Entering Bar Diane is bound to make regulars feel in-the-know: Down an alley off NW 21st, behind an open gate, this new bar hawking kanpachi crudos and orange wines by the glass hides from the strolling hordes of Northwest Portland. But no one should expect some sort of speakeasy-style den; in fact, this hip natural wine bar — open tonight — is brimming with color.
The stylish, cheerful interior of Bar Diane should be no surprise for those who know the owner. Sami Gaston isn’t just a wine maven; the Clyde Common vet is also a graphic designer, and she and her architecture partner Harka incorporated elements of her own work throughout the space. In particular, Gaston designed a pink circular pattern for three walls within the bar; the shades in her design flow through the space, from the pale pink tables and chairs to the asymmetrical light fixture hanging over a cool blue lounge space. Pops of blue, from the cerulean bar to the indigo banquette running through the lounge and dining area seating, offset the pink touches throughout the bar, as well as a stark concrete wall given some life via the occasional potted plant.
Gaston has lived in Northwest Portland for years, so when she decided to open a bar with friend Kevin Gouy, she didn’t want to open a scene-y, wine-nerd-exclusive spot; she wanted the space to feel accessible to the neighborhood first. Her wine list includes a number of $35-to-$45 bottles (approximately $7-to-$9 glasses per bottle), with a rotating list of wines by the glass. The latter list, written on a mirror by the bar, will always have a sparkling rosé and white wine, a still rosé, a skin-contact or “orange” wine, and three reds and three whites — “one full bodied, one approachable, and one interesting” in each category, according to Gaston. Outside of wine, the cocktail menu sticks to classics like Americanos, martinis, and sidecars. “The inspiration is ‘drinking at my grandparents house,’” Gaston says. “5 p.m. was cocktail hour, my grandfather drank gimlets and my grandmother drank Rob Roys.” Both appear on the menu; the former is made with local distillery Freeland gin. Non-drinkers have a few options too, including sparkling ginger turmeric lemonades and Shirley Temple tonics.
Bar Diane’s food menu has evolved beyond Gaston’s “picnicky” plans. Executive chef Malcolm Smitley, former chef de cuisine at Bar Casa Vale, went with a pseudo-European, seafood-heavy schtick, keeping things under $20 a plate. The foundation of the food menu is a long list of cheese, charcuterie, and tinned fish (all the rage at wine bars these days), as well as kanpachi rillettes made in house. The rest of the menu is split into cold and hot sections: The cold section includes dishes like heirloom tomato salad with sheep’s milk cheese, olives, and mint; the warm section sticks to simple dishes like pesto pasta and clams steamed in local Basque-style cider Son of Man. Bar Diane is located at 2112 NW Irving Street, Suite 105 — for those who can find it.