Northwest Classical Music Destination: Rimsky-Korsakoffee House

Guests are treated to classical performances on a regular basis at the Rimsky-Korsakoffee house. Credit Andrew Jacobs

The Rimsky-Korsakoffee House in Portland, OR recently became the topic of conversation here at Northwest Public Radio. It seemed only natural to send word to my Portland-residing father, who decided to head over to the musically themed café that evening, buy himself some dessert and check things out.

He and I bonded over a love of Scheherazade when I was very young – one of those unconditional, slightly irrational feelings of love that has lasted a couple decades and is safe to assume will never go away.

To say he was thrilled with the place would be an understatement. He immediately went to work trying to uncover the Rimsky-Korsakoffee House history and found a wait staff eager to chat about it.

The owner, Goody Cable, opened the coffee house after she tired of cleaning up after the classical music parties she would throw for her children. That was 35 years ago, in 1980. It’s exactly what you’d expect of one of Portland’s oldest coffee shops – eclectic, quirky,creative. Each table is themed – just pick a composer – and some are supposedly haunted. Classical recordings and live performances are, fittingly, the only thing you’ll hear during your time at the Rimsky-Korsakoffee house.

The cafe is filled with musical touches. Can you identify to which piece the above notes belong? Credit Andrew Jacobs

Despite its fame, this spot is secluded and is not easy to find, and that’s the way they like it. “Located in an industrial and not too friendly part of town, there is no way to know the house is there unless you just know. That’s part of the charm,” said classically trained singer Sara Jane Patterson, on her first visit.

On top of being difficult to locate, the Rimsky-Korsakoffee House doesn’t keep typical coffee shop hours, and serves only from 7 PM to midnight. No credit cards either – they only accept cash or check. And you won’t find a website, Facebook page or digital tracks of any kind.

You will find plenty of rave reviews, though.

Sara Jane says it’s “the sort of place that if no one was performing and you had it in you to step up to the piano, not one person would mind; they would be delighted. That is the beauty of the place.”

It seemed no one did mind when she decided to add to the music that night. As the guitarist strummed John Dowland tunes, she sang along. “We bonded over the harmonies we were creating. And really, isn’t that what music is all about? Bringing all parties together to create art in the moment, even with weird things dangling from the ceiling.”