by Darcy Cosper
"Under No Management," announced a sign in the front window of Portland, Oregon 's Rimsky-Korsakoffee Housethat is, until it was stolen. The cafe's owner, Gudrun Cable, likes to tell this story to illustrate her lack of business sense, but Goody (as she is called) clearly knows what she's doing; although she never advertises, the cafe is always packed, and her 20-room seaside inn, the Sylvia Beach Hotel, is often booked up to a year and a half in advance.
The Rimksy-Korsakoffee House, named in honor of 19th-century Russian composer Nikolay
Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov, is located on a side street in a largely residential Portland neighborhood. Serving coffee concoctions and outrageous desserts nightly, the cafe was a necessary outgrowth of the frequent music salons that Cable hosted in her home. "I got tired of cleaning up," she said. "This is sort of like having a party every night."
The rambling Victorian residence that houses the cafe has always been a home to music. Its first residents, in 1902, included a classical pianist and a writer for a classical music journal. Music still reigns in the dim, cluttered, comfortable rooms of the cafe that Cable and her staff opened in 1980; visitors are treated to nightly classical piano concerts, and musicians need only sign up to play. "It's not very serious...nothing about this place is very serious," Cable said.
Extreme whimsy does seem to be the house rule. Several of the tables, all of which are named after classical composers and decorated with corresponding biographical ephemera, hold surprises for the uninitiated. A table named for Svoboda, Oregon's composer laureate, slowly raises and lowers, and the low round table named after Erik Satie rotates so slowly that diners, caught up in conversation, will reach for their desserts and end up with a bite of someone else's. Plans are afoot for a new Rachmaninoff table which, at well-spaced intervals, will shake violently for three seconds at a time.