clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Woodlawn’s Newly Open Lobby Bar Brings New Life to a Former Silent Movie Theater

The new bar has opened in front of the forthcoming Dekum Street Theater, with a Coquine alumnus in the kitchen and wine on tap

A person in an apron holds a dish of colorful food.
Trout crudo from Lobby Bar.
Leah Verwey

In the Dekum triangle, at the heart of the Woodlawn neighborhood, touches of Portland history live on in new ways, from a wood-fired Italian American restaurant located inside a former fire station to a historic ballroom and public house originally built in 1909. Now, Jessica and Kirk Kelley have given another piece of the neighborhood — an old silent movie theater — a new purpose. The Lobby Bar opened on May 11, acting as a cocktail-fueled, welcome watering hole for the forthcoming Dekum Street Theater.

“The idea was that [the bar] would serve as a place for pre- and post-show drinks and food,” Jessica Kelley says. “It is going to also operate independently of the theater and have its own hours, but we’re hoping that they have a nice symbiotic relationship where people hang out, have conversations, and build community in the neighborhood.”

Executive chef KBar directs the show at Lobby Bar, bringing a wealth of experience from lauded Portland restaurants. They served as chef de cuisine at Mediterranean Exploration Company, worked at both Coquine and Tusk, and helped open Division cocktail bar Someday. KBar and Jessica Kelley have designed a menu of seasonal small plates that can be shared or are easy to devour before a show. For their opening spring menu, that means dishes like trout crudo with rhubarb leche de tigre and grilled asparagus with Meyer lemon aioli and chicken skin.

“I[’d] like to have the menu be a living process,” KBar says. “I want to highlight the seasons, its abundance, and range of flavor. I want people to try more vegetables prepared in different ways to open up their minds and eyes to the natural world.”

To pair with the food, Lobby Bar serves a handful of specialty cocktails, like the Smells Like Camellia with gin, Meletti, vermouth, and a lemon twist. The Morricone pairs mezcal and Campari, complemented by elderflower, grapefruit, and lemon. The bar also pours wines on tap.

The property has been a passion project for the Kelleys, who took ownership of the building over a decade ago and have spent much of that time slowly renovating it. Kirk Kelley, creative director at the animation studio HouseSpecial, transferred his skills with building movie sets to repairing the building’s caved-in roof and onto designing the flow of the bar into the theater.

In front of the building, a small box office protrudes from the facade between marquee lights — it will be functional once the theater opens, and the Kelleys have toyed with the idea of selling popsicles out of it during the Woodlawn Farmers Market on Saturdays. Inside, a vintage crystal chandelier from Hippo Hardware lights the intimate bar’s split-level seating areas, juxtaposed with exposed, graffiti-covered concrete walls preserved from when the building fell into disrepair. The Kelleys’ next project is filling in a 500-plant living wall that will be the focal point of the bar.

Dekum Street Theater is projected to open in the fall. The 100-seat performance space will host live theater and events like monthly improv shows with programming by theater director Jessica Kelley, as well as an artist-in-residence program, classes, and workshops.

The Lobby Bar is located at 814 NE Dekum Street.