Portland St.’s latest haunt for cocktails and caviar sandwiches has finally opened after a long year of pandemic-related stalls. Inspired by the chic ambiance of hotel lobby bars, VELA is serving up classics like a wedge salad, shrimp cocktail, steak, and of course, lots of cocktails and champagne.
The restaurant is the work of the co-owner of Bar Raval Robin Goodfellow, co-creator and former general manager of Alo Amanda Bradley and Jeffrey Lapointe of Soho House, Piano Piano, and Splendido. Goodfellow originally spotted the space back in 2018, admiring its prime location and old-world feel. He says Bradley immediately came to mind, and although they were only acquaintances at the time, he called her up for a coffee chat to discuss the project.
“I gave him a bit of hesitation at first, but I thought about it and decided it would be a great project to work on,” Bradley says. “We signed a 15-year lease, so we’re in it for the long haul.”
After bringing on Lapointe as head chef, the team set to work preparing for an opening date of May 2020, which was ultimately derailed by the pandemic. Since opening earlier this week, the team at VELA says the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
“We’ve been anticipating this time for over two years, and we’ve just waited so long to get to this point,” Bradley says. “It’s been incredible, the guests are really enjoying everything and we’re learning as we go.”
Although guests can only dine on the patio for now due to pandemic restrictions, the team is patiently awaiting the day they can welcome people inside to show off the space. Currently cordoned off by curtains, the inside of the restaurant offers guests nine different experiences including a champagne bar, cocktail counter, chef counter and a large banquette area, all surrounding what will eventually become a live music venue.
With a robust menu of wines, pasta, steak, and seafood to match, VELA’s design emerged from the elegance of international hotel lobby bars. Bradley and Goodfellow say they wanted to recreate some of the inviting experiences they’ve had in hotels around the world.
“We love the ambiance in a hotel lobby, where there’s something for everyone and you can wear your socks and sandals or a Prada evening gown and spend $30 or $3,000 and you’re treated the same,” Bradley says. “We wanted to bring that welcoming hospitality to this neighbourhood.”
Bringing a sense of community back to the area is part of the team’s aim, and with this in mind, the name of the restaurant couldn’t be more fitting. It comes from the constellation of stars Vela, which is Latin for the sails of a ship.
“The design has a lot to do with togetherness and combatting this idea that we’re all in our own boats, our own islands,” Goodfellow says. “But we’re quite connected and all in this together, which couldn’t be more true now.”