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Friday, February 05, 2010
Many of us who grew up in Portland have a story about Le Bistro Montage. It's a place much like the Roxy, the Pied Cow or the Rimsky-Korsakoffee House. At one time, at least, these places were refuges for a certain brand of teenager, usually the sort that takes drama classes and/or makes the mistake of getting started on the Velvet Underground and vintage clothing too early in life. They wind up there after curfew on a night out at the movies or a Laser Light Show at OMSI. The Montage is open until 4 AM on Saturdays and Sundays, it's kitschy, it's weird, it has an element of mystery about it and its ratty, burgundy exterior can be found beneath the Morisson Bridge. Oh, and its former owner, Jon Beckel, died under mysterious circumstances on a night just like this one after watching his girlfriend's band perform downtown.
I don't know if trips to the Montage are still a right-of-passage for local teens but I remember going down there late one night after getting my license. I probably had a group of fellow drama nerds with me and we were probably riding around in my hand-me-down, bumpersticker-covered Toyota van. This would have been the mid-90s, back before MacForce and the Esplanade, when the area had even fewer oases amidst all the warehouses.
We probably roamed the streets along the waterfront for a while, past forgotten shopping carts and slouching train tracks. One of us would have been fretting about how we were all going to be attacked by vampires at any second. That person was no doubt me and the following scenario was probably playing out in my adolescent mind:
ME: (hours later, covered in blood) "I don't know, officer. One minute we were looking for the Montage and the next the doors were getting torn off the van. They came out of nowhere!"
FATHER OF ONE OF THE KIDS WHO HAD BEEN RIDING IN THE BACKSEAT: "Why couldn't you have just driven to Banning's Pie House?!! Where's my daughter?!!"
COP: "We see this sort of thing all the time, sir. A group of kids goes looking for the Montage and they get attacked by vampires. You'll never see her again. By now she's an undead concubine in allegiance with the forces of darkness. If she does show up on your doorstep, don't give her any money. Oh, and you'll probably want to chop off her head and take out of her heart. If you have any further questions, head on down to Hollywood Video and rent Bram Stoker's Dracula."
FATHER: "Curse that foul Montage! If only my girl had gotten pregnant or addicted to heroin instead of going off in search of alligator jambalaya!"
Yup, they serve alligator jambalaya down there. From the outside, the Montage hasn't changed much in the last 14 years. It still looks like a tavern a Tom Waits' character would hang around in on Tuesday mornings in January, chain-smoking and gloomily drinking whiskey until he could work up enough motivation to drive his fist through something.
The inside is more of a cheeky, hipster paradise- a Spaghetti Factory for artsy-fartsy teenagers and their older counterparts who are faced with the task of making Portland seem appropriately weird for out-of-town guests. The Montage is gimmicky, customer's leftovers are wrapped up in tinfoil art displays, the tables are communal and the staff serves wine in drinking glasses, just like they do in Europe! The menu consists of seafood, Cajun options and something like a dozen different types of macaroni and cheese.
I wrote about the Montage way back in 2004 and John Beckel's niece wrote me an email that explained all the artwork in the restaurant and the secret imagery it contained. Sadly, it was lost to the ether in an old Hotmail account a long time ago.
I still get down there about once or twice a year. I stopped in during a free afternoon a few weeks ago. During daylight hours, the Montage is much more low-key and their lunch menu is pretty solid. I went with the gumbo.