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Hours may be limited, but not beer list

Bar of the Week: Pi-rem
by: Christopher Onstott, Gandharu Bhatara imbibes against a backdrop of local artist Madoka Ito’s artwork in a new space dedicated to refreshments from all over.

Pi-rem turns everything you knew about Portland bars on its head. For a start, it's usually only open two nights a week. And the owners - three chemical engineers with Ph.D.s who work at Intel Corp. - have no interest in quitting their day jobs to make money at this game.

They're not going to bother jumping through the Oregon Liquor Control Commission's hoops to serve hard liquor. (For that you have to serve food, which requires a proper kitchen.) They don't even have a music policy - DJs can play pretty much what they like, although there has to be a downtempo element to the beats.

Pi-rem sells wine, but its specialty is fancy bottled beer. The list is heavy on Belgian Trappist ales - strong, flavorful beers traditionally brewed in monasteries. The book 'Brew Like a Monk' sits on the bar, as does beer maven Michael Jackson's wonderful picture book 'The Great Beer Guide.' A little education is a wonderful thing.

The owners - two born in India, one in Florida - have none of the speed and slickness of professional bartenders. They dress casually, not in aprons or industry black. And they pour gingerly, then watch while you drink, offering explanations of the beer list where needed. They all look slightly bemused, as though they never expected anyone to turn up, but they're friendly without being fake.

The staff is happy to explain the difference between Chimay's Red, Blue and White or whether a German Doppelbock suits you better than an Eisbock, and introduce a French Canadian beer, the Polish Black Boss Porter or the Allagash Grand Cru from Maine.

The place has a delightfully minimal feel. There's nothing on tap, unless you count tap water (which you should, since some of these Belgians are pure crazy juice, guaranteed hangover potion).

Pi-rem also hangs and sells art. In programming the space, the owners put the word out on Craigslist, waded through the submitted JPEGs and even met a few artists. The name, by the way (look for the Greek letter p), is meaningless, designed to encourage creative thinking. On the other hand, one of the owners, Kapil Dev, is named after a great Indian cricket player.

On a recent weekend the modest crowd had an international feel, and several of the customers said they were from Intel. Whether Pi-rem will catch on more widely is another matter - most of the Fourth Avenue street traffic is people who have just parked and are heading to Old Town theme pubs.

Pi-rem's bar has adequate space for lounging, with sofas and coffee tables, and the music from the adjacent dance room doesn't drown out conversation. The décor has a rude, unfinished look - exposed pipes and cables, paint that peters out - which is fine because, after all, you're only here for the beer.

- Joseph Gallivan

Pi-rem, 433 N.W. Fourth Ave. (basement level), 503-227-5494, 9 p.m. to 2 a.m Friday and Saturday, also 8 p.m. to midnight First Thursdays