“Everybody has a plan until they get hit. Then, like a rat, they stop in fear and freeze” said Hammer & Stitch Brewing’s Ben Dobler, paraphrasing a famous quote from Mike Tyson. Taproom owners, like boxers, don’t have the luxury to freeze if they want to survive through this pandemic.
Everyone has kind of been in shock since the pandemic hit, brewery and bar owners more so then most. But since Oregon’s governor ordered bars and restaurants shut for on-premise food and drinks, my mind has often drifted to those taproom’s who were just beginning and planning to open for the first time this Spring or Summer in Portland.
Tomorrow’s Verse Taproom is a beer bar that had the misfortune of actually opening for the first time during the mandated shutdown of such businesses in Portland. Owner TJ Fuller envisioned Tomorrow’s Verse as a neighborhood showcase for craft beer and live music, another industry hit hard by the pandemic.
“When I set out to open this taproom, the focus was going to be a “music centric” taproom with a different theme of curated music every night,” says Fuller. Tomorrow’s Verse is a line from a Phish song called NICU.
Fuller’s plan was to focus on drat beer pouring from his 16 taps and the to-go packaged options were secondary.
“It became obvious that things were going to need to shift fairly quickly. So I bought a 3 door reach in and a crowler machine immediately recognizing that to go might be the only option for the immediate future,” says Fuller.
While Tomorrow’s Verse is holding out hopes to get back to normal and still spotlight live music, that may have to take the form of solo artist or duos and DJ’s for now. The taproom is located in the Fremont Commons building with a shared courtyard area with some semi-secluded outdoor seating that will be utilized when pints are allowed on-premise. Fuller has also applied to add picnic tables on the street side of the taproom on 46th.
“We are super excited and equally nervous about opening up to the public. I don’t think there could have been worse timing with signing a lease and build out, but we are trying to make the best of it,” says Fuller.
Valerie Hunter, a developer and bar owner behind Happy Valley Station is itching to open up her new venture Williams Tap House in N. Portland. Similarly to HV Station, the Williams Tap House is part of a larger project called Cartside PDX which aims to be one of the premiere places in town to peruse food trucks while hanging out and having a drink, playing games or watching them.
Cartside has soft opened at 1825 N Williams Ave Portland near Upright Brewing and the MODA Center, a location that developers hoped would attract people going to games and concerts in the area. With large sporting events and concerts on-hold for the forseeable future and business down in food service, Cartside has been unable to open fully and Williams Tap House is in a holding pattern.
Hunter is worried the states policies that are preventing Multnomah County from reopening are causing to much damage to the industry, and the unemployment system making it difficult to get back to business. Williams Tap House is ready to open, but is having difficulty getting enough service industry staff back to work.
“I hope more places open up,” says Hunter. “This unemployment is killing owners from getting employees that will work…We need employees but no one wants to let go of their free money,” says Smith.
Williams Tap House plans to open as soon at the governor allows, with limited spaced seating for 7 tables and promises 24 drafts of 34 degrees “ice cold” beer.
Williams Tap House, 1825 NE Williams St Portland, OR.
Proper Pint Oakroom
Sean Hiatt was working on the buildout of his second location of Proper Pint Taproom when the pandemic hit the west coast. Proper Pint Oakroom was originally scheduled to open in early Spring in Portland’s Multnomah Village neighborhood but it’s existence is now influx.
On April 2nd, Hiatt was in his woodworking shop making tiles for the Oakroom’s table tops when he nearly snapped his right index finger completely off. As he was being rushed into the emergency room and around the blue triage tents set up outside for Coronavirus patients, all Hiatt could think was “I am pretty sure that’s where covid lives.”
Luckily the doctors were able to repair Hiatt’s finger and he was able to return home virus free. But like many other businesses, he was forced to lay off his staff and completely close up sales until recently. One of the first things Proper Pint did was donate the draft beer to the staff, welcoming to come in and fill growlers. After taking some time off to heal and make plans, Proper Pint opened back-up for to-go beer sales and delivery via electric bikes with the help of his staff who he says are anxious to get back to work.
While Proper Pint’s southeast Portland location is now ready for Multnomah County’s reopening, the delay in the buildout of the Oakroom may end up costly. In the downtime, the Multnomah County building where Oakroom was set to open was sold. Hiatt is now working on renegotiating his lease for more favorable terms that are reflective of the new limits on on-premise seating.
Proper Pint Oakroom is at the corner of SW Capital Highway and 31st.
Hammer & Stitch Brewing
Ben Dobler is getting so used to setbacks and handling emergencies that he could become a crisis manager. Dobler spent 20 years at Widmer Brothers Brewing with a stable and successful career in the spotlight developing some of the companies most popular brands. He stepped out on his own in 2016 and had brief stints as head brewer at Laurelwood Brewing and Mt. Tabor Brewing before teaming up with brothers Adam and Jason Babkes on a new brewery project called Hammer & Stitch.
Like many startup breweries, Hammer & Stitch was hit by setback after setback in permitting and build-out of their NW Portland brewery and restaurant. Hammer & Stitch was first covered by The New School in January 2019 when it made our most anticipated openings list for 2019, then it made the same list the next year for 2020. Finally, with things getting on track with their build-out, Coronavirus hits America. It’s a good thing that Dobler seems to be an optimist.
“We’ve been in the fortunate spot to pivot our plan before getting too deep down a path,” says Dobler. “Our cans are almost finalized. Our online e-comm site is about done. This will be the vehicle for folks to preorder beer/merch/food.”
For now, Hammer & Stitch will put their plans to have on-site dining are on-hold and they are refocusing on canning their beers and doing delivery service 2 days a week.
“Here we are, almost 3 yrs later, and we’re set to open our doors next month! We fought through the picks the City of Portland put up, we’re fighting our way through a global pandemic and now we’re standing with Portland’s BIPOC community to make this place better for all,” says Dobler.
Hammer & Stitch begins brewing soon at 2377 NW Wilson St, Portland, OR 97210.
Tiny Bubble Room
With a newborn baby delivered during the pandemic and three bars to manage, Jeremy Lewis is not rushing to open his highly anticipated N. Portland pub the Tiny Bubble Room. Lewis and his business partner Quyen Ly are the publicans behind Roscoe’s, Miyamoto Sushi, Saraveza and it’s Bad Habit Room. The Tiny Bubble Room is to be their latest new joint, a dark and loungey local dive bar with an incredible selection of beer in a dark well worn space.
Tiny Bubble Room will lose more than a dozen bar seats inside, and some of the sure to be popular red leather booths will have to be temporarily decomissioned for social distancing. But on the positive side, the square footage has a moderate size to spread out in and a large parking lot to expand outdoor seating inside.
“After we get Roscoes back up and running our focus will move over to get a tiny bubble room up and running,” says Lewis. “Based on the large parking lot we should have plenty of outdoor seating and be able to have a fair amount of capacity.”
Lewis and Ly were already planning for an outdoor beer garden behind the bar, but now that may become a larger project taking over an entire row of parking spaces.
Tiny Bubble Room will open later this summer at 2025 N Lombard St, Portland, OR 97217.
Founder of The New School and most frequent contributor Ezra Johnson-Greenough has worked in the craft beer industry for almost 10 years, doing everything from illustrating beer labels to bartending at renowned beer bars and breweries like Belmont Station, Apex, Laurelwood and Upright Brewing. He has also had a hand in creating events like the Portland Fruit Beer Festival, Portland Beer Week, and the Brewing up Cocktails series. He is available for freelance consultation in marketing, events, graphic design and branding.