BridgePort beer fans face facts
The BridgePort Brew Pub which has been at 1313 N.W. Marshall St. in the Pearl District for 35 years, will close on March 10. The brewery has already ceased brewing, but the pub has another three weeks.
On Tuesday evening, hours after the pub went public about its demise with a Facebook post, regular Adam Keapproth was taking a break outside under a streetlamp. A radiology technologist, he has been coming for five years, he lives four blocks away and he's a fan of the hoppy IPAs, such as the Multiball.
"I'm going to miss it," Keapproth told the Business Tribune. "It's been a staple of Portland for a long time. It's had some good beer and friendly bartenders."
Keapproth is going to come again before March 10, to say goodbye to the bartenders — especially Kirk. "He's a cool bartender, works weekdays, I'd have a chat with him and have a pint."
The BridgePort Brewpub has changed a lot since its old rope factory origins. The simple formula then was beer, pizza, darts, and sawdust-covered floors. Now it has hard surfaces, high tables, permanent sports on TV, and families eating while watching their devices. The whole ground floor is all about waiter service dining. Upstairs is the bar.
The downstairs restaurant and lobby were remodeled to make waiting for a table more comfortable but that didn't save BridgePort.
Two men were drinking at the side counter where canned beer and merch is stocked.
Fred Stewart is a realtor who used to be in the U.S. Marine Corps How did he feel about BridgePort Brewing closing?
"It sucks. This is a big part of Portland history over the last 40 years that's going away. For people who have only been here a short while it's impossible for them to realize how big this is. It's bad."
He appeared both sad and sanguine. He reflected on the 1980s and 1990s.
"I used to come here when it was more hippy-ish, have a couple of slices of pizza and sit out on the old concrete deck. And you didn't have to pay for parking. One of the reasons Northeast Portland is gentrified is I used to bring people here and sell them houses. I'd sell them houses in inner Northeast Portland under $100,000, because we had no bars over there. I used to promise people that stuff like this would happen in northeast one day."
The 54-year-old is proud of the first thing he did when he bought a bar called Shanny's (now called The Barlow) on the corner of Ainsworth and Greely: "I got rid of Lowenbrau and put in BridgePort IPA."
Stewart says he's heard BridgePort is just not selling enough beer. "There's so many beers to choose from. It's oversaturated. But a place like this that has been good for so many years? We're going to miss this."
He says that with all the choice, "The new people that come to Portland they don't know where this place fits. I come here because my two favorite beers are BridgePort IPA and Terminal Gravity IPA. They're so hard to find…. This shows how much Portland is changing. The new people, mostly because they don't know, they don't respect the old stuff."
The first beer he drank in this pub was Blue Heron. (BridgePort's Audubon series were named after birds.) "I loved the hell out of that."
He added, "This just shows Portland is changing, we're moving away from our hippie roots."
For Stewart it was a hub for real estate transactions because it was the only nice restaurant in the neighborhood.
"I came in here one day in 1995 the place was full of sailors and marines from Rose Festival. I brought Allan Moss (a wealthy executive at Macquarie Group, an Australian bank) here, because I wanted to show him Portland. He loved walking around in this place because it was authentic. For five bucks you could get a slice and a 16-ounce beer."
It doesn't help that just across the street the local Safeway converted its cafe into a taproom/sports bar two years ago, where you can watch the Blazers while eating hot bar food from a clamshell.
Beer bus leaving now
Alongside Stewart at the counter was Jim Long, who started the Portland Brew Bus, which he says was the first craft ale tour in Portland.
"I'm sad. I've brought thousands of people here. Todd, the cellar master, was the tour guide for years. The first craft ale bottled in Oregon was the Blue Heron Pale Ale."
Why does he think BridgePort is closing down?
"It's economics. Their sales have gone down. There's a lot of competition."
He rattles off Alameda, Portland Brewing, Widmer Brothers, Burnside and BridgePort as Portland brewers closing their pubs or whole breweries recently.
Long takes his Brew Bus tourists to newer places, such as Breakside, Ruse in Southeast, Ancestry and Uptown. But he's going to enjoy BridgePort as much as possible before it closes.
"I love this place. Look at the brick walls, it's a great sight. I've had some great beers, and I'll be back."
Sitting upstairs in the bar was Tim Swettlen. He moved to Portland from Seattle six years ago.
"This was one of my first brewpubs I fell in love with and have never lived more than two miles from here," said Swettlen. "I don't have to drive here."
He's worked at Intel for 20 years, doing tests and now managing.
He had headed down to BridgePort on that night to meet his wife and "pay homage" on hearing the news from a buddy.
"I am drinking the Multiball Double IPA, it's pretty strong," he said. "They used to have a Hop Czar. I loved that beer, it has a place in my heart."
Asked why he thought it was suddenly closing, he mused,
"It's tough. The beer scene's tough in this city. I'm sad but it's kind of how the businesses work. I think they've tried to do a lot in the last two years, going from eight to 10 beers to 16 today…more micro batches. You gotta be able to move a little faster. I think it worked for me."
BridgePort gave him happy memories.
"I hosted two birthday parties here and a buddy of mine got married in the room behind here. BridgePort is more than just a bar to me. It has roots. Not deep, but a little bit more than just a restaurant I like."
He points to the market.
"It's just a saturated market. I live a mile and a half away and there are seven breweries between here and my house. I'm more of a diversity guy in where I eat and where I go."
Portlanders are still quite alternative, he acknowledges.
"The customer in this city I generally love. I you're trying to open an Olive Garden it doesn't work. But let yourself grow to have three or four or five of an establishment then all of a sudden, you've become the man it's no longer fresh. That's a shame."
News spreads, drinkers flock
Drinking with his buddy under the big TV screens across the room, Joshua Bruce said he discovered BridgePort Brewpub while living in southwest. "I don't remember the first time I came here but it's the go-to place. My ex and I especially, we were 'Where we going to go? Ah BridgePort!'"
He now lives in North Portland but used to live down the street in the Parker. He works in in I.T.
"It's just one of those familiar places, you keep coming back because you know the beer's going to be good. It's one of those Portland institutions."
It has history but he didn't come here 20 years ago.
"I gotta confess I'm that worst type of Oregonian, I came up here from California in 2008."
"The beer is exactly what I like about a big hearty IPA."
What about the fact that you can get an IPA anywhere now?
"That's probably why they're closing, they're probably a little oversaturated. It's a little shocking it's closing down because it's such an icon. A coworker told me, and I thought she was crazy. I thought she meant Burnside. Looked it up and I was like O, s—t, it's true."
Bruce is not sure if he will have time to come back by March 10.
"I may have already drank my last BridgePort beer. A Spreadover Double IPA, an extra pour from the keg. It might have been a free one."