I’m sure bartender and newly minted restaurateur Kevin Ludwig was growing tired of the question. And truth be told, the food fans were getting sick of asking, “When’s Beaker opening?” I tried not to utter these three words on every visit to Clyde Common, where Ludwig was most recently employed, but my own excitement would usually get the best of me. And given the level of enthusiasm the residents of Portland exude toward food and drink, I know I wasn’t alone. After many months of delay, Ludwig’s long-awaited bar and restaurant Beaker and Flask opens tonight.
To local cocktail fans, Ludwig is among Portland’s most well-known craft bartenders—he’s served as the creative force behind the drink programs at seminal PDX establishments like Wildwood, Paley’s, Park Kitchen, and Clyde Common. Beaker and Flask represents Ludwig’s debut as a restaurant owner. And if his resume is any indication, Beaker and Flask will likely become one of the hottest spots for food and drink in Portland, and quickly.
Portland liquor guru Tim Davey will join Ludwig behind the bar, former Paley’s Place sous-chef Benjamin Bettinger will run the kitchen, and Doug Paquin will maintain Beaker and Flask’s beer selection. The rest of the cast will feature familiar faces from Portland’s better establishments, including bartender Lance Mayhew of 50 Plates fame.
Though Ludwig had planned to open Beaker and Flask a year ago, my personal opinion is that the delay will actually serve the restaurant well. One year ago, the story surrounding PDX food was the difficult economy. Things were getting tough, and the local press couldn’t seem to write a story about a new restaurant without focusing on the obvious and negative. Though the economy hasn’t exactly improved since then, our food-and-drink-focused entrepreneurs have adapted, and some business owners are actually doing quite well. By and large, restaurants with robust liquor and beverage programs are weathering the storm, and in some cases, thriving. Don’t believe me? Just visit Clyde Common or Nel Centro on a busy night.
Beaker’s debut also means another great establishment for the burgeoning Central East Side, the gritty and urban central-city industrial enclave that Portland’s newest class of restaurateurs is choosing over any other. With so much momentum, even in a down economy, it’s going to be interesting to see how the neighborhood shapes up when things improve. If the city begins to take notice of the positive impact food and drink establishments and businesses have on the local economy, change could happen sooner than you think.