The idea of a neighbourhood pub as one of a community’s social focal points has a lot of merit, especially given the current climate with respect to drinking and driving. However, until recently, stepping into the local is like stepping back in time. It hadn’t progressed much from the eighties, except the industrial lager selection became more cosmopolitan – hello Bud, Corona, and Stella, goodbye Blue – and the “fancy” beer grew to include beyond Guinness, two or three of Alexander Keith’s, Granville Island, Okanagan Spring, Rickards, or Sleeman’s. How about some trendy yam fries, edamame, or sliders?
With the craft beer resurgence, however, we are seeing a transformation of the neighbourhood pub that is more appropriate for contemporary drinking and dining preferences. The model is not from Old Blighty: heading straight from the grindstone to a barstool for an evening of bottomless pints, byproduct belly filler, frequent fags, darts, and flirting with husky girls. Rather, it is more about a communal enjoyment of local food with craft beverages, gradually transitioning the Lower Mainland away from soulless factory fodder to flavourful artisanal fare.
A good example of this is the new Portland Craft on Main Street. In traditional terms, it’s neither pub, bar, nor restaurant but all three. Sixteen draught taps offering mostly Oregon craft brews is not what you would expect in a restaurant, yet their 10 wines and full compliment of premium aperitifs & spirits mean those in the mood for something other than beer won’t feel alienated. What’s available changes on an ongoing basis, so beer, wine, and featured cocktails are listed on a chalkboard above the bar. Conveniently, serving size, ABV, and IBU are also listed for each beer. Unfortunately, most are served in the utilitarian Shaker pint which diminishes the full appreciation of their aroma and flavour.
While Portland Craft’s airy, natural-lit interior gives a feeling of space, communal seating at the room-length bar and long table place people in close proximity to strangers. We need more of this antidote to Vancouver’s strained dating scene. Fortunately, blaring televisions and thumping music – of which this city has experienced an epidemic – won’t discourage you from meeting someone new. Animated conversations, however, can create a din with the house near capacity, given the lack of materials to absorb sound.
Portland Craft’s food menu is also well thought out, divided into what you might call snacks, appetizers, and entrees, but categorized by price – Under $5, Over $5, Over $10. Only want to nibble while having drinks? There are half a dozen choices. Have a hefty appetite? An appetizer, entree, and one of three desserts will be sure to satisfy. But if you’re more in the mood for tapas-style grazing, that’s also possible. Vegetarians will appreciate their ten non-meat menu items actually offer a proper meal.
The immediate popularity of Portland Craft shows it’s a welcome change from the old neighbourhood pub model, even when given a makeover like the previous tenant. The craft is evident in the beer selection and commitment to organic food ingredients. Sourcing produce from the backyard gardens of Inner City Farms is certainly Portland-inspired. Perhaps, one day, we’ll see that further developed with all food and drink provided by our local foodshed, and delivered by bike. Viva Cascadia!