The Bitter End has made some sweet changes.
The pub near the Timbers' stadium has been a Northwest neighborhood watering hole and Timbers Army gathering spot for the past 15 years. It was a bit down at heel when Dwayne Beliakoff (formerly of Violetta) and his partner Jonathan Cobbs bought it a year and a half ago, so they gave it a big remodel and a thorough food and drink upgrade. In went a brand-new kitchen and bar, out went the Turbo Chef microwave and its lineup of frozen bar snacks. But one thing remained the same: "We made the choice to pick right back up with the name," says Beliakoff. "We stuck with The Bitter End."
However, what seemed like a good way to retain the bar's neighborhood legacy might actually have worked against it. Few people realized that the new Bitter End was more than a game day sports bar, a place where there were hard cider menu nights, 22 taps of mostly craft beers, bistro burgers, and dollar oysters before anyone else was doing it around town.
"There's this crazy phenomenon the day before and the day after a game," says Beliakoff. "It's a ghost town. It's like they save it all up for that one day. I know a lot of neighborhood bars are used to that. There's a place for it. But we just rehabbed the space a year ago, and it's not enough. We do live music Thursday through Saturday. We're doing pretty bomb bar food. The name was an uphill battle."
So with the Timbers new season just starting, they decided it was time to regroup and rebrand. "We did our own form of Bar Rescue over the last few days," says Beliakoff.
The pub shut down for few days last week, and when it reopens tomorrow, it'll have a new look, a new menu and a new name: The St. Helens.
Its inspiration comes from deep in Beliakoff's childhood, from a time when he and his family lived in Oregon and camped near Spirit Lake. "It's a nod to our parents. A throwback to the late ‘70s and ‘80s. And it's a reference to the mountain. I wanted a place rooted in the Northwest and that history."
The décor has gone from soccer-themed to vintage Northwest, complete with plaid hunting lodge-style curtains and local Northwest-inspired artwork on the walls. The menu takes some of the icons of late 20th century American and "continental" cuisine — wedge salads, meatloaf, French onion soup, baked Alaska — and gives each a fresh take: the meatloaf is made with fresh ground lamb, the soup includes toast spread with bone marrow, the baked Alaska is layered with seasonal compotes.
And there's new shelving to showcase the top-shelf spirits. "People thought it was just a beer bar," he says. "We wanted to emphasize the whiskey and scotch, and with those comes a new string of cocktails. They'll all be done in the style of Portland — we're playing with bitters, we have the big ice cubes going." The lineup includes a Brandy Alexander with Fifty Licks vanilla ice cream and Eastside Distilling coffee liqueur; a Collins made with Aria gin; a twist on the lime Daquiri made with Below Deck spiced rum; and a play on the Mai Tai using housemade falernum syrup.
"It's not a concept bar," says Beliakoff. "I appreciate nods and reference. It's just a bit of a throwback. We all have our history and have that sense of nostalgia. We just want to capture that feeling."
The St. Helens: 1981 W. Burnside, Portland, 503-832-4326