Portland’s Bar King opened at an unfortunate time. The hotly anticipated restaurant, the product of two industry vets with a serious history in fine dining, opened in early March 2020, only to temporarily shutter less than a week later as COVID-19 descended on the city. After nine months of operational pivots, closures, and openings, owners Shaun and Jamie King will be closing Bar King and its bakery for good. Its last day of service will be January 2.
“We are heartbroken to announce the permanent closure of Bar King and The Bakery,” Shaun King told Eater PDX in an email. “To our team, thank you for the hard work that you have put in to make this more than just a restaurant, but a dream realized, albeit brief. To our guests, thank you for supporting us along the way.”
The restaurant looked to be a surefire hit from its first weekend. Grilled meats like ssam-style short ribs and blackened squid came out of its kitchen, equipped with a massive smoker and wood-fired hearth. Jamie King, an experienced bartender who spent time at some of New York’s top cocktail destinations, brought her own unique flair, offering bold drinks to pair with dishes like pork belly and dry-aged duck carved table-side. Its celebratory opening mood quickly faded, however, as King’s owners realized the untenable circumstance that they and the rest of the world were in. On March 15, Bar King closed its dining rooms out of consideration for the rapidly spreading pandemic; a day later, Gov. Kate Brown announced that all dining rooms would need to close.
Bar King, like many others, spent the next few months reorienting, opting for a takeout menu with items like ribs, ramen, barbecue boxes, half-chickens, and brunch boxes. In the summer, seasoned baker Katherine Benvenuti, who had worked at the venerable Chez Panisse in Berkeley, joined the team. Benvenuti quickly established The Bakery at Bar King as one of the best pastry shops in town, with delicate brioche, fluffy cakes, dense cookies, and crispy donuts.
The restaurant reopened when limited indoor dining was briefly allowed during the late summer and early fall. But in November, when regulations again became strict due to the rise in COVID-19 cases, the restaurant returned to its takeout-only model. Eventually, that too was phased out as the owners tried to strategize on what to do next to keep their business viable. At the moment, though, the Bakery at Bar King is still open for takeout.
On December 15, Shaun King sent an informal press release stating that the team had made the painful but necessary decision to permanently close the restaurant and bakery, with an end date of January 2. In his email, King writes, “Bar King was our dream. These decisions were not made lightly ... While this news is devastating, we remain hopeful for the future and committed to advocating for the independent restaurants whose survival is so crucial to the wellbeing of communities everywhere.”