Save the Old EXPAND on the Fresh & New
Words David Bentley
Photography Tim Sugden
Over 30 years ago – long before the Portland Pearl District was nationally known – there was an old warehouse building creating and fostering a Pearl of its own. This has now become very well known as Bridgeport Brewery, Oregon’s Oldest Craft Brewery. Offering a menu that showcases fresh, locally sourced and home-grown ingredients, Bridgeport Brewpub has set an example in the Pacific Northwest brewpub scene. Since opening in 1984, Bridgeport has gone from 600 barrels a year to up to 100,000 annually. Although best known for their India Pale Ale, Bridgeport has been recognized with a number of awards for their outstanding brews, including a “Gold Medal”Brewing Industry International Award, a “Gold Medal” for Classic English Style Pale at the Great American Beer Festival, and a Gold Medal at the World Beer Cup.
With all the attention their beers have received over the years, Bridgeport has become one of Portlands biggest destinations for travelers and a favorite for locals. Today we are catching up with General Manager Dave Pendleton, and Chef Jack Henniger on the recent remodel of the bar and restaurant…
BridgePort is a legendary destination that serves locals and thousands of travelers throughout the year. A design change on a classic destination like BridgePort Brewery that’s already popular seems a bit risky, and at the minimum stressful? As you know, some don’t like change…
Dave P: True, change comes with its own set of risks and stress, but complacency can be equally damaging. Most long tenured businesses tweak what they do to stay relevant and compete. Our Portland beer community is very competitive and constantly evolving. Locals and travelers alike see Portland as a beer destination. So, we wanted our remodel to focus on elevating our beer game. To that end, the centerpiece of our remodel is a small batch experimental brewery, located in the Pub, that allows us to make 8-10 kegs at a time. Our brewers can experiment with new beer styles on the fly, putting their own stamp on what we do.
We are often making beer during peak hours, so folks can watch the beer they are drinking being made…it’s really cool! It gives us the opportunity to seek face-to-face feedback and see what beers people are into. We also overhauled our draft system and built a communal bar front and center. This allows us to offer up to 21 rotating beers at any given time in a casual, approachable setting. Our goal is to have something new brewing on any given visit!
You have a big facility, you have meeting rooms, and you have people renting out space for different events. You seem to try to embody community. Can you speak to that in terms of making sure it’s community driven to a certain degree?
Dave P: As a pub, we have strived to develop with our community and reflect both its wants and values. The changes outside our four walls have been unbelievable. A diverse community has grown around us. So, we want to be an accessible, fun destination for everyone in our neighborhood. Community is created over pints of beer and plates of food. That’s the primary goal of our expanded communal bar…to bring folks together. We want locals, travelers, beer guru’s, families, and first dates to all find something fun in what we are doing. How we do that is an important reflection on our community too…all our beer is made here, onsite. Our menu is highly diverse, offering scratch-made food from all walks of life. We are also highly sustainable and try to limit our footprint on the environment. Hopefully, our community sees us trying to achieve these goals.
Whether it be locally or internationally, was there any pub architect, or design group from which you drew inspiration? Or was it really just pointing out the obvious in terms of where you guys were going, and what you guys needed to do?
Dave P: Our inspiration stems from the local level. We had a clear view of what we wanted to achieve but getting there required help. Jim & Linda Moore (Moore Architecture + Design LLC) were critical to putting our vision onto paper, while Greg Knopf (Knopf Construction) contracted the project. All three have been regulars for years and have witnessed first-hand the ongoing changes here at the Pub and in the surrounding neighborhood. We all shared the primary goal of expanding our beer program, while creating a vibe that respected the historical building that is the heart and soul of BridgePort. We wanted to embrace our past and create a future that our neighbors will like. Exposed wood and brick compose the personality of our space…so adding components like reclaimed redwood, brushed zinc and industrial lighting helps tie past and future together.
How did the remodel impact the overall efficiency of day-to-day operations in general?
Dave P: In a very positive way! When you walk in our front doors you are greeted by our new host stand and pub bar off the bat. In the past, our space had a cavernous feel that folks would get lost in. Now we have a better overall flow and we can guide visitors to where they’d prefer to be. This helps us balance seating and better control the flow of food orders into the kitchen. We also relocated our retail and pub gear to our host stand. Guests can check out t-shirts while waiting for a table or quickly grab a hat on the way out. Locating our experimental pilot system in the Pub has created a certain synergy between our brewers and service team. Working in the same space has increased our beer knowledge and enthusiasm.
People can be funny about how and where to be seated depending on their mood, or party size. At the same time, square footage and seating are a big a revenue generator for a business…
Dave P: Ironically, we slightly reduced our overall number of seats. But our seating has a flow and purpose now that it lacked before. Seating along our pilot brewery is great for beer-minded folks that want to watch the process. It’s also great for larger groups that want a beer-centric experience. Our communal bar is perfect for having a couple pints and some appetizers while watching the Blazers game or getting work done on your laptop. Visitors can also see first-hand what cask kegs look like and how they operate. Remodeled seating in the pub includes over-sized tables and booths now, which is great for friends catching up or families that need extra space to spread out.
I love the outdoor Warehouse dock seating option…
Dave P: Yeah, our brewery has one of the last working docks in the Pearl District. It’s a hoot to sit out there and watch all the action on a warm afternoon. There is plenty of cold beer and people watching to do. Time definitely seems to slow down!
As brewpubs go, your food is really a stand out. Portlanders love their food, where it’s from, and how it’s made…a farm to table mindset. You have brought beer into close quarters in doing these small batches. How’s the beer pairing up?
Dave P: Chef Jack has always put forth an ambitious menu and sets a high bar for pub grub. We have recently added a Fish & Chips Platter on Wednesday’s that most people can’t finish. It’s a full fillet of breaded Haddock served with Creole Tartar Sauce, homemade Jo Jo’s and coleslaw. It pairs perfectly with a Kolsch we made for the summer heat. So, yeah, there is a lot of creativity going on in the kitchen and brewery that is pairing up nicely.
How did the recent remodel affect your approach to food at the Pub?
Jack: The remodel didn’t change the way we cook here at BridgePort, but it has brought in new guests to experience our revamped menu. It’s exciting to see folks enjoying a new beer and good meal in our remodeled space.
Unlike most brewpubs, BridgePort offers a farm-to-table “fresh sheet” …how do you select items for it daily?
Jack: One of the biggest challenges of being a chef of a brewpub is trying to figure out what the guests expect in their experience while eating at the pub. Are they looking for standard pub fare with a good pint? Or are they willing to try something different? Through a lot of trial and error, we discovered that guests were just as excited to try a line caught albacore tuna entrée as getting down on some spicy chicken wings. We use this farm-to-table fresh sheet both to offer different and creative food, and also to help keep our kitchen staff interested and engaged. We try and select items that are at their seasonal best, obviously now it’s all about local tomatoes, peppers, etc.
I really try to stress the fundamentals of cooking with our team, so I will look at classic dishes and tweak them a touch using seasonal ingredients. So, you might see a very recognizable entrée on the fresh sheet like meatloaf, but ours has been slow smoked for hours served with local grilled vegetables. We also noticed years ago that guests were looking for healthier option, and less food out of the fryer. Now we have a great mix of scratch made vegan and vegetarian fare. We often have regular customers that only look at the fresh sheet, not concerning themselves with the pub menu. They want to know what the chef is cooking, which is a great feeling!
If you had to pick a couple favorite menu items for guests to try, what would they be?
Jack: I get asked this question a lot and the truth is, I’m excited about all the food we cook. So, it really just depends on what you want to eat. We make a great marinated kale salad, or scratch made vegan burger, but we also smoke a mean brisket! We spent a lot of time working on our pizza dough, that uses BridgePort’s Kingpin beer, so I always suggest trying a pizza if you can’t decide. And then there is always our fresh sheet! You never know what we will be cooking, but it’s almost always local and seasonal.