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One Year In: Bit House’s Jesse Card On Busted Bottles, Tattoos, And Finding Family At Work

Bit House’s “Team Riff Raff,” from left to right: Chauncey Roach, Nick Cifuni, Chris Churilla, Jesse Card, and Brian Gilbert.
Bit House’s “Team Riff Raff,” from left to right: Chauncey Roach, Nick Cifuni, Chris Churilla, Jesse Card, and Brian Gilbert.
Dina Avila

Just five days after soft opening, the Bit House Saloon found itself off to an inauspicious start.

"It was the first Friday of the first week we were open," explains Bit House General Manager and saloon partner, Jesse Card. "We were slammed. It was about 8:30 at night, with about 150 to 170 guests in here, when the whole wall came down."

That "wall" was behind the bar and it comprised several shelves that showcased the bar's rare, hard-to-find and almost-impossible-to-replace imported and Japanese whiskeys. And within a couple of seconds all of it came crashing and splashing all over the floor on the bar's busiest night yet.

"It wasn't bottles of Maker's Mark or Jack Daniels that we lost, it was the expensive, hard-to-find Japanese whiskeys," he says, "That's the shit we lost."

Card laughingly says that he and his bar team will never let lead bartender Christopher Churilla (who was working the stick that night) ever live it down. Literally. Shortly after the broken glass was swept up, he and Card were inked with matching "commemorative tattoos" of dead broken whiskey bottles with angel wings.

When we caught up with Card by phone last month, we asked him what else he's learned from his first year in at Bit House.

"Of all the honors we've received [including The Oregonian's 2015 Bar of the Year, and Card winning our Bartender of the Year], the one thing I'm most proud of is the number zero," he says. "We've had zero attrition since we opened the doors, and have had to promote bar backs to bartenders because we've been so busy."

Before the saloon opened, Card asked his staff to bring with them the kinds of mistakes they'd made in the past so that they would know what kinds of mistakes not to make going forward—cascading bottles of primo whiskey, notwithstanding.

What's taken shape since then is the formation of a family, without static or drama.

"The staff has gone all in not just on being better at their jobs, but at being better people," Card says.

He's also come to embrace the don't-sweat-the-small-stuff ethos. He says that work, while often exhausting, shouldn't be punishing, and acknowledges that you can't let criticism give you the blue.

"You can't take your Yelp reviews personal. You can't take a critic's missives personal," he says. "You can't be so worried what other think that you can't have fun. You want to make sure everyone—from the staff to the guests—are having a great time."

To show their appreciation, Bit House Saloon is hosting a one-year anniversary party on July 17, which will feature 18 local bartenders tending bar, including Shift Drink's Alise Moffat, Teardrop Lounge's Alexandro de la Parra, and Interurban's Jeff Seymour. And you can show your appreciation of the staff by dropping them, one by one, into a dunk tank filled with champagne.

Bit House Saloon

727 Southeast Grand Avenue, , OR 97214 (503) 954-3913 Visit Website

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