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Portage to regain wine bar

September 18, 2017 GMT

Downtown Portage is poised to regain its lost wine bar.

At the former location of Le Croissant Bakery and Restaurant, 235 W. Pleasant St., Neil’s is expected to open in October. Renovations and improvements to the property, owned by Neil Shortreed, have so far included or will include a custom-made bar, granite countertops, Amish cabinetry, painting, new carpeting, tables and patio furniture.

“We’re looking at having a nice inviting atmosphere with some class, and nice appetizers to go with wine or a drink,” Shortreed said.

The wine bar fills the service void left by 205 Vino, which had operated for about three years at 205 DeWitt St. before closing last summer.

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“We want to bring back that nice, upscale feeling to Portage,” said Olivia Fuqua, the co-owner of the downtown Portage specialty shop BonBon Bordeaux. Fuqua will help manage the wine bar, which just had its liquor license approved by the city of Portage last week, she added.

“It’s not going to be a sports bar -- not a place where you go in and there are TVs everywhere,” Fuqua said. “It will be intimate and nice, with specialty cocktails.

“Relaxed and elegant is the vibe we’re going for.”

Shortreed has owned the building for about seven years. After purchasing it, he soon operated Sombreros Burrito House there for about two years before leasing the property to Le Croissant, which closed two years ago.

“The property is really unique,” Shortreed said of what had been an old residential home. “It has some character.”

The Portage Area Chamber of Commerce agreed with Shortreed’s assessment of the location and property. “As you’re sitting outside on the deck it’s quiet and peaceful, but you’re still visible to the roadway,” Chamber Executive Director Marianne Hanson said.

“People would be really excited to get a wine bar back in town,” Hanson said.

Shortreed and Fuqua are getting some help in the launching of Neil’s from past co-owner of 205 Vino, Tricia Pionke.

“She’s helping with everything,” Fuqua said. Together they’ve been busy talking to vendors about the business’s lineup of featured wines, among other things like ordering glasses and determining appetizers.

It’s too early to be certain about the menu or the schedule, but Fuqua and Shortreed guessed the business will most likely be open in the evenings from Wednesday through Saturday. The business could feature hours like 5 to 11 p.m. Shortreed said the business will be open to expanding its hours depending on how things go early. That same flexibility will be applied to the menu, as Shortreed expects that his customers will dictate how Neil’s evolves.

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“We want to listen to our audience,” he said, noting the property features a full kitchen in the back. In addition to wine and specialty cocktails, Shortreed expects to have specialty beers on tap.

For the start, his menu will likely be limited to appetizers that pair well with wine, as well as some “hearty” options -- like roast beef sliders. The appetizer menu will be courtesy of Diane Wilson, head chef at Rivers Den and Resort in Montello, Shortreed said.

Shortreed is hopeful that Neil’s will become a popular destination in Portage for special events such as birthdays and class reunions. He estimated indoor seating to be 43 and room for another 25 outside. Neil’s will likely employ about five people.

Fuqua expects to manage BonBon Bordeaux during the daytime before running over to Neil’s for bartending in the evenings.

“So it will be a lot,” Fuqua said of her dual roles, “but I’m really excited about it. I’m so glad I got to be involved in this.”

Fuqua noted that since 205 Vino closed last summer, several customers of BonBon Bordeaux commented about how much they missed having a wine bar in Portage.

“I think it’ll be fantastic,” Fuqua said of filling that void. “I have so many people talking all about it, trying to get the rumors flowing in Portage so that people will get excited that a wine bar is coming to town, getting everyone ready to have something like this back for Portage.

“I think it’s really going to be another focal point for Portage and downtown. We’re really trying to get downtown back on its feet.”

A grand opening for Neil’s is likely to occur in October, featuring the Oxford band, Sound Decision.

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