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At Sad Valley, Death Appears as Spilled Beer Angels and Coffin Disco Balls

The new Killingsworth bar explores the afterlife with a sense of optimism, serving Pimm’s Cups among funeral home florals

Three paintings hang at Sad Valley, portraying different images of death and reconnection.
Paintings at Sad Valley.
Sad Valley
Brooke Jackson-Glidden is the editor of Eater Portland.

Some people open bars to help people forget their mortality. Jeremy Alexander opened his to help people face it.

Alexander is the owner of the new North Killingsworth bar Sad Valley, a sunset-hued imagining of the afterlife with Vespers and cheeseburgers. Paintings portray tongue-in-cheek tableaus of rapture or grief. A disco ball hangs from a coffin mounted to the ceiling. Florals evoke images of funeral homes. But Sad Valley is not meant to appear macabre; in no way is it a goth bar. Rather, it’s meant to serve as a cathartic landing pad, a place to stare death in the eye until it softens.

Alexander has a long history with death and loss. His mother worked in a funeral home, and several people near him died while he was young. “That spectre of death was always there,” he says. After around two years in the food and beverage industry, he opened a bar in Seattle scraping together all the money he could; months later, developers announced plans to demolish the building. When COVID-19 hit, and people began to grapple with grief en masse, Alexander reflected on the next bar he would want to open, and he found himself wanting to do more than serve drinks.

“I’ve already had a lot of crisis in my life; I’ve already made peace with the uncertainty,” he says. “So the concept behind the bar is, well, death. Not in a goofy, spooky, morbid way, but rather as part of a cycle. You’ve always been here, you’ve been here 14 billion years, you’ll be here for how many more years. Death is something that’s coming for us all, so you really don’t have to worry about it.”

An art school alumnus who hangs out with other artists, Alexander commissioned several pieces to help create the desired atmosphere at Sad Valley, giving the painters the prompt of reunion and resurrection. Crystal Barbre painted a cat and its owner reuniting after death. Kyle Abernethy captured a man floating to heaven from a liquor store parking lot. And Casey Weldon portrays a man on his knees, surrounded by the angels of spilled beer cans. “This idea of being reunited — people are sad because of their loss, but nothing is lost — I wanted something along those lines,” he says. “I’m trying to strike a balance between seeming serious but also totally not.”

When it comes to the actual food and drink on offer, Alexander wanted to lean heavily into the comforting and familiar. Celebrated bartender Megan Radke, Alexander’s wife, developed the cocktail menu, offering sweet comforts like marionberry margaritas and rye-passionfruit cocktails with orange flower water bitters. The team named some cocktails after specific on-theme pop culture figures; for instance, the Janice Crouch, named for the religious broadcaster and cofounder of the Trinity Broadcasting Network, is a blend of Cassis, rum, and lime juice; Cuddles Kovinsky, named for the Edith Massey character in John Waters’ Polyester, pairs apricot liqueur with gin. More classic cocktails include standards like Old Pals, Pimm’s Cups, gimlets, and more.

The food menu, on the other hand, stays even simpler: Cheeseburgers and buttermilk chicken strips come with fries or salads, and shareable snacks range from tempura vegetables to quesadillas. Chef Patrick Carney, known for his now-closed food cart Skidbladnir, covers the food at Sad Valley, and is particularly happy with the bar’s vegan sandwich, in which mushroom and seaweed broth adds savory-umami depth. “Seitan sounds like we’re making a joke,” Alexander says. “We’re not, but we’ll take it.”

Sad Valley is now open at 832 N Killingsworth Street.