Operatic voices reverberate throughout a quaint bar on North Mississippi Avenue — a typical Tuesday night for the musical regulars that frequent Mendelssohn’s, Portland’s one-of-a-kind classical music-themed bar.
Tucked in the bustling Boise neighborhood, Mendelssohn’s has become a gathering place for Portland’s musicians to sip on themed drinks, sing ballads from the high stage and meet other people interested in classical music.
Less than a year old, the bar was recently named one of Esquire magazine’s Best Bars in America – one of only two Portland bars to make the cut.
Mendelssohn’s opened in June 2022 by musician and direct descendant of composer Felix Mendelssohn, Lisa Lipton. As Executive Director of both the Opera Theater Oregon and the Newport Symphony, her expertise, lineage and charisma have all played a part in the bar’s success during the last year.
Born from a desire to meet the growing needs of the classical music community and have a space to gather and practice, Mendelssohn’s invites patrons of all kinds to step in and immerse themselves in the sights and sounds of classical music.
The walls are lined with antiques, records and art pieces, while a raised stage in the back corner boasts live music — amateur and professional. One of their most popular events, Operaoke, draws a large crowd.
Every other Tuesday night, musicians are given the opportunity to step into the dimly-lit bar and take over the stage, enchanting the audience with their best arias and ballads. Of course, non-musicians are more than encouraged to participate in the reverie — no song is off-limits.
Alex Trull, a Mendelssohn’s regular, frequently hosts Operaoke and opened the show this past Tuesday with accompanist Colin Shepard.
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Welcoming the crowd to the evening’s festivities, the duo scale the stairs to the high stage tucked in the back corner of the bar. Trull’s head barely clears the rafters once he’s settled.
A hush falls over the audience as the opening notes pour through the room.
The crowd is sparse at first, but over the next two hours, the bar gets more lively as more performers take to the stage, convinced by Trull to try their hand at a new song or duet.
Built to encourage participation in classical music and introduce newcomers into the scene, Mendelssohn’s demystifies classical music and gives musicians a place to perform in front of an accepting audience.
“It’s a very unique experience,” Trull said. “You’re so far away from the audience that it feels like you’re just playing. It takes you out of that professional, high stakes and high pressure setting because it doesn’t feel like you’re performing for people like it would be if you were on a stage or in an audition.”
“We spend so much time preparing and working on this craft,” Lipton said. “You don’t often get the opportunity to play or sing or do these pieces that are lesser known. So this is kind of an avenue to do that.”
In addition to their communal karaoke events, the bar invites plenty of musicians to perform. With a packed schedule for June, there are events catered to a variety of audiences featuring instrumental, folk and operatic styles.
Extending the reach of classical music is one of the integral functions that Mendelssohn’s serves.
“I don’t ever want to shut anything out because I think what’s important moving forward for classical music and the whole dynamic is to be more inviting and more accessible,” Lipton said. “As an art form, I feel like sometimes [classical music] can have these barriers.”
You can find Mendelssohn’s full June schedule here and follow them on their Instagram for updates and last minute performance announcements here. The bar is located at 3955 N. Mississippi Ave.
— Chiara Profenna
503-221-4327; email@example.com; @chiara_profenna
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