When you're a nightlife columnist, people will ask you where they should spend their evening. An answer requires a few more questions. Do you like whiskey? You should go to Bull Feeney’s because they have a huge selection. Do you like shots from a test tube or plastic syringe? You should go to Oasis because Jersey Shore.
Someone comes up to me and asks where they can go for wine/beer? I send them to MJ’s Wine Bar below One City Center. Because owner and certified Sommelier Mark Ohlson, who has worked his way through the restaurant circuit wearing every hat possible, has turned his dream into a reality in just 10 short weeks.
Hand-selected by Ohlson and wine manager Evan DeBartolo, wine offerings are broken up into four categories – sparkling, white, red and dessert.
“MJ’s offers the widest selection of wine by the glass in town with 30 wines by the glass and half glass from around the world, focusing on traditional grape verities from prominent regions,” Ohlson says in a press release.
Tasting sessions with the experienced staff are available, and cheese pairings are also common. As for food, there are cheese plates, chocolates, nuts and olives from all over the world.
Any beer-loving Portlander knows that rivaling Novare Res on beer selection is a feat of its own. Resident beer expert Myles Roberson took on the challenge head on. While nowhere near the volume, his choices offer something for everybody.
“Initially I wanted a beer list that wasn't too intimidating for novice beer drinkers,” Roberson said to Dispatch. “I created an approachable list with some unique beers that will not push people too far out of their comfort zone but still introduce them to beers they may not have tried before. I've been given the opportunity to create a dynamic beer list that will evolve and change on a monthly basis.”
The space itself is nothing short of inviting. It would’ve been incredibly easy to fuck up the feng shui when introducing so many different levels of seating. The large granite bar top, a communal table at the same height, lower tables, a casual leather couch set up and an outdoor patio miraculously don’t clash at all. The room is open and designed to take you on a journey to every place their products were birthed.
“We all have a space that we can feel comfortable. And we can grow, and we can learn about wine, and we can learn about beer. And most importantly, we can share time together on this planet,” Ohlson toasted at the soft opening. “We are all getting older every second of every day and right now we have the opportunity to spend some time together.”
Perhaps my favorite feature of MJ’s, which is named after Ohlson’s mother, is the large selection of records. Denizens are welcome to set the tone for the room by throwing on their favorite vinyl while they enjoy their beverages. And with the hipster uprising of Portland, Maine, I can see this being a strong feature to aspiring wine and beer aficionados as they can combine their favorite things: knowing more about music than you, and knowing more about wine/beer than you.
MJ’s has happy hour from 4pm to 6pm Monday thru Friday, and they’re also open for brunch on Sundays from 10am to 2pm.
You might be asking yourself, “Why haven’t I heard of this place yet?” That’s simple: because they haven’t had their official grand opening yet. That’s all about to change this week. This Thursday between 5:30pm and 6pm, MJ herself and Mayor Michael Brennan will be in attendance as he officially cuts the ribbon, followed by a sauvignon blanc tasting with selections from around the world.
Friday, August 16th will be the grand opening party, which will include snacks and bottle specials, as well as the introduction of their reserve wine list. There will be live music from many local acts, and above all, beer/wine/tapas served by an expert staff that is eager to share their knowledge with you.
This is the perfect opportunity to get to know the genuine and galvanized Ohlson, whose passion can be seen in his eyes as he simply looks around at his creation. He’s in love with his craft, and wants to share that with his favorite city.
“MJ’s is a dream that grew out of fifteen years of putting tips in a jar for ‘someday’ and now that day is here. People of Portland, you inspire me to be a better person and so I wanted to pour you a glass in celebration of our community. I couldn’t do this without you.”