There is always an emotional transition when one longstanding bar transforms into another. The Eastbank Tavern was a stalwart on the industrial east side in Portland, at least for as long as I can remember. One of those bars along Grand that you’d pop into after heading back across the river from a show downtown for a nightcap. The smell of smoke and fried food, lingering in the air engrained into the DNA of the establishment, like a good, working class bar should. Times though, they are a changing. The neighborhood is now looking to appeal not just to the growing group of more astute imbibers, but to the younger, newer Portland crowd. A population that values aesthetic over quirk perhaps, and sees the quality of their surroundings as important as the quality of their drinks. A trend happening not only in that MLK/Grand corridor, but all over the city. Evolve or get left behind as it were. While there are many venues I’ve visited in town, I feel too many of them aim for a wine bar feel for those with a champagne budget, too easily classified as gentrificated snobbery which is totally out of place to many who have watched Portland transform over the last twenty years or so.
The beauty of this new iteration is that is still holds much of the Eastbank’s character, but has helped move this saloon into the new age of more discerning quaffers. This newer, hipper, fancier version of Portland that has followed in the wake of the boom over the last decade has asked these venues to offer up a bit more ambiance. What I love about the Bit House Saloon, is that it has taken the rough, grimy portland, and like many of its longstanding residents, gone from damp carpet, PBR and flannel, to wood, whiskey and leather, and well, $1 High Life Ponies for those of us looking for a back, or no frills option. I’d always seen Portland as a working class town even if Fred and Carrie have shown us that retirement can be achieved early as long as we’re willing to not do much of anything, and it’s good to see that there can exist a bridge between this new era of craft cocktails and earlier, perhaps simpler times. Change doesn’t have to happen entirely overnight…
As someone who has lived in, around or near Portland since ’93, I find the change the city is going through to be both exciting and infuriating. Many of us enjoy becoming a larger, busier city, but struggle with the rapidity that the soul of this municipality is seemingly being altered. I know this may sound as if I’m grumpily asking youth to get off of my dead, brown, water ration implemented lawn here, but I’m nothing if not honest about my own failings. It is places like the Bit House that help those of us who’ve been here a while, feel as if there is still a bit of the old town around, while still moving into a new era. Plus, I think that kid over there was the one playing a Ke$ha song on his ukulele while riding a unicycle in circles in front of my house. Perhaps we can all coexist.
We in the Rose City love that there is more beer brewed in Portland per capita than anywhere else in the world (totally didn’t research that, but I can’t imagine that to be untrue), but if I have to see one more f*cking $7 pint of ‘triple hopped IPA’ from some hipster brewery startup, I’m going to go berserk. We’re tired of overly hopped beer. We’ve been drinking it for years and are a couple IPA’s away from our first male training bra (oh, didn’t hear about how excessive hop consumption can lead to male breasts???). There are competing theories on that, but it doesn’t change the fact that it won’t kill you brewers to focus a little more on some malty beers, alright?! Okay, I’m done ranting, I am. Luckily, and to my excitement, the Bit House has an honestly priced and varied beer selection, and offers a wonderful array of whisk(e)y, wine, a plethora of other handmade spirits and those artfully crafted cocktails which should help keep me out of my first brassiere.
The Bit House has found a way to keep its soul intact, and has grown into an older, more mature version of itself. Driven by the team at the ELK Collective, the revamp seems to have moved the aged Eastbank through a seamless transition into its new persona. The brick is still exposed, the beautiful chandeliers still hanging and that bison is around to greet your entry into the enclosed patio seating. The bar has undergone a total transformation into an unassuming, yet ruggedly handsome statement in and of itself. If this bar were a dude, I like to imagine it might be Jon Hamm circa 1998 out in the forest chopping fire wood to give to the local orphanage. Versatile, modern but timeless, yet to be fully discovered however, humbly camped on the verge of stardom. How’s that for a visual personification of an inanimate fixture? Gone are the musty carpets and aged, nondescript wooden furniture making way for beautiful hard woods (as should be the case in any self respecting saloon) comfy bar stools and some truly swank leather chairs for those looking to lounge over a spirited conversation.
The staff was wonderful, attentive and friendly which is no small feat in today’s landscape. On a visit, not spent with the intention of visually recording this beautiful space, I was able to enjoy it as it is intended. The menu was still being worked out, but everything we had was wonderful. I had whiskey, Mrs Squeeze had a glass of rosé, followed by a cocktail, and we thoroughly enjoyed a rare evening out, by ourselves with some friends. Like, without kids. It was weird, but once we quickly got over that strange feeling (I think folks call it freedom), we settled into our selves and the space and enjoyed just comfortably being.
I could ramble on and on as is my modus operandi, but I feel it best to leave you with a few images and the potential interest to see the bar for yourself. An inviting space occupied by warm tones, even better when filled with the conversation and celebration of simple pleasures.
The Bit House Saloon can be found in Portland, Oregon at 727 SE Grand Avenue. It’s open 3pm to 2:30am, everyday. Have a look at their Menu HERE, and please note the boozie popsicles.
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*All pictures are copyright ©Tyson Robichaud Photography, shot for the ELK Collective, and can’t be taken, used, stolen or borrowed without my permission, so please ask okay. That said, I’m usually up for sharing, so hit me up. Great, thanks.