In 1903, George Besaw and Medric Liberty opened a beer parlor in Northwest Portland, with the help of legendary brewer Henry Weinhard. In its time, Besaw’s has taken on a number of different personas — diner, soda fountain, brunch cafe — and, in 2016, it even reopened in a glitzy new space after being forced out of its previous location. The pandemic shut down the restaurant and its sibling, Solo Club, but as many other locations reopened following the distribution of vaccines, Besaw’s reintroduction was short-lived, followed by another indefinite closure. The restaurant’s future was unclear.
Besaw’s hasn’t stayed dormant due to the COVID-19 pandemic alone; owner Cana Flug has been battling cancer, making her re-entry into the restaurant world even more difficult. Over the past few months, however, Flug has been working with River Pig owner Ramzy Hattar to reopen the business under his guidance, while she retains ownership. Before the month ends, Besaw’s and Solo Club will reopen with a new chef and general manager, though Hattar emphasizes that very little will change.
“We’re keeping Besaw’s Besaw’s, Solo Club Solo Club,” he says. “We just want to focus on opening and Cana’s legacy, with the quality of service and food.”
To run the restaurants, Hattar has enlisted the help of two service vets. Romeo Lopez, an alumnus of Woodsman Tavern and Bullard, will run their kitchens, keeping Besaw’s hearty brunch service alive. Visitors will find things like Benedicts and chicken-fried steak, as well as more Mexican-leaning items like chilaquiles and huevos rancheros. In the evening, the dinner menu will take on that of an inexpensive steakhouse, with cuts like rib-eyes and skirt steak accompanied by roasted vegetables. The restaurant will also introduce a happy hour, though the menu is still in development.
At both Besaw’s and Solo Club, general manager Malcolm Simkoff — who spent years at places like Boka Restaurant Group, the venerable Arca in Tulum, Mexico, and Rick Bayless’s Leña Brava — will emphasize convivial approach to beverage, spanning every facet of each menu. At Besaw’s, the cocktail menu will emphasize drinks meant to be shared, including large-format punches and sangria; the restaurant won’t have a corkage fee, though they will encourage those who bring their own wine to share a glass with the table next to them. Wines available in-house will come from all over the world, from South Africa to Slovakia, and smaller-format cocktails will use approachable starting points like martinis and palomas. The restaurant will also have a substantial non-alcoholic beverage program, including a non-alcoholic option on draft at all times.
At Solo Club, Lopez will serve what he’s calling an “antojito” menu, incorporating culinary influences from the Amalfi Coast, the Pacific Northwest, and Latin America. Menus will involve raw dishes like crudos, as well as fried snacks like fritto misto and fried oysters. Simkoff’s beverage menu will match the vibe, focusing on low-ABV spritzes, aperitivos, and vermouth — something of an homage to the previous Solo Club, which had a strong emphasis on amaro.
The design of both spaces won’t change much, with just a few subtle adjustments in lighting and strategically placed antiques hidden around both spaces. “What I loved about Boka Group was seeing some little element you didn’t notice the first time you were there: a different flower, a potted plant, a vase or fixture,” Simkoff says. “There’s something that engages them in the space each time they visit.”
Besaw’s should open by the end of the month, followed by Solo Club. Stay tuned for more updates.