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Cocktails on Tap and $4 Hot Dogs from Two Ned Ludd Veterans

Donnie Vegas will open on NE Alberta in March

The old Black Cat Cafe will soon become Donnie Vegas.
The old Black Cat Cafe will soon become Donnie Vegas.

Chef Benjamin Artaiz and bartender Jeremy Wilson want to make you a deal. Lots of deals, of the hot dog and cocktail variety.

The duo, recent veterans of Ned Ludd, are opening their own bar called Donnie Vegas on NE Alberta, and they're bucking the trend of precious food at precious prices. Instead, their core mission is to make food and drink actually affordable, so they're batching up their craft cocktails and putting them on tap, and dressing up store-bought all-beef dogs, keeping the price-point under $4.

"Portland is doing a lot of that local, organic, seasonal food.  And that's how I've cooked," says Artaiz. "But we're trying to make food that's approachable and affordable. We're keeping the price low so people can actually eat it. I'd rather offer a good $4 hot dog than make it all fancy and charge $8."

Artaiz says they'll have a selection of four or five hot dogs topped with standards (kraut and mustard or chili) as well as more creative options (like a BLT dog with Kewpie mayo, shredded lettuce and tomato), plus sloppy Joes and Frito pie. In other words, "Tasty stuff that people want to eat while they're drinking," he says.

Now what about those drinks? The duo have fully embraced the benefits of putting cocktails on tap. Because they're faster and cheaper to make, they can pass the savings on to you, dear customers. They'll have at least three to start but are aiming for four.

"The big one is the Moscow Mule," says Artaiz. "It'll be our big seller. We're using Rachel's Ginger Beer from Seattle. It's all organic, raw, unpasteurized. A killer product. And we'll use Volstead Vodka from House Spirits."

The other taps will hold a rotating riff on an old classic, like an updated Tequila Sunrise, plus a cold-brew coffee cocktail and a shrub-spiked white wine spritzer, both with ingredients that change seasonally.

"When we were at Ned Ludd, Jeremy always had a white wine spritzer on the menu that was super popular and really refreshing. It's lower alcohol. We'll be serving these in pint glasses, so we don't want them to be big, heavy, booze-forward cocktails."

The 860-square-foot space, formerly the Black Cat Cafe, will be decked out with a "late century, '70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, faded neon, old-school glitz and glam" vibe, he says. There will be about 35 seats, not including the bar and 2,000-square-foot patio out back.

"The patio will triple the size," says Artaiz. "The long-term plan is to have a fire pit, but we'll definitely have heaters, picnic tables, and strings of lights."

A projection screen will roll down for big games, but other than that the entertainment will mostly come from a juke box, a photo booth, and the company you keep.

They duo is aiming to open Donnie Vegas by March. "We'll do six days a week to start out, but the plan is to go seven days a week, 4 p.m. to 2:30 a.m, with food all the way up to close," Artaiz says. "It's hard to find late-night food in Portland."

Donnie Vegas (coming in March): 1203 NE Alberta St., Portland