Some would say it’s been too long in the making; that we wouldn’t be Portland Metro Live without truly exploring Portland’s full metropolitan region. So this week we are going to do exactly that. It’s time to cross the mighty Columbia River and see what historic Vancouver, Washington has to offer.
Not So Sleepy
Although Vancouver, Washington is considered one of Portland’s bedroom communities, it has been flourishing of late, making its name as a special place tucked away from the hustle and bustle of Portland.
Vancouver is the fourth-largest city in Washington, and together Vancouver and Portland make up the 24th-largest metropolitan area in the United States. While it may be considered a bedroom community, it definitely stands on its own, and is far from sleepy.
Historic Downtown Vancouver, established 1825 as a fur trading post, seems quaint, but belies a hidden excitement. Expect to find good food, good art, and good fun – without the crowds and congestion that you get south of the river.
It’s here that you’ll find Niche Wine Bar and Angst Art Gallery. Both establishments, owned by Leah Jackson, sit next to each other and share an entranceway. Angst has been around since 2008 and Niche since 2011 – both projects a labor of love for Jackson.
Although Jackson’s background is in anthropology, art has always been her passion. After helping open an art gallery on sixth street in 2003, she was given the opportunity to open Angst, and jumped on it. A few years later, the spot next to Angst became available and Jackson was given the opportunity to take it over. Thus, Niche Wine Bar was born.
Carving Out a Niche
“I had done a bit of traveling and found some fantastic wines, and I thought this place was something Vancouver could use,” Jackson says.
Once she had the business plan set up, they set out on a complete remodel of the space. As she puts it they “took three layers off the floors and three layers off the walls.”
The complete remodel aimed to make the absolute most of what the space has to offer. It’s small and intimate, with soft colors and an assortment of tables and chairs that are reminiscent of a French café. “I enjoy when people come in and say it feels like France,” Jackson says.
Making the most of the space has meant getting creative with what they can do. “Our kitchen is one level down from being able to prepare raw meats,” Jackson explains. “It’s made people who work here have to think a little harder, but we’ve put out some pretty fantastic meals out of this tiny little space.”
Putting out fantastic meals requires good ingredients, something Jackson doesn’t forget about as she sources her food. “When we get food, we do try and source locally,” she says. After teaming up with Sauvie Island Organics, Jackson is now trying to support local Clark County businesses and get the bulk of her goods from the Vancouver area.
Small Bites, Big Wines
Fortunately, the locally-sourced ingredients shine through in the food. The Alsatian tarte flambé is light and flaky, with French crust topped with crème fraiche and gruyere. Take it to the next level with smoked prosciutto or Hungarian peppers.
In the mood for some lighter fare? You may go with a wild mushroom sauté. Don’t judge this one by its cover. It looks simple but packs complexity. The mushrooms are locally sourced and sautéed in a Beaujolais Rosemary butter. Set them atop a warm baguette and you’ve got the perfect small bite accompaniment for your glass of vino.
Speaking of vino, we’d be remiss not to touch on the very reason for Niche’s existence: Fantastic wine. “We have an international selection of wines, plus northwest and California wines,” Jackson explains. “We try to bring things in that are found less elsewhere. I am able to bring things in that don’t have UPC codes, things grocery stores won’t carry.”
At any given time, Niche will have approximately 20 different selections by the glass, ranging between whites, reds, rosés and dessert wines. Otherwise anything can be ordered by the bottle, with a minimal corkage fee.
To keep the wine flowing and the good vibes glowing, Jackson holds special events throughout the year, all open to the public. Being able to leverage the power of a wine bar with the aesthetic of an art gallery gives her a unique advantage. “I really was able to create a total community space,” she says.
Whether it be a poetry reading, an art showing, or special wine party, a community space is exactly what Niche Wine Bar and Angst Gallery combine to create. But will this special little place in quiet Vancouver remain community focused, or will Portland – overflowing with new residents – begin to discover the secrets up north? Jackson might have the answer.
“I have people that come up here from Portland and I ask them if they tell their friends and they say no!” She exclaims. “But not why you would think,” she continues, “they say they want to keep this place a secret,” she finishes with a laugh.
If we have anything to say about it, the cat is out of the bag and the secret’s been spilled. Turns out there is a lot to discover north of the Columbia River. No longer is Vancouver the sleepy sister-city to Portland. With a vibrant downtown, burgeoning culture, and quiet vibrancy, Vancouver offers itself as a destination for Portlanders looking for something special.
Niche Wine Bar is open Monday from 4:00pm – 9:00pm and Tuesday through Saturday from 3:00pm – 10:30pm located at 1013 Main Street in Vancouver, Washington, 98660. For events information give them a call at 360.980.8352 or visit their website.
William Bessette – PortlandMetroLive.com Contributor
William Bessette is an author, journalist and blogger who’s been writing professionally for over eleven years. When he isn’t writing or eating, then writing about eating, expect him to be outside enjoying the natural splendors of his home in the great Pacific Northwest.