By 5:30 p.m. lawyers, editors and businesspeople meander into MJ’s Wine Bar and loosen their ties. But it’s not just for folks who look like they might know wine. Anyone who enjoys a glass will feel welcome. It is simply a great place to grab a cheap, maybe new-to-you wine after work. Plus, the snacks are great. If you’re anything like me – a 20-something on a budget – you can feel fancy on the cheap.
The dimly lit bar has 20 stools, a table for 8, some couches and a few tables for two. The music is jazzy and from the bar you can watch people bustle by on the brick sidewalks along Free Street. And while the wine bar heats up by 6 on most weeknights, it often clears out by 7 p.m.
MJ’s is a good place to spend an hour or so while waiting for a movie or a dinner reservation. Or, you know, a good way to vet your Tinder date before committing to a whole dinner.
The wine list goes on for pages: 40 options are served by the glass and another 56 by the bottle. There are seven happy hour choices for $5 a glass, plus a beer and a cider. Last week the happy hour beer was Smuttynose’s Vunderbar, a German pilsner.
I tried a 2008 Zinfandel, perhaps ironically named “Writer’s Block.” The sommelier told me that it was especially “oaky.” All I really noticed, as a laywoman, was that it tasted great and had a strong aroma. For round 2, I attempted to order another happy hour special, a syrah from France. Smartly, the sommelier/bartender gave me a look and told me I should really try it first. She gave me a splash in a glass. I went instead for a fruity blend. That’s the benefit of MJ’s Wine Bar: A smart staff that talks to you about the wine and doesn’t make you feel out of place even when you can’t pronounce the wine’s name. It’s accessible, but also a great stop for knowledgable wine drinkers.
MJ’s also has a bunch of snacks for you to enjoy while sipping your malbec. The cheese plates ($8) come with a hefty portion plus a side, such as almonds, blueberry compote or figs. The bar also has olives, nuts and artisanal chocolates for $4 (or three for $10). You could grab a full pour of wine and three snacks for $15 at happy hour.
MJ’s does not serve full meals, except Sundays when they host “Waffles and Bubbles” from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The brunch has $3 mimosas and $4 waffles. Another regular event is Thursday night wine adventures. It’s $20 for four half-pours and a lesson about wines.
MJ’s Wine Bar
WHERE: 1 City Center, Portland
HOURS: 4 to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 4 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday
AMENITIES: Happy hour is 4 to 6 p.m. weekdays.
PARKING: On street
BOTTOM LINE: A dimly lit nook of a wine bar where you can watch passersby and burn some time with a great glass of wine, whether you’re a businessman looking to unwind or just needing to burn some time before re-watching Star Wars at the Nickelodeon.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE: Yes