park in Downtown Portland.
“We’re bringing it back,” said Hayden. “We have the pictures that were there, the playing cards from the ceiling. We’re putting the black-and-white checkered floors back in. It will be kind of a Brasserie Year 2008.”
Bocchetti Contracting purchased $24,000 worth of Brasserie relics, including 80 framed crayon drawings, lighting fixtures, curtain rails and the bar, according to contractor Frank Bocchetti.
“For the last 30 years, they had contests with these white paper tablecloths and crayons, and the winners would get a prize,” said Bocchetti. “There were people coming over to buy their own paintings from the auction. They went for $300 a piece sometimes.”
The building’s owner, Carl Coffman of Norway Development, is performing seismic renovations on the 35,000-square-foot building. The upper floors, vacant for many years, suffered extensive water damage and the building’s un-reinforced masonry structure required repairs.
Renovation of the Brasserie is expected to start in two or three months, Hayden said, with an anticipated opening in late spring 2008.
The seven-story Esquire was built in 1907. Its name comes from the hotel that existed on its upper floors.
“There were 14 rooms on each floor,” said Steve Smith, an architect with Vallaster & Corl. “It was a flophouse.”
Norway Development, which owns the building, plans to redevelop the old hotel into residential units, either apartments or condominiums.
The second floor will become a private dining area for the Brasserie.
“This place had history,” said Hayden. “It was the first late-night jazz place in Portland. It was the first to put paper on the tables. People were married here.”
Hayden’s passion for preservation goes beyond the physical restaurant; he is seeking out former workers of the Brasserie to add to the atmosphere.
“If I could find the magician, I would like to bring him back,” he said.
Mark Allen, the magician behind the mysterious playing cards, says he’d come back without question. He performed at the Brasserie for 22 years.
“I’ve considered performing at other places around, and none of them have the atmosphere of the Brasserie,” said Allen. “It was lively and fun. I’m not good with colorful words and you would need those to describe it.”