Owner and certified sommelier of MJ’s Wine Bar, Mark Ohlson, wrote a “love letter to Portland” and posted it to the wine bar’s website.
“Since I was a child and first met you,” he writes, “I have been enchanted by your coast and pace of life.” He goes on to talk about his 15 years in the bar and restaurant industry – he’s worked in several Portland eateries, such as Hugo’s, Walter’s and Little Tap House – and how he saved enough tip money to open his dream wine bar.
“I love people, I love this town and wine has been a passion of mine for a long time,” Ohlson said. “I thought it was unfortunate that there wasn’t a wine bar in town, and I’m really thankful to bring this (wine bar) to Portland.”
Genuine and romantic: That’s the vibe at MJ’s, located at One City Center (across from the Nickelodeon). The space is adorned with unique features, such as a piano, shelves of vinyl LPs and a record player, a guitar, and a wall lined with 40 fragrance jars beneath what Ohlson calls the “wine mural.”
“Anyone can walk up and put a record on or play the piano or the guitar,” Ohlson said. “People don’t necessarily do it on their first visit, but maybe on their first or second.”
Ohlson purposely didn’t install a TV because he wants guests to mingle. He set out to create an interactive environment so that those who might not know a lot about wine feel more comfortable to play around – with music or a fragrance jar of coriander.
MJ’s offers 30 wines by the glass that range from $6 to $28, an extensive bottle list that ranges from $24 to $210, craft beer (local and non-local) by draft, bottle and can and a short but sweet snack menu that includes several cheese plates, olives, nuts and chocolate.
That $28 glass, by the way, is a 2005 Reserve Nicolis Ambrosan Amarone from Valpolicella, Italy, that’s priced at $105 per bottle.
“People who know this wine,” Ohlson said, “know they can’t get an inexpensive version of it.” He said it’s like trying to get a cheap Lamborghini: “They’re just not out there.”
Ohlson features a diverse wine list that changes with the seasons and a happy hour that offers seven wines by the glass for $5 and three 20-ounce beers for $5. Every Thursday he hosts a wine tasting at 5:30 and again at 7 p.m., and on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., you’ll find “$3 blueberry waffles and bubbles” ($3 for each).
“I want people to know they can find what they want here,” Ohlson said. “I want people to feel like they have a selection and can get information about any and all wine on the list.”
WHERE: One 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
SPECIALS: Monday through Friday happy hour from 4 to 6 p.m.; wine tastings every Thursday at 5:30 and 7 p.m.; waffle and bubbles breakfast on Sundays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
AMENITIES: Outdoor seating (until it gets too cold), two leather couches, piano, guitar and even vinyl records for guests to play, 40 fragrance jars to sniff, comfortable bar seating, clean and spacious bathrooms
PARKING: Free garage parking
BOTTOM LINE: Portland’s only wine bar, MJ’s offers a diverse selection of wine and a solid list of craft beer. Snacks such as cheese, olives and nuts are offered, but there is not a kitchen. Romantic and cozy, MJ’s is great for happy hour, a glass of wine before a show or an event or a private event.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE: Yes