Cellar Door reopens with plans to serve food, extend hours

Posted 1/15/20

Last fall, Dominic and Stephanie Svornich were faced with the prospect of closing the Cellar Door for good, about seven years after first opening it.

One of the many Cellar Door patrons who …

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Cellar Door reopens with plans to serve food, extend hours

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Last fall, Dominic and Stephanie Svornich were faced with the prospect of closing the Cellar Door for good, about seven years after first opening it.

One of the many Cellar Door patrons who couldn’t believe it was closing for good was Oceanna Van Lelyveld, a friend of the Svornichs who had plenty of experience in the industry herself.

“I couldn’t believe that no one else was willing to take it over,” Van Lelyveld said. “I asked them what it would take to keep it open, just hypothetically, and they said, ‘That depends on if you’re interested.’”

That conversation took place over drinks at the Cellar Door, scarcely days before it closed its doors at the start of October.

A couple of weeks later, the required financing fell into place for Van Lelyveld and her boyfriend, Stephen Davis, to become the new owners of the Cellar Door.

Van Lelyveld brings with her 15 years of bartending experience at Sirens, 10 years prior to that at the Silverwater Cafe, and a series of stints at property and retail management, from helping her parents with their business in Hawaii to a Bay Area dentist’s office, as well as serving as an event coordinator and booker for various musical and comedy acts.

Like Van Lelyveld, Davis first moved to Port Townsend in the early 1990s, and they worked together for a decade at the Silverwater Cafe, where he spent 20 of his 30 total years as a chef, with other stints at the Fort Worden kitchen, the Ajax Cafe and Sweet Laurette’s.

Davis’ skills are part of what Van Lelyveld sees as the Cellar Door’s way to the future, which she emphasized would retain what she feels already worked so well about the Svornichs’ establishment.

“They started it as a dinner house, then realized there was a lot of business in the late-night bar scene,” Van Lelyveld said. “I’d like to open it up to the afternoon dinner crowd, and make the Cellar Door a place where people can gather during the day. I’m nostalgic for places like the Boiler Room. These old bricks have history. As much as Port Townsend is improving, I don’t want us to lose the culture that we have.”

Van Lelyveld is committed to retaining the Cellar Door’s status as a hotspot for local and touring musicians, and she praised the work the previous owners had done on the space to ensure it could showcase such music effectively.

“Personally, I think we’ve got the best venue in town,” Van Lelyveld said. “Our sound is incredible. I’ve been working with the previous sound guy, Jonathan Eisenhower, to make sure we continue to deliver a full beautiful sound.”

While the genres of sound offered by the Cellar Door’s musicians will likely stay consistent with its history, Van Lelyveld noted the Seattle Theatre Group would be contributing performers of its own to provide high-profile talent in an intimate setting.

“And we already held our first karaoke night, which was a big hit,” Van Lelyveld said. “Our goal is to have entertainment every night, if possible.”

Perhaps the biggest shift, though, is the planned expansion of the Cellar Door’s services to include a food menu, especially during those aforementioned extended hours, earlier in the afternoons.

“Stephen has a passion for food, just like I do for cocktails, and the style he’s looking to serve up, he calls ‘Artisanal Taverna.’ It has a bit of Mediterranean influence, since it’s a comparable region. We’re looking to offer a lot of seafood, with vegetarian and vegan options, and fresh, seasonal ingredients. It won’t be a uniform menu all year long.”

In order to ensure a “greaseless kitchen,” Van Lelyveld conceded that burgers, red meat and fries would not be on the menu, although she is planning to offer tater tots, a relative rarity in the area.

“I love oysters, whether baked or on the half-shell, and we’ll have Prosecco as well, which pairs up with oysters very nicely,” Van Lelyveld said. “I’ve worked in the industry long enough to know what options people are asking for, and I have multiple connections for getting it.”

A detail many attendees might not notice in the new Cellar Door is its stage, which retains the Svornichs’ piano, but adds a poster in honor of local musician Jarrod Bramson, a friend of Van Lelyveld’s who died last year.

“He was one of my dearest friends,” Van Lelyveld said. “Heidi Tucker had originally produced this art as a poster for one of his concerts, but when I asked her if we could use it in the Cellar Door, she insisted on redoing it. We felt honored by what he brought to Port Townsend. This whole community has made us feel so supported, and we can still feel the spirit of people like Jarrod with us, even now.”

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