For nearly two years, the industrial, window-lined space on the corner of SW 12th and Morrison Street once home to the hospitality worker-focused Shift Drinks has remained closed. But by St. Patrick’s Day, City Bridge & Tunnel hopes to open in its space, serving old school cocktails and comfort foods like lobster rolls and meatball subs.
Co-owner Brandon Glasser — who has spent time working for places like Imperial, Big’s Chicken, and Lil Shalom — wants the bar to be part of the revitalization of downtown. “We feel like we can set the tone in the Southwest side,” Glasser says. While the team doesn’t want to “reinvent the wheel,” they want to offer something no one in the area does: a late-night bar with affordable drinks and food that fits into a niche between high-end spots like the Multnomah Whiskey Library and the low-brow bars like Momo’s and Scooter’s.
The name City Bridge & Tunnel speaks to what they want it to be about: a place where people both local and visiting from the suburbs and Vancouver can snack on sandwiches like a lobster roll or Philly hoagie, served with a choice of house-made chips like nacho and “Cool Ranch.” Salads will include a vegan Caesar as well as one made with produce from the nearby PSU farmers market, while snacks include nostalgic standards like Oregon shrimp cocktail and deviled eggs, as well as pickled vegetables and focaccia made in-house. Glasser and his business partner, Riley Lambert, tapped Andrés Godinez Flores as their head chef, whose previous experience includes Bellingham’s Neapolitan pizzeria Elizabeth Station and Portland’s own Lil Shalom.
For drinks, City Bridge & Tunnel will hew close to the classics, sticking to the model of “not reinventing the wheel,” with drinks like Negronis, Old Fashioneds, Vespers, margaritas, and martinis. Rather than a distinct bar manager, the crew will operate as a team, each bringing their own takes to the menu.
The beer menu will be another way the bar sets out to distinguish itself. The four taps will rotate every month, and each time will focus on a different region. Upon opening, it will feature brews from the Columbia Gorge, like Pfriem and Everybody Brewing; later, the bar may focus on the Oregon Coast or Bend.
Fans of Shift Drinks will find the space recognizable, but changed. While Shift Drinks was almost uniformly stark and industrial in its aesthetics, City Bridge & Tunnel will be more varied; visitors will find emerald velvet loveseats, marble surfaces, and wooden bar seats. Ornamental velvet roses curve up one wall, and a poster of Biggie Smalls stares down at revelers.
Being a part of the hospitality community is major objective for Glasser and his team. He says they plan on opening with a big St. Patrick’s Day party, and then participate in every city event — Glasser says they want to be a focal point for events like Negroni Week and Portland Dining Month. And while the bar may not cater as directly to hospitality industry workers as Shift Drinks did, it will still make them a priority: The team plans on keeping the bar open as late as possible, with a late-night happy hour ideal for those getting off work in the neighboring bars and restaurants, as well as a more traditional early happy hour. Each has discounted food items, while the late night one adds a hot dog and a $2 Jell-O shot for those looking to keep the party going.
“Fun, that’s the whole point,” Glasser says. “People need to start having fun again.”