Carpe Diem grows up

Carpe Diem's new Euro-modern chic. Photo by Allison DeHart

Downtown is starting to outgrow its college age, bar-hopping scene. With new shops, restaurants and incoming residents, the area is diversifying its offerings. More and more options are opening that target the early-to-mid-evening social crowd, a crucial segment that’s long been missing around Jefferson Street. Now authorized to sell alcohol by the City-Parish Council, a revamped Carpe Diem, the beloved Downtown espresso and gelato bar, is stepping up to the plate.

The business was recently purchased by husband and wife duo Liz and Andrew Payne, also part owners of Pamplona Tapas Bar. Pamplona built a reputation catering to the tastes of a refined crowd with delicious Spanish fare and an extensive wine list.  

The Paynes are taking that sophisticated palate to the family-favorite gelato bar, now rechristened Carpe Diem Café & Wine Bar. They’ve completely remodeled the interior, painting over the sunny mural with a deep blue, and have big plans for the corner shop.

“Our focus is going to be before and after dinner,” says Liz Payne, owner and manager. “I always saw Carpe Diem as being more than just a gelato shop. Our plan is to have something for everyone, no matter the time of day.” The concept, she says, is modeled on European cafés. “A true café experience, whatever you’re in the mood for, you can find it here.”    

The additions include an expanded coffee and espresso program, and pastries for morning traffic. “We’ve really stepped up the coffee game,” she says. “We’re bringing in Cuvée Coffee from Austin, and sometimes it’s too fresh to even serve. Now, we have a full line of pour-overs, cold-brew, Nespresso, lattes — the whole spectrum.”

The shop is adding gluten-free crêpes for weekend brunch, plus desserts and gelato in the afternoon. Brunch will feature mimosas with fresh juice alongside artisan charcuterie and cheese boards. The most exciting addition is a wine and cordial program for pre- and post-dinner drinks. “We won’t be making martinis or old-fashioneds,” says Payne. “Our focus will be on digestifs, aperitifs and dessert wines.”

Think of the reborn Carpe Diem at the corner of Jefferson and Lee as the welcoming place for a quiet, after-dinner date conversation or the cozy corner to sip a glass of sherry in before a big night out. The drink program features wine and liqueurs like Madeira, ports, Chartreuse and limoncello, the Pamplona favorite.

“We’ll be rotating four reds by the glass, a few whites and a bubbly. We’ll slowly start offering by-the-bottle over time,” says Payne. Don’t worry, even though the wine list at Pamplona is almost exclusively Spanish, little sister’s wine list will be more diverse. “We want to see what works, so we hope to try different types. We plan to bring in Italian, French and Oregon wines and really circulate the offerings.”  

To make room for all the changes, the café will operate on expanded hours, opening an hour earlier, at 7 a.m., on weekdays, 10 a.m. on weekends, with brunch served from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. The after-dinner crowd can cozy up for drinks and treats until 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. “Once we do start serving alcohol, we plan to close later, around midnight,” Payne adds. “Long enough for people to stop in after dinner.”