-  New saloon and eatery offers cowboy-size eats in an Old West decor

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK Tom Ellis, left, is the owner and Kris Lee is the general manager of Midnight Roundup Saloon and Eatery, a new country bar in Gresham.

Midnight Roundup Saloon and Eatery officially opened its doors for business Saturday, Sept. 8. But before owner Tom Ellis had sold his first drink, he had run up a $100 tab with a customer.

“A few days before we opened, a man had walked in, sat down at the lottery machine and started playing,” Ellis said. “I thought he was part of the work crew. I explained that the bar was not open yet and due to that, I didn’t have any cash to give him if he won. He said, ‘I’ll just play out what I have on here and I’ll leave.’”

Ellis agreed, thinking the man wouldn’t win anything with his few remaining credits. But then the flashing lights and siren of the lottery machine signaled that the man had won. With no cash on hand, Ellis wrote the man a check for $100.

“Before we even opened for business I had to pay out a jackpot,” Ellis said.

This wasn’t the first time customers were early to the draw at this rustic bar. The night before the bar officially opened to the public, word got out about the “soft opening” — a sort of test run to work out any kinks. Instead of a cozy crowd of friends and family members, the bar was packed with new customers ready to celebrate the saloon’s arrival.

“It was standing room only,” Ellis recalled.

But the evening wasn’t without its share of mishaps.

First, the air conditioner broke, in 90-plus degree weather, and couldn’t be fixed until the next day. Then the computer system went down for about a 30-minute period. Not only did that make order-taking more complicated, it meant that Ellis couldn’t take credit cards.

“No one seemed to notice because we fixed it quickly,” he said. “It’s Murphy’s Law — if anything can go wrong it will.”

Nonetheless, “It was a wonderful night,” Ellis said.

He chose to open the Midnight Roundup in Gresham because he felt there wasn’t anything else like it around. That, and he has a streak of cowboy in him.

He says he listens to country music, but it’s his collection of John Wayne movies that gives him away.

“I’ve got about 100 to 150 John Wayne movies,” Ellis said. “He was my idol growing up.”

Opening a Western-themed saloon was only natural for Ellis, who spent several years bartending at a long-gone bar in the Rockwood area of Gresham in the 1980s.

“I remember loving bartending,” he said. “Add in a western streak and you get Midnight Roundup Saloon and Eatery.

“Cowboys have always been a stable plan,” Ellis explained. “Most themed bars come and go, but there have always been cowboy bars.”

The Sandy native had been looking for a place to open his bar for a few years. His career as a homebuilder was curtailed when the economy tanked, replacing full-time work with irregular part-time work.

Ellis wasn’t happy being “semi-retired,” so he had the thought, “Maybe I’ll do something else.”

He recalled his days as a bartender, hatched his plan of a cowboy bar and began looking for space.

He picked the location at Northwest Eastman Parkway and Northwest Burnside Road because of its large parking lot.

What was last a Chinese restaurant now boasts flat-screen TVs, a dance floor, a pool table and an arcade game centered on shooting bucks (aptly named Big Buck Safari).

Though the walls are not adorned with stuffed critters, the saloon still has a rustic, county feel, especially because of the wood-paneled walls.

One thing that’s notably different at Midnight Roundup is the food.

“Cowboys have big appetites,” Ellis said. “Cowboy-sized to me means big portions. Our nachos are probably the biggest in town, and we have an 18-ounce T-bone steak.”

Also cowboy-sized are the popular 2-pound burgers. Ellis has yet to see anybody finish one. For lighter eaters, the menu offers salads, sandwiches and a host of bar-type appetizers, including nachos, wings, tater tots and Poblano Poppers.

Midnight Roundup is a 21-and-older full-service bar with a specialty cocktail menu, 15 types of wine and 12 beers on tap. Drafts include macrobrews such as PBR and local microbrews including Portland’s Alameda Brewing Company.

Since its opening, Midnight Roundup has had steady business, Ellis said. If it gets too crowded for you, you can always duck outside onto the 1,000-square-foot patio, where both drinking and smoking are allowed.

“I love watching people have fun in my new bar,” Ellis said.

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