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Gingko Blue Bar And Lounge: A Civilized Space To Chill

Welcome to One Year In, a feature in which Eater sits down for a chat with the chefs and owners of restaurants celebrating their one year anniversary.

[Ted Axelrod]

On Memorial Day weekend 2011, Cheryl and Jeff Buerhaus brought a bit of swank and spark to Portland's nightlife scene when they opened Gingko Blue on the corner of Fore and Union next to their contemporary American restaurant, Walter's. A year later, the cool blue bar and lounge doesn't have the Vegas vibe Cheryl originally envisioned, but has instead settled in as a laid-back, friendly venue for drinks and live music. It's a chic space, with knowledgeable bartenders pouring classic cocktails like the French 75 - gin, lemon juice, simple syrup and Champagne, or something a little more renegade - the Noble Experiment - Crown Royal and limoncello with a honey rim.

When you opened Walter's, was Gingko Blue part of the plan?
CB: When we had our previous Walter's on Exchange Street, people used to ask about where they could go to listen to music that wasn't a loud band in a bar. Before we even envisioned being in the new space for Walter's - we were just considering it - I would stand on that corner and say to Jeff, "Wouldn't it be great to have a bar here and the restaurant next to it?" One day we noticed there was no inventory in Betsy's [the boutique that was where Gingko is now] and we asked the landlord for the first option - we had invested a lot of money in Walter's and we wanted control over that space. And I wanted to bring something different to Portland.

Did you have any experience in running a place like Gingko?
I knew nothing about music and the bar business outside of a restaurant. The idea came from a trip to Charleston, where every restaurant has live music.

The design is super-cool. What inspired it?
It's a long, narrow space. Although I had never been to New York City I thought it looked like a New York jazz club. We already had a great relationship with Andy Hyland at Port City Architecture and Judy Schneider of Interior Resources Design Group - who did Walter's. But the first rendering looked like a whiskey bar ... a speakeasy ... and that wasn't what I had in mind. I really wanted it to be icy, because Walter's was fiery. Like me and Jeff - fire and ice.

Is the music primarily jazz?
No, we've come 360 degrees from where we were. We were going the Vegas route with the glam and the girls in sequined dresses, but we didn't advertise because we wanted to see what it would evolve into. The blues bring more people in than jazz. And we brought [bartender] Guy in because we wanted to bring a male aspect into the bar - we have lots of women customers.

Where does the name come from?
Portland is the sister city to a city in Japan [Shinagawa]. That's how we got all the gingko trees - they were a gift from the city. Gingkos were the only trees to survive Hiroshima. We just thought it was a cool name.

What's next?
Well, we hope we'll have a busy summer! We're open from Tuesday through Saturday and we have live music every day - the times vary. When you open a new venture, once you get past that year mark you feel pretty good.

· Gingko Blue [Official Site]

Gingko Blue

455 Fore Street, Portland, ME 04101 207-541-9190 Visit Website