In 1909, a church opened on the corner of NE Broadway and 24th, a tall, craftsman-era chapel made of Pacific Northwestern fir and cedar. In its lifetime, it has housed a number of different congregations — it was most recently home to the Metropolitan Community Church of Portland, known for its queer-friendly approach to Christianity — but in 2019, the MCC moved to Southeast Portland, leaving the centenarian chapel vacant and at risk of becoming another condo development.
Now, a different kind of community will gather in its halls: Steeplejack Brewing, a restaurant, coffee bar, and brewery, opens today, July 23, pouring pints and slinging tempura-beer-battered chicken sandwiches.
Owners Brody Day and Dustin Harder have spent the last two years transforming the Broadway church into Steeplejack, but inside, it still feels very much like a church: The building’s stained glass windows loom above the brewery’s tanks and bar, and pews serve as banquettes for the wooden tables at the center of the space. “There are very few new things in here; most of it’s reclaimed,” Day says, standing underneath the building’s now-empty bell tower. Day built much of the brewery’s tables out of the fir found in the building, using an old beam as a mantle for one of the brewery’s several reservable rooms; he adopted a fallen white oak to turn into the bar top. Ironically, the pews aren’t, in fact, from the building — he bought them from a church in Vancouver.
Surrounding the main dining and drinking space are a series of rooms — the former pulpit, the reverend’s offices — that have become rooms people can rent for meetings and events, open to walk-ins on the days they’re free; one houses a cozy fireplace, another a foosball table. Off the main bar to the left, a small “coffee room” will serve as the brewery’s morning breakfast cafe, where they’ll serve pastries from Bee’s Cakes, like s’mores cinnamon rolls, chai-orange scones, and pesto balsamic rolls. Bee’s owner Rebecca Powazek will also make breakfast burritos for the cafe, which customers can eat alongside Smith Teamaker teas and coffee made with a Caffe Vita roast designed specifically for the brewery.
The goals Day and Harder had for their brewery wasn’t too far off from that of a church: They wanted to create a space where the community could gather. They wanted to give back to the community in whatever ways they could, including collaborative projects and fundraising efforts for aid organizations in town. And they wanted a space where people could land at any point of the day when they needed relief, whether it was 7 a.m. or 7 p.m. So, they designed their business model and brewery around those models: The beers brewed at Steeplejack would be generally low-abv, so people could sit and drink over several hours without getting hammered. They wanted food that was accessible to families, casual, tasty, and not exorbitantly expensive. They wanted the space to facilitate events, from drag shows to concerts to meetings. And they wanted everyone here to feel comfortable, from the diners to the staff.
As a result, Day and Harder hired a team that worked in tandem with those aspirations. Modern Times alum Anna Buxton, Steeplejack’s head brewer, is passionate about English- and Scottish-style pub beers and cask-conditioned ales, easy-drinking beers that people can drink over the course of an evening. “We’re returning to the classic pub model: Beer made with the intention of being in your neighborhood, brewing with seasonal ingredients, and brewing for the people near you instead of what’s trendy,” she says. “That’s the ethos behind European pub beer — a flavorful and low-alcohol beer so you can sit and drink for hours.”
Buxton’s first lineup of beers involves a number of collaborations with Portland and Vancouver breweries like Ruse, Trap Door, and Von Ebert, something Buxton wants to continue to do as the brewery grows, also leaning on products grown in the Pacific Northwest. The brewery’s Hazymodo, for instance, is a collaboration with Trap Door, combining Washington and Oregon-grown malt with tropical hops. But Buxton is particularly proud of the brewery’s Alewife, a 3.7 abv Traditional Dark Mild that’s cask-conditioned. “We’re using Yorkshire Yeast, it’s really ester-y in a way that’s so good,” she says. “It tastes like warm oatmeal-and-raisin cookies.”
In the kitchen, chef Lawrence Gable — formerly a chef de cuisine at Mama Bird — is pulling off a miracle in his own way. The kitchen is tiny, and the brewery’s dining room is maybe ten times its size; that means it is going to be very difficult for him to feed the full floor on a packed night. “I walked into the space, and I went, ‘You left me the scraps!’” Gable says, with a laugh. So he planned it out: He’d spend the full morning prepping, so he can still pull together meals quickly that were still delicious and thoughtful. Take, for example, the restaurant’s beast of a burger: Gable blends chipped edge-pieces of a roasted prime rib — covered in rosemary and salt and thyme — and blends it into the ground beef, with a Steeplejack beer-cheese made with Beecher’s white cheddar. A little horseradish aioli nods at the prime rib in the patty, with caramelized onions and au jus for dipping. The rest of the prime rib lands on the brewery’s deviled eggs in little bits, almost like bacon bits, with Louisiana hot sauce and chives; the deviled eggs are an “ode” to his Louisiana-raised father, in his words.
Gable tries to incorporate the brewery’s beer into the menu when he can, including with his beer-battered fried chicken sandwich. Unlike other fried chicken sandwiches in Portland, which lean on a craggy, hearty crust, Steeplejack’s uses a lighter tempura beer-batter, after the chicken rests in a gochujang-buttermilk brine; it’s garnished with gochujang honey, peanut tahini, and lime aioli, as well as shallots and tsukemono.
While Buxton and Gable focus on the beer and food, respectively, general manager Billy Cook is focusing on how to make everyone who walks through the door — staff or customers — feel welcome. He’s already thinking through acts to host, including local Portland bands and drag queens, an homage to the building’s previous tenant. “When you consider the history of this church, the LGBTQ community in this neighborhood was influential to say the least, and this church had a lot to do with that,” he says. The brewery is planning to work with efforts like Brave Noise and Not Me, to ensure that Steeplejack remains a safe, non-discriminatory space for women and people of color in the beer industry. “I quit my job of 13 years — I have kids, one on the way — to open a brewery in the middle of a pandemic,” Cook says. “That’s how sure I was about this place.”
Steeplejack will be open from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m., opening for full hours starting at 7 a.m. on July 31. It’s serving beer, cocktails, non-alcoholic drinks, and food at 2400 NE Broadway.
• Steeplejack Brewing [Official]