Trigger. The word embodied pop culture. Roy’s horse. Willie Nelson’s guitar. Hip-hop’s fury. And then, suddenly, a lightbulb joke.
Call it too many cooks in a rock n' roll kitchen starring Bunk sandwich lords Tommy Habetz, Nick Wood, and Matt Brown; indie restaurant group ChefStable; Stumptown Coffee Roasters' Duane Sorenson; and until recently, chef (but not owner) Jimmy Albee. Or maybe just a misfire.
But this much is clear: Trigger, the Bunk-Mex" experiment beneath the Wonder Ballroom at 128 NE Russell Street, is riding into the sunset, serving it last meal on Sunday, September 29. Despite some great finds—beef brisket nachos to a terrific Tex-Mex sundae as big as your head—Trigger never found a clear direction, a consistent voice, or that elusive aura of magic that makes a place an essential destination. Something was always off in a kitchen stocked with talent.
Rising in its place in early October? The newly dubbed "Bunk Bar NE." The new space will bring Bunk's signature big-flavored, high-low sandwiches, anti-mixology approach, and music love under one little underground roof, adding pinball machines, Blazer night TV screens, and a family-friendly vibe.
A few Trigger signatures will stay including the Queso Deluxe (oozing Velveeta cheese, guac, smoky brisket, and the entire '60s decade all at once) and the Side Pipe cocktail, a titanic 20-oz goblet of frozen margarita sporting an upturned Corona bottle.
"We worked really hard at Trigger," says Habetz. "We're really proud of it. It's hard for me to say what went wrong. Ultimately, that concept needs to be done on a bigger scale. The space and the concept were not a good fit."
The lesson learned, says Habetz, is Bunk is the future. "My partners are awesome, and we're awesome doing Bunk together. We need to keep doing that. This is where my focus should be and will be. "
Indeed it is. Expect 2014 to be Year of the Bunk. What began as a man-cave sandwich stop on SE Morrison in 2009 is on the move. Bunk currently houses three Portland locations—the SE Morrison mothership, the Central Eastside's sandwich gusto-meets-indie music club Bunk Bar, a SW 6th take-out joint downtown, and soon, a new Bunk Bar at Northeast Alberta and 21st.
Offers to expand into New York and Los Angeles have been turned down so far. The focus is here, and it's coming, with new projects already on the drawing board.
As Habetz puts it in that Habetzian way: "We have a lot of awesome stuff going on."