In Ansel Vickery’s opinion, a good bar isn’t necessarily about elaborate cocktails; it has much more to do with the feeling you get walking in. “My favorite places are places that are greater than the sum of their parts,” Vickery says. “The location, what it feels like walking in the front door, how you’re greeted as you walk in. There are a million things at play.”
That’s not to say Vickery isn’t a skilled bartender: Since he was 19, he’s been working at Portland restaurants, from the now-closed Bluehour to underrated destination Free House. Soon, he’ll have a bar of his own: he’ll take over the former Caldera Public House space on SE Stark with collaborator Rob Merollis, serving cheeseburgers, cocktails, and, if everything goes right, that je ne sais quoi that makes a bar shine.
Starting August 1, Bellwether Bar will open with a full slate of cocktails, as well as a tight menu of pub staples; chef Alex Yoder, formerly of Olympia Provisions, is working on things like cheeseburgers and grain bowls. Vickery is tight-lipped on the bar’s original cocktail menu, though his Instagram pop-up earlier this year included drinks like sherry piña coladas, non-alcoholic sours made with Seedlip, and Old Fashioneds made with New England maple syrup. “To me, bartending is a little more important than cocktail making,” Vickery says. “Certainly we will have a curated selection of house cocktails; all the talent we’ll have behind the bar is exceedingly capable. But I don’t expect that anyone will look through the cocktail menu and find something they don’t know how to pronounce.”
The Oregonian broke the news on the opening, also noting the significance of the space: Bellwether Bar will open in the 111-year-old Thomas Graham Building. Vickery hopes that the bar will open for indoor and outdoor dining, but that depends on the state of COVID-19’s spread in Oregon; if cases spike and indoor dining shuts down, Bellwether Bar can rely on its outdoor patio. “We trust in the public health experts. If we are allowed to be open indoors, we absolutely will,” Vickery says. “All the people we’ve hired so far are fully vaccinated, but if we have one employee is uncomfortable, we won’t do it.”
Bellwether will open at 6031 SE Stark St.
Updated July 16, 2021, at 10:25 a.m.: This story has been updated to include Bellwether Bar’s official opening date.
• Bellwether Bar [Official]
• Free House [Official]
• Bellwether Bar opening in historic Mt. Tabor building once home to Caldera Public House [O]