Cafe Nell is located on the corner of NW Kearney and 20th. Its location, away from the main arteries of bustling NW 21st. and 23rd Street, makes it all the more charming and intimate. As one of my favorite places in Northwest to catch up with friends and unwind at the end of the day, read on to learn more about this sweet spot-Cafe Nell-and connect the seen with the unseen.
Q. Vanessa, the vibrant and gracious owner of Cafe Nell, can always be seen interacting with her guests morning, noon and night. Cafe Nell is a neighborhood gem many locals consider their second family room. A place where family and friends gather to unwind or to celebrate! Tell us about the Nell it is named after.
A. Cafe Nell represents: classic, elegant, simple. Nell was my mother’s name. She was an amazing lady. In her entire life, I never heard her utter a negative word about another person. She was an incredible mother…and a great cook. When I was in the first grade, lunch period was 11 am. At 10:45, she would show up at my school room with hot fried chicken (that she had just made), and place it in my lunch box. EVERY DAY!
It was going to be called just NELL, but I didn’t want people to call it Nell’s (although it happens anyway LOL), so it became Cafe Nell.
Q. I’ve spent my fair share of billable hours at Nell. It never fails, I go in for a drink and a bite to eat and I end up staying all night! What is it about Cafe Nell that makes it so addicting?
A. It’s the people of course. The interaction of guests and customers. ( In addition to great food & drinks) There’s always someone to visit with! When the restaurant first opened, several people asked “where’s the artwork?”
At Cafe Nell, the people (both patrons and staff) are the ever-changing artwork.
Q.You can always find “characters” at Cafe Nell. I have meet some of the wittiest people while winding down my day at Nell. What’s the connection between Cafe Nell and Paramount Pictures?
A. It was actually MGM Studios (although both Paramount and Universal also had screening rooms on the same block). The building itself was built in 1947, as a distribution facility for MGM Studio…One tale is that it was a film processing facility. Another is that it was a studio poster distribution center. Don’t you think it would have been more fun if there had been a casting couch somewhere?
Q. Aside from having a “paramount” past, I’ve also heard the building has a bit of a naughty history to it as well. Do tell …
A. Well, I was perplexed when 3 layers of carpeting and linoleum tile were pulled up during renovation, as to why there were grids of nail holes all over the place, as if the space had been cut up into a dozen little cubicles. Then one evening, a gentleman and his wife were dining in the restaurant, and he shed light on that. He was a retired lawyer, who had represented employees of a brothel (he called it a “massage parlor”), called the Kozy Kitten, that had inhabited the space during the 70’s. I have yet to determine how long it was here. It would have been fun to find an old neon sign somewhere, wouldn’t it?
Q. Last year Cafe Nell clinched the title, Best Bloody Mary in Oregon, as voted by the viewers of Thrillist! Congrats and I think that well-loved drink aptly embodies Cafe Nell’s vibe as: spicy, vibrant, full of surprises and leaves you feeling giddy. What leaves you feeling giddy, aside from the entire cocktail menu!
A. Well….it’s always fun to run into people all over town that I’ve met through the restaurant; but my favorite one is, sitting at another bar in town a while back, and a young lady sitting next to me asked “don’t you work at Cafe Nell?”, and the gentleman sitting between us turned to her and replied: “She IS Cafe Nell”. That made me laugh.
Q. Throughout the week Cafe Nell has some great, money saving deals that dominate that day. Let’s tell everyone what they are!
Monday: I Love Beer: $2 rotating MicroBrews
Tuesday: Bottle Shock Tuesdays: Half Off all Bottled Wines
Wednesday: All Night Happy Hour
Thursday: DATE NIGHT:for two people, 1 shared appetizer, 2 entrees + a bottle of wine $45
Saturday: Bottomless Bubbles $10 6 pm – 10 pm
Q. Also I’d like to mention that March is Dining Month here in Portland. Restaurants around Portland are offering 3 courses for $29 during the month of March. What’s on the menu for Cafe Nell during dining month?
A. First course: salad of green beans, mustard vinaigrette, grilled red onion, minced hard boiled egg, crispy shallots
Second course: osso bucco of oxtail, braised mirepoix vegetables with red wine reduction over creamy mashed potatoes
Third course: peanut butter cream cheese mousse studded with chocolate brownie chunks topped with fresh whipped cream and salted peppery crushed peanuts