Eater has learned Jesse Card, the face of Bit House Saloon (Eater PDX 2016 Bar of the Year), has left his position for an undisclosed project. The remaining members of the veteran bartending team—dubbed Team Riff Raff—say despite Card’s departure, the bar will continue to do its thing.
“Bit House is a giant beast already coming down the mountain,” says Chris Churilla. “When Jesse and I were back at Knock Back Bar, we wanted to offer something for everyone, and that hasn’t changed. We’re just adding more coal.”
Churilla’s assessment is likely realistic, as the majority of the Riff Raff crew have been at the bar since it opened in 2015, and they bring significant bartending experience. Along with Churilla, they include bartenders “Chino” and Brian Gilbert, with Gilbert having managed or been on the opening teams of Teardrop, Imperial, and Tasty N Alder—some of Portland’s leading cocktail spots.
Bit House Saloon offers perhaps the most comprehensive drink offerings in the city, from its in-house, single-barrel-spirits program, to well-priced, thoughtfully sourced boilermakers. Its creative cocktails even warrant hiring a full-time employee focused exclusively on bar prep. “Karen Lujan makes everything from kimchi to bone broth for cocktails daily,” says Churilla.
Recent additions to the cocktail list include Ace of Spades, a smoky, whiskey-driven tribute to Motorhead’s Lemmy, and the Sloe Gin Fizz 3000, involving Haymans Sloe Gin, cinnamon, lemon, egg white, and soylent sodium bicarbonate cube. “‘What can’t we do?’ we ask,” says Churilla, “and then we do it.”
The bar also says it’s focusing more and more on getting its food on par with its drinks. Now six months in, chef Ricky Bella (Paley’s Place, Imperial) tells Eater almost all of the menu is new, aside from the popular bologna sandwich and biscuits. Overall, the Bit House team says Card’s decision to leave is a time to reassess opportunities and continue to grow. In other words, it’s business as usual at the constantly evolving bar.